Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mademoiselles Who Dabble With Paints: Maria Wiik

(This is the third post in my series about Finnish female painters of the late nineteenth century. I use it to look at how women enter a new area of endeavor and how the "First Women" fare. Although I'm looking at only a few painters in one Nordic country, I hope that what comes out of this series will be something less dependent on time, place, language and social class. The first post, on Fanny Churberg is here and the second post, on Ellen Thesleff, is here.)

Maria Wiik (1853-1928) was another Swedish-speaking upper-class Finnish painter of the nineteenth century. She got her early art education in Finland but mostly studied in Paris, initially at the Académie Julian, a private academy which accepted women as students. (Marie Bashkirtseff studied at the same academy, and painted a well-known picture of the students there.)

Wiik was mainly a portraitist. Her portrait of her sister, Hilda Wiik (a textile artist herself), was accepted into the Paris Salon:

Hilda Wiik, 1881

This was an important formal acknowledgement for women painters of that era. It meant that One Had Arrived.

But the work that truly fascinates me is not one of Wiik's portraits but this painting, showing a young woman leaving home, perhaps to become a maid or a shop assistant:

Out Into The World, 1889.

The topic of this painting seems to me to be linked to the painter being a woman, and a woman who had left home herself. The pain of the parting between the two women is clearly depicted, as is the younger woman's determination to leave anyway. I believe that this painting gives a concrete example of the much-discussed idea that diversity introduces different points of view, in this case to arts.

The major point of this post can be found in both how one becomes accepted as a member of a profession and what someone different might bring into that profession.

Many common points apply to all the painters discussed in this series. Maria Wiik never married, either, because marriage was not regarded as compatible with a serious career of any type for upper-class women of that place and time. And Wiik came from the upper classes. Poor women could not open the initial doors into an art education.

Neither could men from lower social classes at the time I'm writing about, though this changed radically in the next few years. Painters such as Juho Rissanen, Jalmari Ruokokoski and Tyko Sallinen all from very poor backgrounds, gained fame soon after the time of the "dabbling mamselles." Women from poor beginnings had to wait longer for their chances.