Émilie Charmy (1878-1974) was a pioneer of early 20th century painting. She re-imagined what was possible for a female artist in the male dominated circles of the Parisian avant-garde. Her intense colour palette, vivid brushwork, and controversial subject matter transcended what was considered ‘feminine art’ and placed her as the female Fauve.
Born Émilie Espérance Barret on 2 April 1878 in Saint-Étienne, she adopted the surname Charmy upon moving to Lyon in 1898 where she studied painting under Jacques Martin.
In 1903 Charmy moved to Paris, the then epicentre of modernist painting. She began to use a freer and more intense palette alongside Matisse, Marquet and Camoin, the latter becoming her lover. During this period she also turned to what would be her most daring subject matter – the female nude.
Within a year she was exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants and was at the forefront of Parisian modernism. In the seminal 1905 Salon d’Automne, in which Louis Vauxcelles coined the term ‘fauvism’, her work caught the eye of Berthe Weill, whose gallery was the first to sell Picasso’s work in Paris. As her reputation grew Charmy’s work was selected for international exhibitions, including at The Armory Show of 1913 alongside the other Fauve artists, Matisse, Manguin, Rouault and Camoin.
With the outbreak of World War II attention on Charmy’s work began to fade and although she continued to paint and exhibit up until her late seventies, she never regained the recognition she enjoyed prior to the War. She died in 1974 at the age of 96.