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Abbéma Louise

Étampes 1853 – 1927 Paris

French Painter

Lady in Paris on a Winter Day

Signature: signed lower middle right
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: image size 100 x 120 cm, frame size 112 x 132 cm

Louise Abbéma, a prominent French artist of the Belle Époque, was born on October 30, 1853, in Étampes, Essonne, France. She hailed from a wealthy Parisian family with strong connections to the local artistic community. Her family’s artistic ties ran deep, as her great-grandmother was the renowned actress Louise Contat.

From a young age, Abbéma exhibited a talent for painting and began her artistic journey in her early teens. She received formal training under the guidance of notable artists of her time, such as Charles Joshua Chaplin, Jean-Jacques Henner, and Carolus-Duran. Her talent and dedication bore fruit when, at the age of 23, she painted a portrait of the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, who became both a lifelong friend and, speculatively, a romantic partner.

Abbéma’s artistic endeavors extended far beyond portraiture. She lent her creative touch to the embellishment of various iconic Parisian landmarks. Her panels and murals graced the Paris Town Hall, the Paris Opera House, numerous theaters (including the aptly named “Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt”), and even the “Palace of the Colonial Governor” in Dakar, Senegal. Her unique style combined academic and impressionistic elements, characterized by the use of light and rapid brushstrokes.

Recognition continued to find Abbéma, and she became a regular exhibitor at the prestigious Paris Salon, earning an honorable mention for her work in 1881. She also had the distinction of having her art displayed at the Women’s Building during the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Moreover, a bust of Abbéma sculpted by Sarah Bernhardt was showcased at the exposition.

Abbéma’s artistic repertoire was diverse, encompassing oil portraits and watercolors. Her work often bore the influence of Chinese and Japanese painters, as well as contemporary masters like Édouard Manet. Flowers were a recurring motif in her creations. Some of her most celebrated works include “The Seasons,” “April Morning,” “Place de la Concorde,” “Among the Flowers,” “Winter,” and portraits of prominent individuals such as actress Jeanne Samary, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Charles Garnier.

In addition to her prowess in painting, Abbéma was an accomplished printmaker, sculptor, and designer. She also contributed to journals like the “Gazette des Beaux-Arts” and “L’Art,” and illustrated several books, including “la mer” by René Maizeroy.

Abbéma’s many honors include receiving the Palme Académiques in 1887 and being appointed “Official Painter of the Third Republic.” She was also awarded a bronze medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. In 1906, she was decorated as a Chevalier of the Order of the Légion d’honneur, a recognition of her significant contributions to the arts.

Louise Abbéma never married, and there has been speculation about her romantic interests and personal relationships. While she maintained privacy regarding her intimate life, some historians and observers have suggested that she may have had romantic connections with individuals of the same gender. However, it’s important to note that there is no definitive historical record confirming her sexual orientation.

Louise Abbéma passed away in Paris on July 29, 1927. In more recent times, as scholars and art enthusiasts have reevaluated the historical contributions of women in the arts, her works have experienced a resurgence in popularity. Notably, she was featured in the 2018 exhibit “Women in Paris 1850-1900,” highlighting her enduring legacy in the world of art.

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