«by LINDA NOCHLIN While the recent upsurge of feminist activity in this country has indeed been a liberating one, its force has been chiefly ...»
As far as the question of masculine dress was concerned, she was quick to reject her interlocutor's suggestion that her trousers were a symbol of emancipation. "I strongly blame women who renounce their customary attire in the desire to make themselves pass for men," she affirmed. "If I had found trousers suited my sex, I would have completely gotten rid of my skirts, but this is not the case, nor have I ever advised my sisters of the palette to wear men's clothes in the ordinary course of life. If, then, you see me dressed as I am, it is not at all with the aim of making myself interesting, as all too many women have tried, but in order to facilitate my work. Remember that at a certain period I spent whole days in the slaughterhouses. Indeed, you have to love your art in order to live in pools of blood.... I was also fascinatted with horses, and where better can one study these animals than at the fairs... ? I had no alternative but to realize that the garments ofmy own sex were a total nuisance. That is why I decided to ask the Prefect of Police for the authorization to wear masculine clothing. But the costume I am wearing is my working outfit, nothing else. The remarks of fools have never bothered me. Nathalie [her companion] makes fun of them as I do.
At the same time Rosa Bonheur was forced to admit: "My trousers have been my great protectors.... Many times I have congratulated myself for having dared to break with traditions which would have forced me to abstain from certain kinds of work, due to the obligation to drag my skirts everywhere...."
Yet the famous artist again felt obliged to qualify her honest admission with an ill-assumed "femininity": "Despite my metamorphoses of costume, there is not a daughter of Eve who appreciates the niceties more than I do; my brusque and even slighty unsociable nature has never prevented my heart from remaining completely feminine."
It is somewhat pathetic that this highly successful artist, unsparing of herself in the painstaking study of animal anatomy, diligently pursuing her bovine or equine subjects in the most unpleasant surroundings. industriously producing popular canvases throughout the course of a lengthy career, firm, assured, and incontrovertibly masculine in her style, winner of a first medal in the Paris Salon, Officer of the Legion of Honor, Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic and the Order of Leopold of Belgium, friend of Queen Victoria--that this world-renowned artist--should feel compelled late in life to justify and qualify her perfectly reasonab1e assumption of masculine ways for any reason whatsoever, and to feel compelled to attack her less modest trouser wearing sisters at the same time, in order to satisfy the demands of her own conscience.
For her conscience, despite her supportive father, her unconventional behavior, and the accolade of worldly success, still condemned her for not being a "feminine" woman.
The difficulties imposed by such demands on the woman artist continue to add to her already difficult enterprise even today. Compare, for example, the noted contemporary, Louise Nevelson, with her combination of utter, "unfeminine" dedication to her work and her conspicuously "feminine" false eyelashes, her admission that she got married at seventeen despite her certainty that she couldn't live without creating because "the world said you should get married."
Even in the case of these two outstanding artists--and whether we like The Horse Fair or not, we still must admire Rosa Bonheur's professional achievement the voice of the feminine mystique--with its potpourri of ambivalent narcissism and guilt, internalized--subtly dilutes and subverts that total inner confidence, demanded by the highest and most innovative work in art.
Conclusions I have tried to deal with one of the perennial questions used to challenge women's demand for true, rather than token, equality, by examining the whole erroneous intellectual substructure upon which the question "Why have there been no great women artists?" is based; by questioning the validity of the formulation of so-called problems in general and the "problem" of women specifically; and then, by probing some of the limitations of the discipline of art history itself. By stressing the institutional--that is, the public--rather than the individual, or private, preconditions for achievement or the lack of it in the arts,I have tried to provide paradigm for the investigation of other area in the field. By examining in some detail a single instance of deprivation or disadvantage--the unavailability of nude models to women art students-I have suggested that it was indeed institutionally made impossible for women to achieve artistic excellence, or success, on the samr footing as men, no matter what the potency of their so called talent or genius. The existence of a tiny band of successful, if not great, women artists throughout history does nothing to gainsay this fact, any more than does the existence of a few superstars or token achievers among the members of any minority groups. And while great achievement is rare and difficult at best, it is still rare and more difficult if, while you work, you must at the same time wrestle with inner demons of selfdoubt and. guilt and outer monsters of ridicule or patronizing encouragement, neither of which have any specific connection with the quality of the art work as such.
What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity.
Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought--and true greatness--are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.
1. Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (Doubleday, 1970) and Mary Ellman's Thinking about Women (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968) provide notable exceptions.
2. "Women Artists," review of Die Frauen in die Kunstgescbichte by Ernst Guhl, The Westminster Review (American edition), 70 (July 1858), 91am grateful to Elaine Showalter for having brought this review to my attention.
3. See, for example, Peter S. Walch's excellent studies of Angelica Kauffmann or his unpublished doctoral dissertation, "Angelica Kauffmann," Princeton University, 1968, on the subject; for Artemisia Gentileschi, see R. Ward Bissell, "Artemisia Gentileschi-A New Documented Chronology," Art Bulletin, 50 (June 1968), 153-68.
4. New York, 1968.
5. John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869) in Three Essays byjohn Stuart Mill (World Classics Series, 1966), 441.
6. For the relatively recent genesis of the emphasis on the artist as the nexus of aesthetic experience, see M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (Norton, 1953), and Maurice Z. Shroder, Icarus: The Image of the Artist in French Romanticism (Harvard University Press, 1961).
7. A comparison with the parallel myth for women, the Cinderella story, is revealing: Cinderella gains higher status on the basis of a passive, "sexobject" attribute--small feet--whereas the Boy Wonder always proves himself through active accomplishment. For a thorough study of myths
about artists, see Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz, Die Legende vom Kiinstler:
Ein Geschichtlicher Yersuck (Krystall Verlag, 1934).
8. Nikolaus Pevsner, Academies of Art, Past and Present (Da Capo Press), 96f.
9. Contemporary directions- earthworks, conceptual art, art as information,etc.--certainly point away from emphasis on the individual genius and his salable products; in art history, Harrison C. and Cynthia A.
White's Canvases and-Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World (Wiley, 1965) opens up a fruitful new direction of investigation, as did Nikolaus Pevsner's pioneering Academies of Art.
Ernst Gombrich and Pierre Francastel, in their very different ways, always have tended to view art and the artist as part of a total situation rather than in lofty isolation.
10. Female models were introduced in the life class in Berlin in 1875, in Stockholm in 1839, in Naples in 1870, at the Royal College of Art In London after 1875. Pevsner, Academies of Art, 231. Female models at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts wore masks to hide their identity as late as about 1866-as attested to in a charcoal drawing by Thomas Eakins-if not later.
11. Pevsner, Academies of Art, 231.
12. H. C. and C. A. White, Canvases and Careers, 51.
13. Ibid., Table 5.
14. Mrs. Ellis, "The Daughters of England: Their Position in Society, Character, and Responsibilities," in The Family Montitor and Domestic Guide (1844), 35.
15. Ibid., 38-39.
16. Patricia Thomson, The Victorian Heroine: A Cbanging Ideal (Oxford University Press, 1956), 77
17. 17. H. C. and C. A. White, Canvases and Careers, 91.
18. Anna Klumpke, Rosa Bonheur: Sa vie, son oeuvre (E. Flammarion, 1908), 311.
19. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (Norton, 1963), 158.
20. Klumpke, Rosa Bonheur, 166.
21. Paris, like many cities even today, had laws against cross-dressing on its books.
22. Klumpke, Rosa Bonheur, 308-9.
23. Ibid., 310-11.
24. 24. Cited in Elizabeth Fisher, "The Woman as Artist: Loulse Nevelson," Aphra 1 (Spring 1970), 32.