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Painting Her Pleasure

Three Women Artists and the Nude in Avant-Garde Paris


While sexuality and the nude were prime subjects for male artists in the early twentieth century, for female artists, revealing sexual desire on canvas was deemed unacceptable. Painting Her Pleasure examines three remarkable women who defied this convention.

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In an era dominated by male artists, particularly in genres like the nude, Vassilieff (1884–1957), Charmy (1878–1974), and Valadon  (1865–1938) shattered boundaries with unprecedented boldness. Through their art, they explored

complex themes of gender, sexuality, pleasure, and self-perception. Vassilieff's innovative Cubist nudes challenged traditional views of gender and race, while Charmy’s work daringly portrayed female sensuality and uninhibited pleasure. Valadon’s raw, unfiltered depictions of the human form – male and female – brought a new level of intensity to the portrayal of the nude. All three artists created groundbreaking nude self-portraits: from Valadon’s unvarnished representations of her mature body and Vassilieff’s self-portrait dolls that blurred lines of gender and race, to Charmy’s provocative self-depictions candidly revealing her body and pleasure, including during pregnancy. Together, these artists marked themselves as avant-garde pioneers.

Despite their significant contributions to modern art, their stories have been largely overlooked. This book aims to rectify that, providing an in-depth study of their lives, works, and the unique challenges they faced, while contextualizing their work within and against avant-garde currents. Rather than a collection of monographs, this book offers a narrative of bold defiance against the societal and cultural norms of their era. As femmes modernes, single parents and working women in a predominantly male sphere, the trio not only carved out their space in the avant-garde but also defied societal norms of womanhood. Through Jimerson's meticulous research and engaging prose, readers will gain insights into how these artists navigated the early 20th-century art world, their distinct styles and techniques, and their enduring impact on modernism.

Lauren Jimerson not only resurrects the legacy of these three artists but also provides a fresh perspective on the evolution of the nude in avant-garde art. This book is a must-read for art enthusiasts, feminists, and anyone interested in the intersection of art and societal change. This enlightening book offers a new lens through which to view the history of modern art.

Lauren Jimerson is an art historian specializing in modern art in France and the U.S., with a focus on gender studies, women artists, visual culture and the intersections of art and literature. She completed her doctorate at Rutgers University, having previously pursued an MA from the Courtauld Institute, and a BA from Cornell University. Her research has benefited from grants including the Fulbright Fellowship to France, a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship, and a doctoral exchange program at the École normale supérieure. 

Lauren is passionate about advocating women artists and bringing art history to the public sphere. She frequently contributes to exhibitions on women artists at museums such as

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the Barnes Foundation, Musée de Montmartre, Musée du Luxembourg/Grand Palais, and Centre Pompidou Metz. As an art history commentator in the media, she has appeared on NBC's The Today Show and France 24. Building on her scholarly contributions, Lauren lectures to diverse audiences in museums worldwide. As a licensed French national guide with fifteen years of experience, she curates women-focused experiences in museums, including the Louvre and the Pompidou. She also designs intimate art history journeys for women to artistic capitals in Europe, from Paris to Rome and Venice to Bilbao. 


Wishing to share her scholarship on modern women artists, Lauren launched the online art history platform, Art with Friends in 2020. This stimulating forum is an incubator for thoughtful discussions and fruitful interactions around women artists and those traditionally marginalized in art history. The community’s perceptive insights, critical feedback, and enthusiasm for learning significantly influenced the final shape of Painting Her Pleasure. Join Art with Friends in exploring art history and uncover the untold stories of groundbreaking women artists.

Newsworthy Women Artists

Hyperallergic Book Review

In a recent review by author Bridget Quinn, Painting Her Pleasure was praised for its groundbreaking exploration of women artists' contributions to the modern transformation of the nude. Quinn highlights how the book brings attention to three pioneering women artists—Marie Vassilieff, Émilie Charmy, and Suzanne Valadon—who redefined the portrayal of the nude with their unique perspectives and artistic defiance against traditional norms. These artists, active around World War I, not only navigated but also challenged the male-dominated art scene with their works, covering themes from the male body to the Black female nude, and even daring nude self-portraits, thereby reshaping the narrative of modernism. Despite facing societal and professional hurdles, including being single mothers and dealing with sexist criticisms, their innovative depictions of the nude left a lasting impact on the art world, challenging both the avant-garde and bourgeois sensibilities. Quinn's review emphasizes the book's contribution to recognizing these artists' significant yet overlooked roles in the history of modern art.


Merci Beaucoup!

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the wonderful Art with Friends community. It has been an incredible journey sharing my research with you while writing Painting Her Pleasure. Your perceptive insights, thoughtful critiques, and genuine fascination with my research on women artists significantly influenced the final shape of this book, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

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Suzanne Valadon

“I had great masters. I took the best of them from their teachings, of their examples. I found myself, I made myself, and I said what I had to say."

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