Background: Marie Bracquemond was born on December 1, 1840 in Argenton-en-Landunvez, near Quimper, Brittany. Marie was a French Impressionist artist described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism alongside Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. However, her frequent omission from books on women artists indicate the success of her husband, Félix Bracquemond, in his campaign to thwart her development as an artist. His objection to her art was not on the basis of gender but on the style she adopted, Impressionism.
Education: She began lessons in painting in her teens under the instruction of M. Wasser, “an old painter who now restored paintings and gave lessons to the young women of the town”. She progressed to such an extent that in 1857 she submitted a painting of her mother, sister and old teacher posed in the studio to the Salon which was accepted. She was then introduced to Ingres who advised her and introduced her to two of his students, Flandrin and Signol. The critic Philippe Burty referred to her as “one of the most intelligent pupils in Ingres’ studio”. She later left Ingres’ studio and began receiving commissions for her work, including one from the court of Empress Eugenie for a painting of Cervantes in prison. This evidently pleased, because she was then asked by the Count de Nieuwerkerke, the director-general of French museums, to make important copies in the Louvre
Achievements: Félix and Marie Bracquemond worked together at the Haviland studio at Auteuil where her husband had become artistic director. She designed plates for dinner services and executed large Faience tile panels depicting the muses, which were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1878. She began having paintings accepted for the Salon on a regular basis from 1864. As she found the medium constraining, her husband’s efforts to teach her etching were only a qualified success. She nevertheless produced nine etching which were shown at the second exhibition of the Society of Painter-Etchers at the Galeries Durand-Reul in 1890.
Her husband introduced her to new media and to the artists he admired, as well as older masters such as Chardin. She was especially attracted to the Belgian painter Alfred Stevens. Between 1887 and 1890, under the influence of the Impressionists, Bracquemond’s style began to change. Her canvases grew larger and her colours intensified. She moved out of doors, and to her husband’s disgust, Monet and Degas became her mentors.
Marie Bracquemond participated in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1886. In 1879 and 1880, some of her drawings were published in the La Vie Moderne. In 1881, she exhibited five works at the Dudley Gallery in London. Many of her best-known works were painted in her garden at Sèvres.
In 1886, Félix Bracquemond met Gauguin through Sisley and brought the impoverished artist home. Gauguin had a decisive influence on Marie Bracquemond and, in particular, he taught her how to prepare her canvas in order to achieve the intense tones she now desired.
Although she was overshadowed by her well-known husband, the work of the reclusive Marie Bracquemond is considered to have been closer to the ideals of Impressionism. According to their son Pierre, Félix Bracquemond was often resentful of his wife, brusquely rejecting her critique of his work, and refusing to show her paintings to visitors. In 1890, Marie Bracquemond, worn out by the continual household friction and discouraged by lack of interest in her work, abandoned her painting except for a few private works. One of her last paintings was The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres.