Historical Women of Co|So

Written by Caroline Browne

The Copley Society of Art has a long history of exhibiting works from famous artists. To continue the celebration of Women’s History Month, this blog focuses on a few of the many talented women who have exhibited their work at the Copley Society of Art over the years.

Pictured: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat, after 1782, oil on canvas, 38 ½ x 28”, Collection of the National Gallery in London

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), was one of the most successful portraitists of 18th century France, gaining renown for her self-portraits and depictions of courtly women including Queen Marie Antoinette. Vigée Le Brun showed at Co|So in 1896 during the Loan Collection of Portraits Exhibition.

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun was a trailblazer during an era when few women were known as top artists. A revolutionary figure from the beginning of her illustrious career, Vigée Le Brun was rejected from formal training due to her gender and artistically criticized for being too modern. In 18th-century France, a self-portrait with a smile that showed the teeth was scandalous. In her the painting pictured above a luxurious straw hat, decorated with flowers and a feather, adorns the artist’s golden curls. Holding a large painter’s palette and an assortment of brushes, she smiles out at the viewer, allowing us a glimpse of her dazzling smile.

Pictured: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le-Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, 1788, oil on canvas, 88 ¾ x 55 ½”, Private Collection

This portrait depicts Muhammed Dervish Khan, the Indian ambassador sent to France by the powerful Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan. Painted in the summer of 1788 and exhibited at the Salon of 1789, this painting sold for $7.2 million at Sotheby's New York in January 2019, setting a record for Vigée and for a female artist of the pre-modern era. That price made it the most expensive painting by a pre–modern era female artist ever sold at auction.

Pictured: Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child (Baby Getting Up from His Nap), ca. 1899, oil on canvas, 36 ½” x 29”, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This painting by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was exhibited during the Copley Society’s Second Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art in 1902. Cassatt also exhibited two works at the 1913 Armory Show hosted by Co|So. The artist was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1844, but spent most of her life in Paris, where she worked with many notable Impressionists such as Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. The maternal subject matter of this painting, of mother and child together, became a specialty of Cassatt’s after 1890. In this piece, the mother washes her child in gorgeous garments after he awakes from his nap.

In 1877 Edgar Degas invited her to show her work with the group. Cassatt thus became one of only three women, and the only American, ever to join the French Impressionists. The Impressionists took delight in painting images of contemporary life that broke free from old methods and the conservative approach taught in the art schools of Paris at the time.

Pictured: Mary Cassatt, In the Loge, 1878, oil on canvas, 32 x 26”, Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In the Loge was the first of Cassatt’s Impressionist paintings to be exhibited in the United States, being shown in Boston in 1878. The painting depicts a fashionable lady dressed for an afternoon performance at a theater in Paris. While Degas had a great influence on her paintings, Cassatt instead focused on the spectators rather than the performers. Here, Cassatt gives her female figure a noticeably more dynamic role, for she peers avidly through her opera glasses at the row of seats across from her.

Pictured: Loïs Mailou Jones, 1220 Quincy Street, ca. 1948-1953, oil on canvas, Collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Loïs Mailou Jones (1905-1998) was a successful and influential painter, designer, and educator. Loïs Mailou Jones was born in Boston in 1905 and eventually studied at the Boston High School of Practical Arts, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Designers Art School of Boston. Jones moved to North Carolina to teach, where she established an art department at the Palmer Memorial Institute and later became one of the most eminent professors at Howard University.

Pictured: Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949, oil on canvas, 19 ½ x 23”, Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Jones first went to Paris in 1937 to study at the Académie Julian. The artist regularly returned to Paris and rendered Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées on one of her summer sojourns in southwestern France. Her portrayal of the picturesque and peaceful village nestled in a valley evokes landscape paintings by Paul Cézanne, a stylistic influence she acknowledged.

During her career, Jones painted in the United States, Paris, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her works have been featured in many exhibitions, including in an exhibition at the Copley Society of Art in 1989 that also included works by Robert Freeman, Paul Goodnight, and Allan Rohan Crite. Throughout her long career Jones explored many mediums and various styles from pastoral landscapes to African-style abstraction. After her marriage to Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël in 1953, Jones found inspiration in the spiritual beliefs, sights, and sounds of Haiti. A trip to Africa in 1970 to meet with contemporary artists there brought to fruition Jones’s earlier interest in African art.

From textile design to paintings and illustrations, these artworks are nationally recognized and continue to be a topic of art historical research today. Throughout her career, Jones championed the international artistic achievement of African American art.

We hope you stop by the gallery to see the artwork of the contemporary female artists of Co|So in Small Works: Tapestry (virtual) and Members Show: New Beginnings, both on view until April 25th.