Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau (1837-1922)
One of the first American women artists who dared to invade the all male establishment of the French art academies. According to her obituary in the New York Times, she "literally opened Paris ateliers to the women of the world." She also became the first American woman to exhibit, and later to win a medal, at the Paris Salon.
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, Gardner graduated in 1856 from Lasell Seminary in Auburndale, Mass. There she received the proper young lady's training-drawing from outline cards and dabbling in watercolors. At Lasell she became friends with her teacher Imogene Robinson, a bold spirit who went off to study in Dusseldorf and seems to have had a strong influence on her pupil. While coping old masters in Boston, trying to supplement her "polite" art education, Gardner became convinced that her drawing was inadequate and that she, too, needed thorough European training. In 1864 she sailed for Paris with Robinson.
Gardner became an accomplished painter, the first American woman to exhibit in the Paris Salon, in 1866, and the first to win a gold medal (from her painting, Impudence in 1877). Her studio on the Rue Notre Dame des Champs became a mecca for visiting Americans traveling abroad.
She clearly adopted the style and technique of her mentor and husband, William Adolpe Bouguereau. In an oft-quoted remark, she frankly revealed, "I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody." Certainly, her technical skill and draftsmanship are notable.
Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau was a woman who knew she wanted success in the main arena of the male art establishment of her day, and went after it with unwavering force of character. After her husbands death in 1905, she once again produced four major paintings a year until she was hampered by rheumatism.
Paris Salon, from 1872 (first woman to win gold medal)
Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889 (bronze medal)
Philadelphia Centennial, 1876 (awards)
Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893