Women are the majority of plein air painters, but some are afraid to be outside working alone.
|The Alaska Range, by Carol L. Douglas|
Louise-Joséphine Sarazin de Belmont was a landscape painter who traveled around Italy painting ‘views’ at a time when nice women were expected to be chaperoned in public. She made a tidy income for herself in the process. She’s one of two female artists represented in the National Gallery’s True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which runs until May.
The other is Rosa Bonheur, who is best known for her animal paintings (including The Horse Fair). Bonheur was a one-off, refusing to be pigeonholed by society. She dressed in men’s clothing and openly lived with women. She didn’t want to be male; instead, she felt that trousers and short hair gave her an advantage when handling large animals.
|Clouds over Teslin Lake, the Yukon, by Carol L. Douglas|
We have an idea that 19th-century society was extremely repressed, but Bonheur was its most famous woman painter. Among those who admired her work was Queen Victoria. Bonheur, like Sarazin de Belmont, was an astute businesswoman, able to earn enough by age 37 to buy herself the Chateau de By.
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot are the best-known 19th century painters today; why weren’t they as popular then? In part, they suffered from their restricted subject matter.
|Western Ontario forest, by Carol L. Douglas|
“Morisot isn’t going out with all of her paint tools, like everybody else, and setting up along the river and painting all day,” said curator Mary Morton in this thoughtful essay by Karen Chernick. “That’s absolutely because of the limitations of her gender and her class. She’s a nice upper middle-class French woman, and it’s just not seemly. In the end, her most accomplished pictures tend to be things she can do indoors.”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, after reading a plaintive letter from a woman afraid to paint alone outdoors. “Can you give me tips for safety?” she asked.
|Cobequid Bay Farm, Hants County, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas|
Since the plein air painting scene is predominantly female, many women have made the adjustment to working alone. I’ve camped and painted alone through the Atlantic states and for 10,000 miles through Alaska and Canada with my daughter. I’ve been unnerved by tourists acting idiotically, but I’ve never been bothered by human predators.
But perhaps I’m not harassed because I’m so old, this blogger suggests. I don’t think so; I’ve been doing it for a long time. And I’m not the only woman interested in painting on the road. Deborah Frey McAllister created the International Sisterhood of the Traveling Paints on Facebook. Debby calls herself a ‘free range artist.’
|Hermit's Peak, El Porviner, NM, by Carol L. Douglas|
It’s possible to run into trouble anywhere. In my experience, there are stranger people in town parks than in national forests. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was being warned away from drug deals. But be alert and aware of your surroundings.
The subject is something I'll address when I speak to the Knox County Art Society on tips for the traveling painter. That’s Tuesday, March 10, at 7 PM in the Marianne W. Smith Gallery at the Lord Camden Inn, 24 Main Street, Camden. The talk is open to the public; the suggested donation is $5.