Louise Breslau

1856Munich, Germany | 1927Paris, France
Louise Breslau — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Breslau, Autoportrait, 1891, oil on mohogany panel, 46 x 39 cm, musée d’Art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg

Swiss painter and pastellist.

Louise Breslau was educated in a convent and took her first drawing lessons from 1874 to 1876 with Swiss portraitist and genre painter Eduard Pfyffer (1836-1899). At the age of nineteen, she decided to pursue her education abroad: “My thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and I knew that I would find ways to learn in Paris”, she wrote in June 1926 in the magazine Am Häuslichen Herd (p. 270). She chose to enrol in the Académie Julian, which offered a more alternative education than the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which was still not open to women at the time. A hard-working and ambitious student, she was considered the most promising and talented among her classmates, as her rival Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884) wrote in her diary.
At the suggestion of her teachers Rodolphe Julian (1830-1907) and Tony Robert Fleury (1837-1911), she presented her Portrait des amis [A portrait of friends] at the 1881 Salon, earning her an honourable mention and making her “one of the victors of the 1881 Salon” (Ernest Hoschedé in Henri IV, 14 May 1881). After this she went on to paint portraits exclusively, mostly of her relatives, as in the work Chez Soi [At home, 1885], a portrait of her mother and sister now kept at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.

In 1887, L. Breslau represented Switzerland at the World’s Fair and won a gold medal, securing her reputation as an officially recognised artist. Private commissions from members of the nobility and the wealthy middle-class quickly multiplied. L. Breslau was highly sought after for her ability to render the physical and psychological traits of her models, and made several portraits of children, most often in pastels. In 1892 she drew a portrait of Miss Adeline Poznanska,which she preceded with a number of studies in various poses and attitudes. The French state purchased several of her works during her lifetime and awarded her with the Legion of Honour in 1901, making her the first foreign recipient of the decoration.
At the onset of World War I, L. Breslau, who had been living in France for forty years, took the side of her adopted country. Looking to fulfil her patriotic duty, she created a series of portraits of soldiers called to the front and donated them to their families. From 1915 to 1917 she made several drawings of Red Cross nurses. In 1921 she painted a portrait of the writer Anatole France, then at the height of his success, whom she had met around 1890.

At the end of her life L. Breslau chose to work predominantly on still lifes. When she died in 1927 Madeleine Zillhardt (1863-1950), her partner since 1885, strove to defend the artist’s interests as best she could by donating most of her works to French museums and publishing L. Breslau’s writings. Two commemorative exhibitions devoted to the artist were held, in 1928 at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and in 1929 at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. While her work was later mostly forgotten, it found a new lease of life in 2005-2006 with the exhibition Louise Breslau, dans l’intimité du portrait at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon.

Franny Tachon

Translated from French by Lucy Pons.

Publication made in partnership with musée d’Orsay.
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Linked themes
Discover other artists
Biography published in the framework of the program
Partnership with the Musée d'Orsay

of Women Artists
& Exhibitions

Facebook - AWARE Twitter - AWARE Instagram - AWARE
Villa Vassilieff - 21, avenue du Maine 75015 Paris (France) — info[at]aware-art[.]org — +33 (0)1 55 26 90 29