Charmed by Charmy
Fascinating Fralin exhibit showcases underexposed artist's output
An impressive collection of modern art has temporarily taken up residence on the second floor of the Fralin Museum. “Émilie Charmy,” an exhibition of work from the French artist of the same name, offers students and the general public a rare opportunity to explore the output of a highly influential, though slightly overshadowed, modern artist.
As museum patrons enter the exhibition gallery, they are greeted with a small introduction to Charmy and her work, as well as a not-so-small photograph of Charmy herself. The gallery serves as a timeline of Charmy’s work – Fauve-esque still-lifes and landscapes shift into vibrant and sensual nudes, ending in sobering, ochre-colored works that capture the mindset of an enigmatic and ever-changing artist late in her career.
Early 20th-century France, though progressive in many ways, was still not what many would call liberally feminist. Female artists like Charmy, many of whom are now immortalized in the canons of art history, were often slighted by both critics and audiences. Indeed, in the 1922 show entitled “The Female Nude from Ingres to Present,” Charmy was the only female artist represented. Her work was often accused of being unnecessarily expressive and was ridiculed by her male contemporaries for her treatment of color and the female body. Though Charmy had achieved a great deal of fame and respect in art circles by the end of her career, much of this was attributed to her success as a female artist instead of as an artist.
The Fralin’s exhibition, unlike others in which she was premiered, displays Charmy’s works without pigeonholing her into the small box of “influential female artist.” The exhibition manages to note Charmy’s positive impact on feminism in art culture and the public’s view of female artists, while ultimately recognizing the beauty and expressiveness of the art itself – without excessive commentary on the artist’s gender. In essence, the exhibition is appreciation for art in its simplest form.
I highly recommend a visit to the exhibition – nowhere else will you get such an intimate glimpse into the life and work of the gifted Charmy. “Émilie Charmy” will be at the Fralin through February.