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Fortnum’s paintings depict sculptural works by fifteen women who were associated with Rodin’s studio, shining a light on these often-overlooked sculptors.
Fortnum conducted part of her research during her 2021-22 Henry Moore Institute Research Fellowship, which she spent searching for little-known portrait sculptures produced by women who worked in, or visited, Rodin’s Paris studio.
As they were not able to enter the École des Beaux-Arts until 1897, women aspiring to become professional artists often studied at a private academy before apprenticing with a ‘master’, and, for the most part, encountered prejudice as women working in a male-dominated profession.
Rodin devoted significant time to training women to sculpt, and sometimes went on to employ them in his studio as an assistant or praticienne. As women determined to make art against the odds, each of the artists that Fortnum has selected to make work from has an extraordinary, and in many cases unpublished, life narrative.
Through the works in Les Praticiennes, Fortnum seeks to shed light on this web of friendship, association and influence from all over the globe, including England, Scotland, France, Russia, Germany, America and Finland.
Fortnum’s paintings are based on portraits of women sculpted by women. They are displayed on specially designed, hand-printed wallpaper that, working against the averted or downward gaze of the sitters in the paintings, draws the viewer into its ornamentation and symmetry.
The accompanying drawings, made with dense carbon pencil, are based on portraits of men produced by the women. The images often depict figures close to the artists – partners, teachers, fathers – yet the vast scale of the works makes these encounters confrontational.
Fortnum explains of the works in the display, “most of these sculptures now only exist in photographic documents – by painting and drawing them I attempt to exhume them, ruminating on the often-overlooked legacy of women sculptors”.
The artists that have provided source material for Fortnum’s works range from the actress and sculptor Sarah Bernhardt, an artist twenty years Rodin’s junior, who was reputedly little admired by the master, to Malvina Hoffman, a pupil and loyal friend of his later years, to whom he sent his wedding photograph the year he died. The full list includes:
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
Kühne Beveridge (1879-1944)
Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Hilda Flodin (1877-1958)
Sigrid af Forselles (1860-1935)
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)
Anna Golubkina (1864-1927)
Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966)
Madeleine Jouvray (1862-1935)
Jessie Lipscomb (1861-1952)
Clara Rilke-Westhoff (1878-1954)
Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955)
Ottilie Maclaren Wallace (1875-1947)
Emilie Jenny Weyl (1855-1934)
Enid Yandell (1869-1934)