Our publications

Symposium papers

Published on

Faire œuvre

Women’s Access to the École nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris: The Struggles of the Union of Women Painters and Sculptors and of Their Allies

Catherine Gonnard


In 1881, when the sculptor Hélène Bertaux and her friends founded the Union des femmes peintres et sculpteurs (Union of Women Painters and Sculptors), young women who wanted to become artists were not allowed to access free tuition at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris and therefore could not compete in prestigious prizes. This situation would lead to a twenty-year struggle led successively by the Union’s two chairwomen, Hélène Bertaux and Virginie Demont-Breton. They received the support of the feminist press – La Citoyenne, followed by La Fronde – of educational theorists such as Édouard Petit, and of political leaders such as René Viviani. Their goal was not only to establish the professional status of women artists and their right to equal tuition alongside men, but also to grant women symbolic access to official art and its honours. This struggle, which is often overlooked by historians of feminism and art, was in fact considered exemplary by its contemporaries.


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