New Orleans and France have a long, intricate relationship
beginning with the founding of the precarious city at the bend of
the Mississippi River. Two months after Hurricane Katrina hit in
2005, a delegation of French diplomats and art curators visited the
city and promised to offer their assistance. The result was a
one-of-a-kind exhibition, titled Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of
Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of
France, on display exclusively at the New Orleans Museum of Art
(NOMA) until June 3.
“[The French delegation] wanted to help in a cultural area, and
said they would send a major exhibition to not only help the museum
get back on its feet but to jump-start the city’s cultural
tourism,” said NOMA director E. John Bullard.
The exhibition brings together for the first time 83 paintings
of women from the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and 43 other museums
throughout France. The theme focuses on women of the modern era,
during France’s Third Republic of 1870 to 1940, and combines famous
painters, such as Renoir and Picasso, with lesser-known artists who
documented women as they entered the workforce, placed children in
newly created childcare centers and performed new roles.
“I went to Paris in 2006 and met with the curators of a number
of museums, including Francis Ribemont of the Musee des Beaux-Arts
de Rennes,” Bullard explained. Bullard joked to Ribemont that
French women in art would be a popular topic and the idea took
“He came up with refining the concept, focusing on the modern
era,” Bullard added. “During this period, painters were focusing on
women as they asserted their independence.”
The exhibit features five sections: The Ages of Life, Women at
Work, Women in Action, Women and Leisure and Women in Modern Life.
Paintings range from the dark, social commentaries of Palliere’s
“The Orphan” and Antigna’s “Death of the Pauper” to the exuberant
women driving a car with the wind through their hair in Stewart’s
“The Ladies Goldsmith in a Peugeot Voiturette in the Bois de
Boulogne in 1897.” Many are huge canvases carrying vibrant images
of women in the many stages of life. Others, like Picasso’s “The
Bathers,” are petite but every bit as impressive.
The exhibit, pulled together in an amazingly short amount of
time, cost France $1 million and includes a beautiful, fully
illustrated catalogue in English and French. And thus far,
attendance has been strong.
Bullard hopes the exclusive engagement and the blooming spring
will help boost NOMA’s attendance back to pre-Katrina levels.
Also in town as a gift from France to help boost tourism is Four
Hundred Years of French Presence in Louisiana: Treasures from the
National Library of France at the Historic New Orleans Collection
in the French Quarter. The exhibit features the National Library’s
collections relating to Louisiana, including several items never
exhibited before, from early drawings of the colony and its
wildlife to plans of New Orleans. The exhibit is complemented by a
selection of artifacts from the Historic New Orleans Collection and
the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The modern relationship between Louisiana and France is examined
as well, featuring 19th-century musicians and writers and the jazz
explosion of the 20th century. Highlights include playwright Victor
Sejour’s “La Mulatre,” the first published short story by an
African American and the French premier of Tennessee Williams’s “A
Streetcar Named Desire.”
Both exhibitions will continue to June.
Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from
Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France now through June 3 at
the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans City Park.
Four Hundred Years of French Presence in Louisiana: Treasures
from the National Library of France now through June 2 at the
Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter.