Louise Abbéma (1859-1927)
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Louise Abbéma created diverse pieces of art throughout her life and was as well-known for these as she was for the life long friendship she had with the stage actress of the time, Sarah Bernhardt.
She started painting in her teens and was the pupil of two well-known artists, Charles Chaplin and Jean-Jacques Henner. It was evident that she was destined to be an artist and even at the age of fourteen she was producing wonderful pieces of art such as the painting named ‘Game of Croquet’. She was an only child and was encouraged by her parents in her artistic pursuits.
Louise Abbéma achieved enormous success in 1876 when she was only eighteen, with a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. Sarah Bernhardt was a great actress of the time, indeed, some say the greatest. She appeared on the stage in both Europe and America. She also appeared in some of the very first silent movies. Louise created pieces of art featuring the actress throughout her life and many said that they were lovers. The well-known actress was also a painter, sculptress and writer and perhaps it was the mutual love of the arts which drew them together. They were both known for being rather eccentric and unconventional.
Louise Abbéma was enormously talented and she also received commissions to paint other well-known figures of the day such as Ferdinand de Lesseps, the well-known engineer who created the Suez Canal and Don Pedro the Emperor of Brazil. She also painted a portrait of Charles Garnier, the famous nineteenth century architect responsible for the design of the Opera House in Paris.
Her talents included interior design and she also received a number of civic commissions to paint panels and murals in such places as the Opera House in Paris and also the many town halls and theatres in the city. She also painted the Governors Palace in Dakar, Senegal. She was designated an Official Painter of the Third Republic. However, she did not only accept commissions for the ‘great’ buildings of the time, she was also happy to grant requests for her to produce works of art in private homes.
She was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon and the State recognized her artistic talent by awarding her the Legion of Honor in 1906. She also exhibited in Chicago in 1893.
A speciality of hers was paintings of watercolors and flowers and she was influenced by Japanese and Chinese painting in this genre. Flowers featured regularly in a number of her works and unlike other artists of the time she did not have a ‘niche’. She was multi-talented and also worked on illustrations for periodicals of the day and is well-known for illustrations she created for calendars. She also produced a number of sculptures, including a particularly well-known one of the bust of her muse Sarah Bernhardt. Her paintings are valued in the region of $10,000 to $20,000, although it is almost certain that if any forgotten portraits of her lover should turn up, they would be worth much more as they are much sought-after. As many of her paintings are in private collections, this is always possible.
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