Gourmet Fair

Celebrating Parisian Women

Jean Béraud, Le Chalet du Cycle au bois de Boulogne, 1900. This painting depicts emancipated Parisian women wearing bloomers at the bicycle chalet in the Bois de Boulogne. ©Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Paris, France — Parisien women have always been known the world over for their chic elegance, but an exhibition unfolding at the Musée Carnavalet, the museum devoted to the history of Paris, focuses on the history of feminism in Paris shedding light on the important historical role Parisian women have played through the centuries from the French Revolution to the present and the landmark law on parity in elected institutions passed in 2000. Entitled Parisian Women!, the show, set out in chronological fashion, brings together paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, archives, posters, manuscripts and (at times unusual) militant objects, like the suffragette fan, reflecting the myriad struggles and the modes and methods of protest in the greater cause of the emancipation of women. 

The feminist Hubertine Auclert holding a streamer advocating women’s voting rights, circa 1890. Charles, Hubertine Auclert tenant une banderole concernant le suffrage des femmes, vers 1890.Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand. Photo courtesy Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Works of art and portraits of some of the best know of Parisian women like Colette, Simone de Beauvoir and Camille Claudel but also waiting to be discovered are the lesser known unsung heroes of the feminine fabric of the French capital like the hardcore union organizer Rose Zehner and Hubertine Auclert a 19th and early 20th century feminist who worked tirelessly for women’s rights and women’s voting rights, a right that French women did not obtain until 1944. A good part of the exhibition’s space is also devoted to lesser known as well as anonymous Parisiennes ranging from revolutionary women citizens from 1789, 1830, 1848, Communards, suffragists, pacifists, resistance fighters, female politicians or trade unionists, feminist activists, committed artists and intellectuals, striking female workers and immigrant women’s collectives. 

Photograph by Willy Ronis depicting the union activist Rose Zehner speaking during a strike at the Citroën factory in Paris in 1938. Photo ©Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Women largely participated in the activities surrounding the French Revolution, visible in art works and documents of the time showing them in the crowds, the assemblies, and clubs becoming citizens in their own right although they didn’t have the right to vote, they did obtain some power and autonomy like the right to a registry office wedding, divorce and equality in inheritance laws. But all of that went out with Napoleon I and his civil code which put into law masculine domination. Women lost all of their rights over themselves and their children. The right to divorce was done away with during the Restoration (1815-1830) and was only re-instated in 1884. Parisian women earned the right to attend school and obtain a certificate in 1868, 12 years before the rest of France. Meanwhile the Fine Arts Academy of Paris (L’École des beaux-arts), under pressure from the city’s feminists,  opened up to women in 1897, 36 years after London’s Royal College of Arts. The show offers a number of discoveries like the dancing hall for women who liked women, the Monocle, a cabaret that opened in 1932 and featured an all-female orchestra.  

Gisèle Freund, Simone de Beauvoir, 1948. Simone de Beauvoir was the author of the cult and groundbreaking feminist work, The Second Sex. Photo ©Maison Européenne de la photographie / IMEC, Fonds MCC, Dist. RMN- Grand Palais. Photo courtesy Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Meanwhile Hubertine Auclert, the pioneering feminist, is buried in the celebrated Père Lachaise cemetery of Paris right across the way from another 19th century intellectual whose grave is well frequented, Honoré de Balzac, although it is not clear how many of his visitors look across the way. The exhibition also underscores the role the French capital itself has played in facilitating avant-garde and collective struggles. The exhibition is running until January 29th. The Carnavalet is a vast museum exploring the history of Paris from prehistoric times to Antiquity all the way through to the present day. Located in two stunning private mansions in the heart of the Marais, it is part of the Paris musées network which brings together the 12 museums of the city of Paris and two heritage sites. ©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette. https://www.carnavalet.paris.fr/

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