Not a single female artist appears in the first edition of Ernst Gombrich’s “The Story of Art,” a book widely regarded as the Bible in the history of art. All of the great artists recorded in history were all men and women always existed as their models. The 19th-century Swedish painter Jeanna Bauck challenged the stereotype by painting portraits of women artists.
This portrait painted by Bauck in her late 30s depicts a painter immersed in portrait work. It seems like a typical atelier of any painter in the 19th century but the difference is the painter in the painting is a woman and the model is a man. The painter in the painting is Bertha Wegmann, Bauck’s friend and fellow painter, who shared the same atelier with Bauck at that time. Born in Stockholm in 1840, Bauck went to Germany at the age of 23 to study painting and settled in Munich, where she met the Danish painter Wegmann. The two quickly became close as they both shared similar experiences, where they had to study painting at a private atelier instead of an art college because they were women. They became life-long friends, sharing a house and an atelier and travelling to Italy and Paris together. This portrait was painted when they lived in Munich together. The two cheered each other, painting each other’s portraits and trying to break the prejudice against women and male-centered rules. The two showed their works in the Paris Salons and were praised by critics. They gained fame by actively exhibiting their works in international exhibitions.
As female painters, who knew the importance of education, they were also devoted to education. Wegmann returned to Copenhagen to become the first female member of the Royal Academy Council and Bauck established an art school for women in Munich. The two friends, who achieved many accomplishments through support and solidarity instead of jealousy and competition, died in the same year in 1926 after leading a life as influential painters and educators. The two life-long friends were together even when they left this world. Like in the portrait painted by her friend, Wegmann was holding a brush even at the last moment of her life.