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The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is closed for refurbishment until Summer 2024.

Rebecca Fortnum: Les Praticiennes

Exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

3 February – 4 June 2023
Free entry

  • This display of new paintings and drawings by artist Rebecca Fortnum emerges from research undertaken during her Henry Moore Institute Research Fellowship into the women surrounding the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) in turn-of-the-century Paris.
  • A series of Fortnum’s paintings of sculptural works by fifteen women who were associated with Rodin’s studio will be on display.
  • Fortnum’s new work shines a light on these often-overlooked sculptors, each of whom has an extraordinary, and in most cases unpublished, life narrative.

This display of paintings, drawings and hand-screened wallpaper by artist Rebecca Fortnum emerges from her ongoing interest in the women surrounding the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) in turn-of-the-century Paris.

Fortnum conducted part of her research during her 2021-22 Henry Moore Institute Research Fellowship, which she spent searching for little-known portrait sculptures produced by women who worked in, or visited, Rodin’s Paris studio.

As they were not able to enter the École des Beaux-Arts until 1897, women aspiring to become professional artists often studied at a private academy before apprenticing with a ‘master’, and, for the most part, encountered prejudice as women working in a male-dominated profession.

Rodin devoted significant time to training women to sculpt, and sometimes went on to employ them in his studio as an assistant or praticienne. As women determined to make art against the odds, each of the artists the Fortnum has selected to make work from has an extraordinary, and in many cases unpublished, life narrative. Through the works in Les Praticiennes, Fortnum seeks to shed light on this web of friendship, association and influence from all over the globe, including England, Scotland, France, Russia, Germany, America and Finland.

The artists that have provided source material for Fortnum’s works range from the actress and sculptor Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), an artist twenty years Rodin’s junior, who was reputedly little admired by the master, to Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966), a pupil and loyal friend of his later years, to whom he sent his wedding photograph the year he died. The others are Kühne Beveridge (1879-1944), Camille Claudel (1864-1943), Hilda Flodin (1877-1958), Sigrid af Forselles (1860-1935), Anna Golubkina (1864-1927), Madeleine Jouvray (1862-1935), Jessie Lipscomb (1861-1952), Ottilie Maclaren Wallace (1875-1947), Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955), Clara Rilke-Westhoff (1878-1954), Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968), Emilie Jenny Weyl (1855-1934) and Enid Yandell (1869-1934).

Painted portrait of a white woman with auburn hair and eyebrows, with her eyes cast down and her hair tied up in a bun on top of her head. She is wearing a blue shirt, decorated with a red flower attached to the collar.
Rebecca Fortnum, 'Les Praticiennes (Bernhardt, Louise)' 2022, oil on gesso board. Painting based on original work by Sarah Bernhardt, 'Louise Abbéma' 1878, marble, Musée D’Orsay, Paris. Courtesy the artist.
Painted portrait of a white woman with blue eyes and ginger hair and eyebrows, wearing an ornate headdress. Her eyes are cast down, looking away from the viewer.
Rebecca Fortnum, 'Les Praticiennes (Hoffman, Anna)' 2022, oil on gesso board. Painting based on original work by Malvina Hoffman, 'Mask of Anna Pavlova' 1924, tinted wax, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy the artist.

Of her paintings, Fortnum states, ‘I’m working from women’s depictions of women (often a friend or peer) with their eyes downcast or closed or looking away. I enjoy the ambiguity implicit in both the signalling of empowered absorption or self-containment alongside a reading of social conformity and female modesty’.

Fortnum’s paintings are based on portraits of women sculpted by women. They are displayed on specially designed, hand-printed wallpaper that, working against the averted or downward gaze of the sitters in the paintings, draws the viewer into its ornamentation and symmetry.

The accompanying drawings, made with dense carbon pencil, are based on portraits of men produced by the women. The images often depict figures close to the artists – partners, teachers, fathers – yet the vast scale of the works makes these encounters confrontational.

Fortnum explains of the works in the display, ‘most of these sculptures now only exist in photographic documents by painting and drawing them I attempt to exhume them, ruminating on the often-overlooked legacy of women sculptors’.

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Kara Chatten, Marketing and Communications Manager
Henry Moore Institute

Emily Dodgson, Head of Marketing and Communications
Henry Moore Foundation

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Notes to Editors


About Rebecca Fortnum

Rebecca Fortnum is an artist, writer and academic. She has exhibited paintings at the Freud Museum, London and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood and was Visiting Research Fellow in Creative Arts at Merton College, Oxford, where she developed her painting project, A Mind Weighted with Unpublished Matter, published as a book by Slimvolume in 2020.

Her own books include: Contemporary British Women Artists: In Their Own Words, On Not Knowing: How Artists Think and A Companion to Contemporary Drawing. In 2021–22 she was Senior Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute. She has been Professor of Fine Art at the Royal College of Art and Middlesex University, and is currently Professor and Head of the School of Fine Art at The Glasgow School of Art.

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