Virginie Demont-Breton

1859Courrières, France | 1935Paris, France
Virginie Demont-Breton — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Petit Pierre Lanith, Portrait de Virginie Demont-Breton, ca. 1900, 7.4 x 4.2 cm, silver print mounted on cardboard

French painter.

Virginie Demont-Breton learnt to paint in the studio of her father, Jules Breton (1827-1906). She exhibited her first painting at the Salon in 1880. In 1881 she won a third-class medal, which enabled her to forgo the jury’s approbation to submit her works. Her career was prestigious, as demonstrated by the list of her accomplishments published on the occasion of her nomination as Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1914. In 1883 she presented her works outside competition at the Paris salons and won gold medals at the Paris World’s Fairs in 1889 and 1900. She also received a gold medal at the Amsterdam World’s Fair in 1883 and an honorary certificate at the same event in 1894. That year, she was made Knight of the Legion of Honour. In 1897 she was made Knight of the Order of King Leopold of Belgium. She served as honorary chair of the union of women painters and sculptors in 1900 and replaced the painter Aimé Morot as a member of the Royal Academy of Antwerp in 1913.

In 1880 she married painter Adrien Demont (1851-1928), a student of her uncle Émile Breton (1831-1902). In 1890 the couple settled in Wissant, Pas-de-Calais, where the lives of the fishermen – particularly their wives and children – inspired many of her canvases: Les Tourmentées (The tormented), L’Homme est en mer (The man is at sea), La Trempée(The dip), Fils de Pêcheur (Fisherman’s son), Tête de marin (Portrait of a sailor), Stella Maris, Gamins se baignant(Children bathing) and Le bain (Sea bathing), among others.
Her painting La Plage (The beach, 1883), which the French state purchased at the Salon in 1883, earned her an out of competition nomination. In 1891 the Comité des Artistes Français elected V. Demont-Breton to the painting jury. This recognition from an almost entirely male jury – with the exception of Rosa Bonheur – shows how important V. Demont-Breton was as an artist and as a member of major artistic institutions. In 1893 she exhibited her work at the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

V. Demont-Breton’s academic style, distinguished career and quiet family life must not detract from her commitment to having the rights of women artists recognised. As a member of the union of women painters and sculptors as from 1883 and its chair from 1895 to 1901, she and her counterpart Hélène Bertaux used their fame to achieve decisive victories, such as women being allowed to enrol in the École des Beaux-Arts and to compete in the Prix de Rome. V. Demont-Breton’s drive was especially remarkable given that she had never personally experienced the difficulties that other young women had encountered in their access to training.

Laurent Manoeuvre

Translated from French by Lucy Pons.

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

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