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Impressionist Muses: The Women Who Inspired Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cassatt

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0568
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet 1875 (National Gallery of Art)

In the second half of the 19th century, Paris was quickly changing, expanding, and re-building as a center of urban life. Its boulevards became broader, its streets cleaner, and new railway lines brought Parisians closer to the pleasures of the countryside. Grand department stores opened, providing new ways to shop and socialize. Impressionism was born into this rapidly evolving world, capturing in boldly modern art the new Parisian mode of living and moments in the lives of its residents.

But impressionist artists did not act alone. The role of women was now evolving as well. The "New Woman," more independent and with a greater desire to spend time outside of the home, was born in this era. For many of the impressionists, women were not simply passive models but essential partners, collaborators, muses—and sometimes lovers and wives.

Art historian Natasha Schlesinger looks at five fascinating women behind the portraits: Aline Charigot and Camille Doncieux, the respective wives of Renoir and Monet; Victorine Meurent, Manet’s favorite model and an artist in her own right; and Mary Cassatt, whose friendship with Degas influenced his art and who found inspiration for her own in her sister Lydia.

Schlesinger delves into some of the significant paintings of these subjects, as well as their stories and complex and intimate relationships with the artists. If impressionism reflected on the “now” of a new society and dawning century, its muses were the creative—and often unrecognized—forces behind the important innovators of the period. 

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

Patron Information

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.