Though one of the most compelling female voices in French modern art, Émilie Charmy remains largely unrecognized. Curator Matthew Affron hopes to change that with an exhibition at U.Va.s Fralin Museum of Art
, the first U.S. retrospective of her work. The exhibition runs from Aug. 23, 2013 through Feb. 2, 2014, then travels to the Arts Club of Chicago, where it will run from Feb. 27 through May 17, 2014.
Affron, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and formerly The Fralins Curator of Modern Art, said, Charmys painting engaged with major artistic currents, from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism to Fauvism before World War I. She pursued an expressive, sensuous, modernist naturalism thereafter.
Indicative of her engagement with some of the most important art movements of her time, she was also an exhibitor at the legendary Armory Show in 1913 (which included artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso) and a friend of Colette, the literary icon and novelist of modern female experience, in the 1920s.
This exhibition features nearly 40 of the artists most important works, drawn from distinguished private American, British and French collections as well as from museums in both France and the United States.
From the very beginning of her career, Charmy was defined according to the notion of the femme-peintre (woman painter), a term whose currency in the early twentieth century signaled a relative expansion in the visibility of women artists among dealers, collectors, and critics interested in modern French art. Yet what made Charmys art distinctive and provocative in its own time was that it seemed to elude simple gendered expectations, said Affron. The critics were unanimous in finding both feminine and virile qualities in her expressive, physical, rough style, but surely they were also reacting to her handling of subject matter, particularly in the nudes, some of which developed a remarkably frank and complex presentation of sexuality.
Charmys success continued through the 1930s until World War II swept away most of her personal and professional networks. Though she continued to develop her work in new directions, notably with self-portraits that featured a curious and compelling fusion of self-revelation and masquerade, Charmy fell out of the public eye. Only recently has the artist started to resurface.