In the first US retrospective of the work of Émilie Charmy (1878-1974), organized by the Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia, visitors have an opportunity to rediscover this distinctive and provocative artist, one of the most original female voices of modern art in Paris during the first half of the 20th century. Featuring 25 paintings—the majority of which have never appeared in the US—the exhibition presents Charmy, an exhibitor at the legendary 1913 Armory Show, in a new light. Her painting engaged with major artistic currents, from impressionism and post-impressionism to fauvism, before World War I, and she pursued an expressive, modernist naturalism thereafter.
From the very beginning of her career, Charmy was defined according to the notion of the femme-peintre, a term whose currency in the early 20th century signaled a relative expansion in the visibility of female artists among dealers, collectors, and critics interested in modern French art. What made Charmy’s art distinctive and provocative in its own time was that it seemed to elude simple gendered expectations. The critics were unanimous in finding 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.
Charmy’s 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 introspection and masquerade, Charmy fell out of the public eye, and her work is only now beginning to resurface.
The Arts Club is pleased to present this retrospective of her work, developed at the Fralin. The exhibition is curated by Matthew Affron, Curator of Modern Art and Associate Professor, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia.