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'Her Paris' exhibit at Denver Art Museum shows power of Impressionist women artists

October 18, 2017 Updated: October 18, 2017 at 2:26 pm
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"Academie Julian" (1884) by Cecilia Beaux is part of the "Her Paris" exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibit runs Oct. 22-Jan.4.
Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 - 1926 ), Children Playing on the Beach, 1884, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection. This work is part of the "Her Paris" exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibit runs Oct. 22-Jan.4. 

After seeing the works of the Impressionist women artists of the late 1800s, it may dawn on you that the term "girl power" isn't limited to our current vernacular.

Now widely recognized artists Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Rosa Bonheur were among the talented women drawn to Paris from 1850 to 1900 to sharpen their skills.

"Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism," an exhibit opening Sunday at the Denver Art Museum and running through Jan. 14, will feature more than 80 paintings by 37 women artists from across Europe and America.

"Her Paris" is a traveling exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts, curated by Laurence Madeline, independent curator and formerly chief curator of Fine Arts at the Musée d'art et d'histoire in Geneva, and curated locally by Angelica Daneo, curator of painting and sculpture at the DAM. Denver is the first of three venues selected for "Her Paris." Next are Louisville, Ky., and then The Clark in Williamstown, Mass.

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"There have been several exhibitions about artists working in France, but a lot of the time it's male artists that have the spotlight. This is a presentation of a group of very skilled female artists. These are works by 37 different female artists from Germany, Switzerland, England, Norway, America, Sweden and, of course, France, so the representation is quite remarkable," said Daneo, who has worked at DAM for 13 years. "They all gathered in Paris to further their education. Paris really offered them a lot of opportunities."

Women were not permitted to attend the École des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts), France's most important art academy, until 1897. Art by women was considered amateurish, Daneo said.

"Ernesta With Child" by Cecilia Beaux is part of the "Her Paris" exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibit runs Oct. 22-Jan.4. 

A look at the work amassed for this exhibit dispels that theory.

"This is really about a chorus of artists," she said. "There was this idea that female artists were great at painting pretty still lifes. The exhibit doesn't actually show still life, but rather the origin, contribution and the challenges that they faced. People will be struck by the confidence and the power of these artists. It's like an assertion of their identity. It's like they're saying, 'I am a professional artist. This is who I am.' They announce that they want to work, to be an artist. This is a very powerful statement."

Included from the museum's collections is a recent acquisition, "The Window," by Eva Gonzalez.

"This is the first time that it's on view. The museum is pretty committed to acquire paintings by women," Daneo said.

The exhibit is hung in the Anschutz Gallery - the museum's largest exhibition space - and includes some very large paintings, ironic because men at the time thought women lacked the strength to paint big canvasses.

"They take a good amount of real estate in the galleries. It was actually a fun exhibit to build because it's not a boxed type of space. It allows you to challenge your perspective," Daneo said.

"Her Voice" zeroes in on six of the featured artists.

"Here we can actually focus on more of the personal stories of these intriguing and complex artists. It allows us to create a more personal narrative about their art and their contribution to their time," she said. "We haven't done it from this particular angle before, and I think it's exciting. I hope our visitors will be excited, too."

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