The patronage of modern art by the high society women of Paris, 1871-1914

by Melanson, Elizabeth, Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE, 2013, 429 pages; 3594954


This dissertation examines the patronage of modern art by the high society women of Paris during the Belle Époque. As histories of modernism took shape, women's patronage was erased from the record, leaving almost no trace of their influence on the major artists and movements of the period. Patronage is an underdeveloped facet of the study of gender and women in the arts, and my work offers a new perspective on the history and theory of early modernism.

In the first chapter, I consider how Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe validated her elite place in society through the patronage and promotion of art that conformed to her definition of "aristocratic modernism." In the second chapter, I examine how the patronage practices of wealthy Jewish women contributed to their assimilation into French society during a period of intense antisemitism, and argue that Jewish women's patronage had a major impact on the development and history of Impressionism. In the third chapter, I explore the art patronage of Winnaretta Singer-Polignac, an American expatriate in France who reinterpreted the work of the Symbolists to develop and articulate her identity as a lesbian in the early twentieth century.

These case studies reveal that the gender, class, religion, and sexuality of women patrons had an important impact on the development of modern art. In turn, the patronage of modern art contributed to the formation of these identities in high society women. My study expands on the work of feminist art historians by looking beyond art and artists to consider the forgotten influence of women patrons on artistic style, the careers and reputations of artists, and the reception and understanding of modern art in France. An examination of women's patronage constructs an alternative history of early twentieth-century art, and allows for a more nuanced definition of modernism that considers lesser known artists and styles.

AdviserMargaret Werth
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsArt history; Women's studies
Publication Number3594954

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