First ever exhibition of works by French writer George Sand to be presented at Jill Newhouse Gallery
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First ever exhibition of works by French writer George Sand to be presented at Jill Newhouse Gallery
George Sand, Mountainous Landscape with Lake. Dendrite, watercolor and gouache on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches.

NEW YORK, NY.- One of the very few successful female writers of the 19th century, George Sand is best known as a novelist and playwright, a true equal of her male contemporaries Balzac, Flaubert, and Victor Hugo. Sand published more than 70 novels and 30 plays in her lifetime, as well as being a regularly published journalist.

Less well known about George Sand is that she was also a brilliant and innovative visual artist working primarily on paper; and although her oeuvre is well known in Europe, it has never been shown in the United States. The watercolors shown here will confirm Sand’s reputation as a painter, while telling the story of the life of a female author and artist in 19th century France.

George Sand (1804-1876) was born Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin in France in 1804, the daughter of a working class mother and a father of aristocratic descent. As a child, Amandine spent a good deal of time in Paris, but was raised primarily by her paternal grandmother in a chateau named Nohant in the Berry region of central France. It would eventually become her home, and as of 1952, a French national museum named in her honor.

Although Sand’s life reads like the stuff of Romantic novels, she was in fact a tirelessly productive artist. She began her career as a journalist, publishing articles in Le Figaro and La Revue de Paris, under a pseudonym adapted from her writing partner’s name Jules Sandeau. In 1832, the publication of her novel Indiana brought her immediate fame, and launched a passionate protest against the restrictive social conventions then in place for women by telling the semi-autobiographic story of a young wife who abandons an unhappy marriage to find love. With the additional publication in 1855 of what would become her most famous literary works, Lélia, and La Mare au Diable, Sand had ample material to fill her five-volume autobiography, which she had been planning for years, and which she titled simply Histoire de ma vie.

George Sand was befriended by almost every important artistic and cultural figure of her day, including Balzac, Liszt, Delacroix, Flaubert, and Saint-Beuve, as well as being a lover to Chopin, Musset, and the stage actress Marie Dorval. (Her still popular nonfiction book A Winter in Mallorca, 1842, tells the story of her love affair with the gravely ill Chopin, but is told as a story of two men.) Most biographies describe Sand simply through these love affairs or focus on her reputation for challenging gender norms by wearing pants, and smoking cigars, both of which were against the laws of the time for women.

Yet in an era when women had very little agency, George Sand possessed remarkable independence and freedom. She actively engaged with current events, lobbying Emperor Louis-Napoléon for leniency toward imprisoned rebels following the 1848 Revolution, though she was later fiercely critical of the violence of the 1871 Commune. Perhaps most remarkably, she obtained a divorce from her husband Casimir Dudevant in 1835, and then won a series of legal battles to gain financial autonomy, as well as custody of her two children, Maurice and Solange. And though she struggled at times, Sand was ultimately able to support her family through her work as writer, and at the same time, to produce a body of works on paper that is original, inventive, and unique.

Drawing Technique- "Dendrite"

Like many of the women of her class in France in the 19th century, George Sand received instruction in drawing and music as part of her core education. But her originality and radicalism can be seen later in her career in the invention of her own watercolor technique which she called “dendrite” (the term derived from her study of natural history and mineralogy and refers to branching patterns that resemble the branches of a tree. They are found in nature in many different forms, including leaves, river systems, lightning bolts, and snowflakes.) Also called “aquarelles à l’écrasage” (crushed watercolors), these intimate works were made by applying dollops of pure pigment to a piece of thick Bristol paper, then pressing a second moistened sheet on top. When the sheet was lifted, a series of abstract, textured zones of color were revealed, which she would then enhance with watercolor and gouache, turning abstract forms into imagined landscapes of mountains and lakes.

Sometimes she made the more radical choice not to enhance the original abstract forms on the page, leaving the pressed and rubbed color as it was. These works were called “taches” or “stains.” At other times, she used decoupage and collage in combination with the watercolor, even adding real plant matter attached with glue adhesive.

George Sand Today

What is the significance of Sand’s art for viewers today? Is her gender relevant to our understanding and appreciation of her drawings? Sand was often praised by her contemporaries for the androgynous nature of her talent and personality. Elizabeth Barrett Browning dedicated a sonnet to the “large-brained woman and great-hearted man who has given herself the name George Sand.” Flaubert wrote “You had to know her as I knew her to realize how much of the feminine there was in this great man, the immensity of tenderness to be found in this genius.” And Turgenev lauded her by declaring, “What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.” At her funeral, Victor Hugo noted her important contribution to the arts and to women’s rights. These are all obviously outdated modes of acclaim, from a time when the world was stuck in binary ruts of all kinds. Sand’s beautiful, skillful, and idiosyncratic drawings demonstrate what a woman’s creative powers can yield when unbounded by convention, and limitless in imagination: she was a true artist, her drawings are worth our attention, hers was an art like no other.

Jill Newhouse Gallery
The Watercolors of George Sand (she/her/hers) 1804-1876
November 1st, 2023 - November 30th, 2023

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