Muses for the Ages

From the New Orleans Museum of Art exhibit, “Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France”: above: “Gloppe Pastry Shop,” 1889, by Jean Béraud

“The Bathers,” 1918, by Pablo Picasso

This March, women will be celebrated in New Orleans by way of the arts, and rightfully so, as Women’s History is recognized nationwide this month. There are two local events that highlight the significance of women in art in New Orleans and France. While one showcases women’s creations, the other examines women as inspiration.

Newcomb Pottery high-glaze tyg, 1906,
“Pi Beta Phi Sorority,” by Henrietta Bailey; Newcomb Pottery charger, 1904, “Blue Crabs,” by Sabina Elliot Wells; Newcomb Pottery vase, 1930, “Espanol,” by Anna Francis Simpson.

Newcomb Lives
Considered one of the most significant American art potteries of the early 20th century, collectors will have the opportunity to bid on pre-1930 Newcomb pottery pieces and other wares at the Save Newcomb College Fund auction on March 24 and 25.

The fundraiser at the New Orleans Auction Galleries is to support the nonprofit group, the Future of Newcomb College, in ongoing litigation against Tulane University’s March 2006 decision to transform the independent women’s college into an umbrella organization within the university.

H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, an all-women’s school, was founded in 1886 at Tulane with funds donated by Josephine Louise Newcomb in honor of her daughter who passed away as a teenager. The initial gift of $100,000 was followed by donations totaling $3 million, thus establishing the first degree-granting college for females created within a United States university.

“This is an extremely well-endowed college. We have the money and women who want to go there and the alumnae base who doesn’t want it to go away,” says lead auctioneer, Ruthie Winston. “It is the right of individuals to receive single-sex education if they chose to.”

Alumnae from across the country have donated their sentimental treasures ranging from metalwork to drawings with hopes of keeping the Newcomb mission alive and having the school reinstated as a separate, distinct facility within Tulane.

The auction items are phenomenal, in particular the pottery. Each article was hand-thrown by a master potter, then designed, glazed and decorated by a Newcomb student. Winston explained these pieces are hot commodities with early 1920s items experiencing a boom among collectors. What makes Newcomb pottery—considered “blue-chip” art pottery in some circles—even more fabulous, she says, is the fact they are evocative to the New Orleans backdrop and the era in which they were crafted.

“They feature organic elements of the environment: moss, pine trees, cypress,” Winston says.

Auction highlights include a high-glazed platter by Sabina Elliot Wells, dated 1904. The circular charger, “Blue Crabs,” portrays a scene with three large blue crabs. Winston says similar objects at recent auctions have gone for as much as $50,000. She believes this will be no exception. Henrietta Bailey’s 1906 high-glazed pottery tyg (a three-handled cup) bearing the Pi Beta Phi Sorority seal, as well as a vellum-glazed vase, “Espanol” by Anna Francis Simpson, are among the fine art up for grabs. Also for the cause, William Woodward’s great-grandson donated an engraving of the Ursuline Street Convent done by this artist who ran the school’s art department in the early days.

“When you get to this level, you are talking about tens of thousands of dollars,” Winston says. For more information, visit www.newcomblives.com.

“Dancers on Stage” by Edgar Degas, part of the “Femme, femme, femme” exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

In Praise of Women
All aspects of woman—joy and pain, domestic life and those trailblazing pioneers that carved out a path for today’s female goddesses—will be celebrated in the exhibit, “Femme, femme, femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France.” The display, on view March 4 to June 3, is a landmark gift from the country of France and will be shown exclusively at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Composed of 83 paintings from the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and 43 other museums throughout France, the works are from artists like Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Interest has been running high for this exhibition, says NOMA public relations officer, Brandi Hand.

“This has never been seen in America like this,” Hand says of the show presented to New Orleans by a delegation of French dignitaries to encourage tourism in the city. “The paintings are so beautiful. Some are by familiar artists. Some are by artists you probably never heard of, but they will make you so excited that you will want to learn about them.”

“Femme” is divided into five themed sections. The first exemplifies the maturation of woman and includes masterpieces such as Edouard Vuillard’s oil on cardboard, “Annette’s Supper,” which shows a child being fed. Women at work—in and out of the home—is the focus of the second part, with Edouard Manet’s 1878 “The Beer Waitress” as the standout piece in this group. The third part is about women in the professional sphere as singers, writers and artists, and includes a self-portrait by Impressionist Berthe Morisot. Women at play are featured in the fourth section and the final installment illustrates the modern woman.

“The overall idea is you see traditional images like that of a mother. Then, you see the growth of women. How she entered the workforce, sports and even started driving cars,” Hand says. “You don’t even think about that as a woman today, but that was revolutionary in the 1800s. It’s interesting to see how much can change over 100 years. It makes me think of what my generation is going to accomplish.”
For more information, visit www.noma.org.

Paintings courtesy of NOMA; Newcomb pottery photographs by Gary Michael Gittelson