Beauty is Medicine

Patrick Bringley worked at the NEW YORKER magazine. It was a flashy job that stopped shining when his brother became seriously ill and subsequently died.

Grief rearranges one’s priorities. Patrick no longer felt the need for a glamorous job.  He needed something powerful enough to help him absorb his grief. When he was a child, Bringley’s mother used to take him and his brother to visit museums. Remembering the pleasure all that beauty gave him, Bringley abandoned his trendy job to become a museum guard at the Met.

Research shows that appreciating beauty distracts you from your misery thus helping to heal anxiety and depression. Engaging with beauty can help reduce inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, as well as other stressed produced illnesses.

Experiencing awe because of beauty is a transcendental experience and sometimes the more we transcend ourselves, the easier it becomes to feel better.

Says Bringley: “I arrived at the Met with no thought of moving forward. My heart is full, my heart is breaking, and I badly have to stand still awhile.”

After 10 years of working as a Met guard, Bringley felt it was time to move on. He is now married and the father of two and providing for his family, his main priority. Despite the Met’s sock allowance for guards, the pay was not enough for a family man.

I, too, like Bringley sought solace in beauty after the death of my mom. Grief distorts your perception and you can feel that that darkness within will never go away. Grief that goes into loop needs to be nipped. And, for myself, the best way to do so is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Since when we are sad it is difficult to think about happier times, I’ve created a Pretty Memories catalogue as a reminder that life has been very generous with me.

Paintings are like opened windows waiting for you to jump inside. Some beauty is louder than others and shouts out your name. Some beauty is ignored as not everyone understands its nuances.

In a fairly recent study, researchers found that just 13% of artists featured in museum collections were women. And as women are so severely underrepresented in the art world, I am posting below five works by women that can be found at the Met.

Marie-Josephine Charlotte du Villers by Marie Denise Villers

Marie Denise Villers (1786-1868) was born in Paris just 15 years before the French Revolution. Marie was a trained Neo-classical portraitist. In her mid-20s, Marie began taking painting lessons with Jacques-Louis David. She also married an architecture student who supported his wife’s artistic career and did not expect her to give it up as was the norm at the time.

Although the above portrait is catalogued as the portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, it’s believed by some to be Villers’ self-portrait. For many years academics believed that the portrait had been painted by David refusing to believe that a woman could be as talented as a man.

 Buffalo Bill by Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) loved animals and paintingthem was her passion. She was homosexual and had to get authorization from the Prefecture of Police to wear men’s clothing in public. She wanted to wear men’s clothing because it made it easier for her to get around and she had things to do.

Rosa was taught to paint by her father, an artist and a member of the Saint-Simonian movement that promoted social justice.

When Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to Paris in 1889, Rosa went to the grounds so she could sketch the exotic American animals. Here she met Buffalo Bill and invited him to her chateau at Fontainebleau where she painted his portrait (shown above).

Rosa is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her companion Anna Klumpke.

Portrait of Rosa Bonheur by Anna Klumpke

Anna Klumpke (1856-1942) was born in San Francisco into a wealthy family. At three, she fell and broke her femur making it difficult for her to walk. So her mom took her to Europe hoping to find a cure. The geographical distance permanently alienated her parents one from the other so they divorced and Anna’s mother decided to live in Germany with her children.

In 1877 Anna moved to Paris with her family. Here she began studying art at Académie Julian

As a little girl, Anna had played with a “Rosa” doll. That is, a doll modelled after Rosa Bonheur who was very famous at the time. So it must have been a shock when in 1895 Anna met Rosa. Anna wanted to paint Rosa’s portrait. Rosa had a studio set up for Anna in exchange of three portraits of her done by Anna. Anna was also to write Rosa’s biography.

Although there was a c. 35 years difference in age, the two were very compatible and lived together until Rosa’s death. Anna and Rosa are buried together with “Friendship is divine affection” written on their tomb.

The Pink Dress by Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot (1844-1895) enchants me. The great-niece of Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, she was intrigued by Edouard Manet. Despite her knowledge about what had happened to Victorine Meurent, Manet’s previous model, Berthe became his model, muse, and maybe even his lover. Manet was a real lady’s man. Zola called him “an elegant cavalier” who, it seems, often behaved as a cad. Although Manet was married, he had no problems having lovers.

In all the emotional and social confusion, Berthe married Manet’s brother. Manet might have been an incredible painter but he was not a gentleman. Once Berthe had become an established painter, Manet told a group of friends that “My sister-in-law would not have existed without me.” But by dumping her, he did Berthe a favor. Because of his many lovers, Manet painfully died of syphilis.

Morisot would later state: “I do not think any man would ever treat a woman as his equal, and it is all I ask, because I know my worth.” 

“The Cup of Tea” by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

In terms of conditions of possibility, Mary had it better than most as an aspiring female artist of the times. She came from a very wealthy family who could afford to help Mary achieve her goal. When just in her 20s, Mary convinced her parents to let her study in Paris where she initially took private lessons with the well-known artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. In additions to her studies with Gérôme, on most days Mary would go to the Louvre where, along with other “copyists” she studies the masterpieces.

Edgar Degas saw one of Mary’s paintings at an exhibition and later invited her to show her works with the Impressionists. Degas and Mary created a very strong rapport that lasted until his death in 1917.

Mary Cassatt US Postage


Related:  The Healing Power of Nature and Beauty: Florence Nightingale on Expediting Recovery from Illness and Burnout +

Wild West shows + Buffalo Bill aka William Cody + I butteri maremmani finiscono sul New York Times; this article is about how an Italian cowboy (buttero) defeated Buffalo Bill +

Fragonard and Morisot? + Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet: Painters in Paris + The Gaze of Victorine Meurent +

The above ladies on Wikipedia: Marie-Denise Villers + Rosa Bonheur + Anna Klumpke + Berthe Morisot + Mary Cassatt +

Sisters, Cancer and the Cathartic Power of Art + Art therapy Brought Her Back,Video on treating dementia with art

About Art for Housewives

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This entry was posted in art, Beauty, Books, female consciousness, Paris, PRETTY MEMORIES and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beauty is Medicine

  1. Madeleine says:

    Thank you so much for this post! My late husbands’ grandfather saw Buffalo Bills’ show in Germany and told him about it. And then, so much later, my sweet love told me about that. Seeing this painting gave me one more connection to all that has gone before. What a gift!

  2. What a lovely story… glad it gave you a pleasant memory

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