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#5WomenArtists – Pauline Vallayer-Moutet



Can you name 5 women artists? It turns out, most people can’t. This simple question calls attention to the inequity women artists face, inspires conversation, and brings awareness to a larger audience. As a part of the #5WomenArtists initiative through the National Museum of Women in the Arts and in celebration of Women’s History Month, we will be highlighting women artists in the Cummer Collection. Museum founder Ninah Cummer was a supporter of women artists. Each of the artists we are highlighting this month will be from the original 60 pieces of artwork donated by Ninah Cummer, that are the foundation of our collection. To learn more about women artists, follow the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or follow #5WomenArtists. This post is the second of five that will be published this month as part of our #5WomenArtists series.

Pauline Vallayer-Moutet (French, 19th-20th century)

In a 1950 letter to London based art dealer Paul Wengraf, from whom she often purchased artworks, Mrs. Cummer decribes where she has hung some of her paintings:

“In my library are some of my dearest things […] On the right of this picture [1] is a painting of a French interior by Pauline Vallayer-Moutet[2]. The subject portrays two maids polishing the brasses, as only the French can do, and the strong light from a window, such as Vermeer would use in his pictures, streams into the room. And this, by the way, was my first investment in painting (the Paul King picture having been earlier acquired as a gift), and was purchased about 1905, nearly fifty years ago.”

To compare Vallayer-Moutet’s approach to that of the great Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) speaks to how much Mrs. Cummer admired the French artist. The fact that French Interior (Two Girls Polishing Brass) was the first painting she purchased adds to our understanding of Mrs. Cummer as a collector.

Little is known about Vallayer-Moutet, who was a pupil of French artists Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836 – 1912), Tony Robert-Fleury (1837 – 1911), and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838 – 1921). In 1900, she won the bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle (World Fair) in Paris and that same year became a member of the Association des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, graveurs et dessinateurs (Association of painters, sculptors, architects, printmakers and draftsmen). Her teacher, Robert-Fleury, was actually the President of the Association from 1908 to 1911, and famous painter William Adolphe Bouguereau — whose work is represented in the Museum’s permanent collection —served as President for 20 years (from 1885 to 1905).

Vallayer-Moutet often depicts scenes of domestic labor that focus on female protagonists such as maids or seamstresses. Her work was well received during her lifetime, and earned honors and prizes at numerous Salon, the most sought after art exhibition in Paris.

[1] Paul King (American, 1867 – 1947), Along the Strand, c. 1905, oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in., Bequest of Ninah M. H. Cummer, C.0.160.1.

[2] Pauline Vallayer-Moutet (French, 19-20th century), French Interior (Two Girls Polishing Brass), 19th century, oil on canvas, 25 ¾ x 21 ¼ in., Bequest of Ninah M. H. Cummer, C.0.159.1.


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Director of Art Education

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