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Women sculptors and male assistants : a criticized but common practice in France in the long nineteenth century

Marjan Sterckx (UGent)
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Abstract
The creation process of sculpture always has relied on the use of assistants. However, women sculptors often have faced a double standard. Despite simply following standard sculpting practices, they have commonly been reproached for not being the true authors of their works, as sceptics could hardly believe a woman, due to her slighter physique, could be a sculptor. The multitude of references to such rumours and comments in historic and more recent publications on women sculptors shows that it has been an international and persistent phenomenon. This article takes France, and particularly Paris, as a case study, covering the (very) long nineteenth century, with the aim of examining developments across different periods. The earliest French sculptresses – some worked as ‘amateurs’ because of their high social status while others struggled to make money – were attacked for their use of assistants. The Second Empire, with its many commissions for contemporary sculptors, saw a rise in ‘professional’ women sculptors from the middle classes. It then became more acceptable for women to employ assistants and openly communicate about it. The relatively easy access to praticiens in Paris actually seems to have helped sculptresses in nurturing professional careers alongside their male colleagues, while their training opportunities were still all but equal. In the late nineteenth century, when training and exhibition possibilities grew, a new wave of amateur women artists again elicited new accusations on authorship. Some sculptresses preferred to work entirely on their own, precisely to avoid rumours, or because they liked to master and practice all skills themselves. This ties into the twentieth-century vogue for direct carving, which attracted some female practitioners despite its association with masculinity. The fact that women sculptors’s (assisted) work often was viewed differently because of their gender and biology created yet another obstacle in their careers.
Sculpter a toujours requis l’aide d’assistants. Pourtant, les femmes sculpteurs se sont souvent heurtées à une double injonction. Alors qu’elles suivaient les mêmes pratiques d’atelier que les hommes, elles furent accusées de ne pas être les véritables auteurs de leurs oeuvres. On ne pouvait croire qu’une faible femme puisse sculpter. Les multiples allusions à ces rumeurs relevées dans les monographies sur les femmes sculpteurs montrent leur caractère persistant et universel. Cet article choisit Paris comme cadre d’une étude de cas, tout au long du xixe siècle au sens le plus large, afin de noter une évolution sur différentes périodes. Déjà les pionnières parmi les françaises, qu’elles travaillent en amateurs en raison de leur statut social élevé, ou qu’elles luttent contre des difficultés financières, furent critiquées pour avoir employé des assistants. Le Second Empire, avec ses nombreuses commandes à des sculpteurs contemporains, vit l’essor des femmes sculpteurs professionnelles issues des classes moyennes. Le recours à des aides fut désormais mieux accepté, tout comme le fait d’en parler ouvertement. La relative facilité à trouver des praticiens à Paris semble avoir aidé ces artistes à mener des carrières professionnelles parallèles à celles de leurs collègues masculins, tandis que leurs occasions d’apprentissage étaient toujours loin d’être équivalentes à celles des hommes. À la fin du xixe siècle, quand les offres de formation et d’exposition s’accrurent, une nouvelle vague de femmes amateurs suscita des réactions de défense. Certaines préférèrent travailler seules, précisément pour éviter les rumeurs, d’autres parce qu’elles aimaient maîtriser elles-mêmes tous les savoir-faire. Cette attitude est liée à la vogue de la taille directe au xxe siècle, qui bien qu’associée aux hommes, eut un succès aussi chez les femmes. Le fait que le travail des femmes soit souvent apprécié en fonction de leur sexe, autre obstacle à leurs carrières, fut préjudiciable à la réception de leur oeuvre, tant à leur époque que dans le futur.
Keywords
sculpture, women sculptors, France, Paris, 19th century, creation process, gender, authorship, praticien, practice

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Chicago
Sterckx, Marjan. 2019. “Women Sculptors and Male Assistants : a Criticized but Common Practice in France in the Long Nineteenth Century.” In L’invention Partagée : Élaboration Plurielle Dans Les Arts Visuels (XIIIe-XXIe Siècle), ed. Laurence Riviale and Jean-François Luneau, 125–143. Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal.
APA
Sterckx, M. (2019). Women sculptors and male assistants : a criticized but common practice in France in the long nineteenth century. In L. Riviale & J.-F. Luneau (Eds.), L’invention partagée : élaboration plurielle dans les arts visuels (XIIIe-XXIe siècle) (pp. 125–143). Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal.
Vancouver
1.
Sterckx M. Women sculptors and male assistants : a criticized but common practice in France in the long nineteenth century. In: Riviale L, Luneau J-F, editors. L’invention partagée : élaboration plurielle dans les arts visuels (XIIIe-XXIe siècle). Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal; 2019. p. 125–43.
MLA
Sterckx, Marjan. “Women Sculptors and Male Assistants : a Criticized but Common Practice in France in the Long Nineteenth Century.” L’invention Partagée : Élaboration Plurielle Dans Les Arts Visuels (XIIIe-XXIe Siècle). Ed. Laurence Riviale & Jean-François Luneau. Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal, 2019. 125–143. Print.
@incollection{7208917,
  abstract     = {The creation process of sculpture always has relied on the use of assistants. However, women sculptors often have faced a double standard. Despite simply following standard sculpting practices, they have commonly been reproached for not being the true authors of their works, as sceptics could hardly believe a woman, due to her slighter physique, could be a sculptor. The multitude of references to such rumours and comments in historic and more recent publications on women sculptors shows that it has been an international and persistent phenomenon. This article takes France, and particularly Paris, as a case study, covering the (very) long nineteenth century, with the aim of examining developments across different periods. 
The earliest French sculptresses – some worked as ‘amateurs’ because of their high social status while others struggled to make money – were attacked for their use of assistants. The Second Empire, with its many commissions for contemporary sculptors, saw a rise in ‘professional’ women sculptors from the middle classes. It then became more acceptable for women to employ assistants and openly communicate about it. The relatively easy access to praticiens in Paris actually seems to have helped sculptresses in nurturing professional careers alongside their male colleagues, while their training opportunities were still all but equal.  
In the late nineteenth century, when training and exhibition possibilities grew, a new wave of amateur women artists again elicited new accusations on authorship. Some sculptresses preferred to work entirely on their own, precisely to avoid rumours, or because they liked to master and practice all skills themselves. This ties into the twentieth-century vogue for direct carving, which attracted some female practitioners despite its association with masculinity. The fact that women sculptors’s (assisted) work often was viewed differently because of their gender and biology created yet another obstacle in their careers.  
},
  author       = {Sterckx, Marjan},
  booktitle    = {L’invention partagée : élaboration plurielle dans les arts visuels (XIIIe-XXIe siècle)},
  editor       = {Riviale, Laurence and Luneau, Jean-François},
  isbn         = {9782845168473},
  keywords     = {sculpture,women sculptors,France,Paris,19th century,creation process,gender,authorship,praticien,practice},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {125--143},
  publisher    = {Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal},
  series       = {Histoires Croisées},
  title        = {Women sculptors and male assistants : a criticized but common practice in France in the long nineteenth century},
  url          = {http://www.lcdpu.fr/livre/?GCOI=27000100824410&fa=description},
  year         = {2019},
}