Émilie Charmy pastel and pencil drawing with a charcoal and pencil sketch on the back.
It measures just over 15″/38cm x 18″/46cm framed and the actual sketch measures 8.5″/22cm x 11″/28cm.
Émilie Charmy (pronounced “shar-mee”) was born on April 2nd 1878 and died in 1974, she was an artist in France’s early avant-garde. She worked closely with Fauve artists like Henri Matisse, and was active in exhibiting her artworks in Paris, particularly with Berthe Weill.
She had become an artist against the norms for French women in her day and became a well-regarded artist. She made still life, landscape, figure pictures and, very rare for a woman at the time, a number of nude paintings of women. Charmy’s initial works were Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. As her career evolved she was influenced by Fauvism and the School of Paris movements. She was a recipient of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.
When women were shunned from the art world, and most women regarded painting as a hobby, Charmy was consumed by her work and was entirely financially dependent on her art. For her, “painting was an obsession which dominated many other aspects of her life.”
Charmy primarily painted women in domestic or bourgeois settings, as well as pictures of flowers and still-life. Her flower paintings and still-life paintings were very marketable because they were considered decorative, and were sought after by the middle class. In regards to Charmy’s nude paintings, Gill Perry proposes that Charmy is intentionally trying to restrict the viewer from the intimate scenes that she depicts.
French novelist Roland Dorgelès described Charmy as “a great free painter; beyond influences and without method, she creates her own separate kingdom where the flights of her sensibility rule alone.” There is a great sense of abstraction in her images, with varying opinions by art critics. Her bold use of color and her unapologetic brushstrokes have been deemed as “appropriating…a ‘masculine’ language of art production,” according her contemporaries. The most famous quote came from Roland Dorgelès:
Émilie Charmy, it would appear, sees like a woman and paints like a man; from the one she takes grace and from the other strength, and this is what makes her such a strange and powerful painter who holds our attention.”
It is Charmy’s resistance to traditional gender roles that makes her unique for her time. For her career and depiction of nude women in a period in which that was unusual for women, she epitomized the New Woman of the 19th century and early 20th century.
In terms of the business side of her career, Charmy refused to sign contracts with art dealers and gallery owners, save for one unsuccessful contract with the dealer Pétridès in the early 1930s.