Amélie Beaury-Saurel 

The following has been taken from Magdalena Illán Martín’s papers titled “An excellent plea in favor of the rights of the woman by a painter. The representation of la femme moderne in the work of Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1848-1924)”, and “A female painter’s excellent argument in favor of women’s rights. 

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait of Gilbert Dupuis”
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait of Gilbert Dupuis”

In 1874, Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1848-1924) enrolled at the Académie Julian, and later went on to manage the expenses for the women’s studio and served as an intermediary between instructors and students. In 1895, she married the founder of the Académie, Rodolphe Julian, and continued her artistic career, achieving noted success as a portraitist. She earned medals for her submissions to the 1885 Paris Salon and the 1889 Exposition Universelle. After Julian’s death in 1907, Beaury-Saurel became director of the Académie, a position she held until her death in 1924.

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait de Femme”, oil on canvas, 39.37” x 30.31”, Municipal Museum, La Roche-sur-Yon, France. © Musée de La Roche-sur-Yon
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait de Femme”, oil on canvas, 39.37” x 30.31”, Municipal Museum, La Roche-sur-Yon, France. © Musée de La Roche-sur-Yon

 

Her Life

Introduction
Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1848-1924) is a great representative for female artists of the European art scene during the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Through her work, she proposed change in the social perception of women by confronting the traditional and sexist stereotypes in force during the period of the Belle Époque. Like few artists at that time, Beaury-Saurel reflected the attitude and personality of the femme moderne. Her personal appearance was widely highlighted by art critics evaluating her work, which was not always well-received, especially by the most conservative critics. In the social sphere at the turn of the century, Amélie contributed to promoting and spreading the image of women as independent, emancipated, professional, intellectual, and well-travelled.

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait of the Artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)” (1919), oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France © Photo: RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Portrait of the Artist Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)” (1919), oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
© Photo: RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Biographical Notes: A Life Devoted to Art
Amélie Elise Anna Beaury Saurel, was born on December 17, 1848, in Barcelona. Her parents, Camille Georges Beaury and Irma Catalina Saurel (1821-1907), both of French origin, had lived in Barcelona since 1845. There they founded the thriving carpet and tapestry factory – Saurel, Beaury y Compañía – a successful family-run factory. Amélie had an older sister, Irmeta, (1846-1933), who was also a painter, and a younger sister, Dolores (1858-1944), with whom the artist maintained a close relationship throughout her life.

Amélie’s family situation was interrupted at the end of 1850, most likely due to the death of her father and an eventual crisis with the family factory. This no doubt determined why Amélie’s mother decided to leave Barcelona and move to Paris with her three daughters around 1859. In an interview conducted in 1906, Amélie mentions she lived in Paris at the age of ten and describes a family with financial problems, referring especially to the difficulties her mother had to solve, a widow without fortune and with three daughters to raise.

It was this destabilization of the family that led Amélie and her sisters to learn pictorial techniques since, as the artist herself refers in the afore-mentioned interview, her mother saw her daughters as painters – specifically, in the field of painting porcelain – as a way of providing them with the skills of a profession that would allow them to earn a living and be independent. Thus, Amélie began her artistic training as a porcelain painter, a discipline she would qualify as commercial painting which, according to her statements, did not satisfy her creative restlessness. But, according to the artist, knowing her need to contribute to the family economy the young Amélie chose not to show her progress in class, in order to prevent her teachers from proposing that she train in more ambitious studies. Though more financially risky, her mother decided to nurture her daughter’s talent by accepting the sacrifices that would have to be made to the detriment of the well-being of the family. It was also her mother who took the initiative to take her ten-year-old daughter to the Louvre Museum to train copying the works of the great masters. At the age of 12, while copying Christ on the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens, the praise lavished on Amélie's work by painter Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury solidified her mother’s determination to pay for her studies at the prestigious Académie Julian. For this, among other reasons, Amélie had a high regard for her mother throughout her life. This was demonstrated in different ways, such as her decision to have her works signed as “Beaury-Saurel”, joining her paternal and maternal surnames with a hyphen, in order not to lose the latter.

Amélie’s personal life was fundamentally centered on the development of her professional career, to which she devoted herself with full exclusivity, as she affirmed during the time of her creative maturity: “My greatest pleasure is isolating myself between the four walls of my studio and work.” She was close to her mother and sisters, with whom she lived until 1895, when she married the painter and founder of the Académie Julian, Rodolphe Julian (1839-1907). It is revealing of her independent personality and deep dedication to her career that she married at age 47, when the average age of women marrying was around 23 years old. With her rigorous sense of autonomy, unlike the usual custom of assuming the surname of one’s husband as her own, Beaury-Saurel continued to sign her works with her paternal and maternal surnames. Only on very rare occasions did she present herself as Madame Julian and never signed her paintings as such, which has made it possible to identify their production without the problems that changes of surnames usually generate. Her marriage to Rodolphe Julian contributed to Amélie’s intense dedication to her professional activity, not only as a painter, but also as a teacher. She assumed the direction of the Académie workshop Julián dedicated to classes for women located in the Passage des Panoramas, number 27, next to the couple’s residence, on Rue d’Amboise. Soon, Amélie’s work at the Académie Julian was widely known in Paris and, especially, her formidable personality at the head of the famous l’atelier des femmes.

The 1890s marked the professional establishment of Amélie on the scene of French artists, being admitted in 1898 as a member of the prestigious Société des Artistes Français. On a personal level, the painter related to relevant figures of the Parisian political and cultural scene. She associated with women from different spheres – politics, journalism, creative arts or cultural patronage – who promoted the recognition of equal rights between women and men and projected their influential presence in public settings. Beaury-Saurel portrayed these women with attitudes defying conservative conventions. Amélie’s individualistic temperament and professional achievements in the last decade of the century, along with the originality of her portraits, resulted in receiving not only recognition in the artistic sphere, but a certain popularity in the social scene. In fact, in the early 1900s her image was used on the label of La Féria perfume from the prestigious Lenthéric House, which, as the product’s advertising reveals, was targeted to independent and creative women, traits symbolized by Beaury-Saurel.

The year 1907 was unfortunate for Beaury-Saurel: on the 2nd of February her husband died, followed soon by the death of her mother on the 10th of April. Amélie had to assume the direction of the Académie Julian, for which she requested help from her nephews Gilbert and Jacques Dupuis, children of her sister Dolores. During the last decades of her life, Amélie continued an intense professional activity, increasing the representations of women challenging traditional stereotypes and favoring the presence of painters and sculptors in the French cultural circles. From her position at the Société des Artistes Français, Beaury-Saurel promoted entry of artists such as Francine Richard-Hennecart, Laure Boucher, Renée de Royer, Marthe Debes or Marguerite Babin, among others, into the Société’s subcommittees.

During the period of World War I, Amélie remained in Paris at the helm of the Académie Julian and participated in solidarity exhibitions for the benefit of institutions such as the Société des Artistes Français, the Société Nationale desBeaux- Arts or the Fraternité des Artistes. Her commitment to the promotion of art and her inexhaustible creative activity were institutionally recognized in 1923, a year before her death, through her appointment as Chevalier de la Légiond’honneur. Nine months after this award, on May 30, 1924, Amélie Beaury-Saurel passed away in the Parisian residence she had shared with her mother and sisters, at 93 Niel Avenue. The funeral was officiated on Tuesday, June 3rd, in the Church of San Francisco de Sales, receiving burial at the Pêre Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Passion for Painting
In 1873, in her first participation in the Parisian Salon, Beaury-Saurel is recognized as a student of Pauline Coeffier (1814-1900), who was a disciple of Léon Cogniet and a specialist in pastel portraits. We do not know the work that Amélie presented in the aforementioned Salon, but we do see in Portrait of a Girl with Blue Bow, made a year later in 1874, the influence of her teacher was noticed in her use of pastels, a technique with which Beaury-Saurel would achieve some of the most important recognitions of her career.

After the initial period of training at the Académie Julian, Amélie began to exhibit regularly in the Salons, her presence being verified from 1879 until the year of her death. Certainly, for half a century and continuously, Beaury-Saurel sent her work not only to the Salons, but to numerous French artistic exhibitions, and also to other countries such as Spain or the United States, obtaining from them different awards and recognitions.

The information provided by the catalogs of these exhibitions enables us to know the teachers of Beaury-Saurel, and to whom she considered herself a disciple. In the Salon of 1879 Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1911), professor at the Julian Académie is mentioned; later, Amélie would also recognize others as her professors at the afore-mentioned Académie, such as Pierre Auguste Cot (1837-1883), Félix-Henri Giacomotti (1828-1909), William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911), Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (1824-1888), Benjamin Constant (1845-1902) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).

The Modern Woman
The personal and professional trajectory of Amélie Beaury-Saurel was closely linked to feminist thought, asserting through her creative production and her voracious attitude, the equality of women with respect to men, both in the field of daily coexistence, and in the artistic plane. Amélie lived largely against the current, subordinating the strict social conventions in force in the second half of the 19th century to a way of understanding life experience from a place of independence, individual satisfaction and professional and social commitment. She shared these concerns with her friends, some of whom served as a model for her on occasions, and among whom were highlighted feminists and women who played a notorious role in the making of the femme nouvelle / femme moderne, an emancipated woman who lives her life on the fringes of social prejudices.

“As L’école des Beaux-Arts was reserved exclusively for men, women were forced to make their own schools of thought and teach and learn from each other.”
— “Bringing Women to the Foreground: Her Paris” (Obviweretheladies.com)

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Into the Blue (Dans le Bleu)” (1894), pastel on canvas, 29.5” x 32.25”, Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France. Courtesy American Federation of Arts
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Into the Blue (Dans le Bleu)” (1894), pastel on canvas, 29.5” x 32.25”, Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France. Courtesy American Federation of Arts

Her Work

Dans le Bleu (1894)
In Dans le Blue (Into the Blue), a woman sits smoking a cigarette, chin in hand, seemingly drifting into a reverie. Her faraway look watches the blue smoke unfurl from her lips, rising upward. Perhaps she imagines floating away with it. It is unclear if she is sitting in her own kitchen, or having a pensive moment at a café. Either way, Beaury-Saurel is making a statement of defiance, as women at this time were not seen smoking, especially not in public. Fittingly, blue is the predominant color in the background, framing the scene and, by contrast, giving life to the subject. The exquisite brush strokes show the graceful beauty of the woman, despite the oppression of the time. It has been suggested this might be a Beaury-Saurel self-portrait, as the model resembles the artist. 

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Séverine (Portrait of Caroline Rémy, épouse Guebhard, 1855-1929, dite journaliste socialist)”, (1893), oil on canvas, 122.5 x 88 cm, Carnavalet Museum, Paris, France
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Séverine (Portrait of Caroline Rémy, épouse Guebhard, 1855-1929, dite journaliste socialist)”, (1893), oil on canvas, 122.5 x 88 cm, Carnavalet Museum, Paris, France

Portrait de Séverine (1893)
Known for her feminist opinions, Caroline Rémy de Guebhard (1855-1929) was a non-conformist French anarchist and journalist, who used the pen name Séverine. She was a rather notorious figure of her time, and Beaury-Saurel liked to showcase such strong, adventurous women. Here Séverine unsmilingly stares directly at us, almost through us. Against the background of her delicate white dress, the vivid red flower at her sash suggests her leftist political leanings. Her unflinching gaze speaks to her representation of the strong, passionate femme moderne. A gifted painter and portraitist, Beaury-Saurel’s talent is seen in the fine details throughout the painting. In particular, notice the meticulous attention the artist has given to illustrating Séverine’s hands. Interestingly, Séverine was also painted by Renoir, who depicted the social anarchist quite differently, appearing somewhat gentle and perhaps even matronly.

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Nos Éclaireuses (Our Girl Scouts)” (1914), postcard, 9 x 14 cm, bibliothèque Marguerite Durand
Amélie Beaury-Saurel, “Nos Éclaireuses (Our Girl Scouts)” (1914), postcard, 9 x 14 cm, bibliothèque Marguerite Durand

Nos Éclaireuses (1914)
In the award-winning postcard Nos Éclaireuses, Beaury-Saurel once again demonstrates her dedication to depicting women who have moved beyond the conventional roles of their time. This gathering of women, working in what were traditionally male careers, includes a painter (who resembles Beaury-Saurel), an aviator, an attorney, and journalist and poet Lucie Delarue-Mardrus. They lean together in solidarity, trailblazing the feminist cause.