National Museum of Women in the Arts
Louise Abbéma
October 30 1858 - July 1927
Photograph of Louise Abbéma, ca. 1880, by Benque & Cie. Gelatin silver print. 5 x 3 inches (12 x 8.5 cm). Courtesy of Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France. (c) Photo RMN/ Hervé Lewandowski
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
loo-eez ah-bay-mah
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works, Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Bronze Worker, Decorative Artist, Engraver, Genre Painter, Illustrator, Painter, Portraitist, Printmaker, Sculptor
Artist's Biography:
Louise Abbéma, was a French Impressionist painter, decorative artist, and engraver. Born into a wealthy family that moved among prominent art circles, Abbéma was destined to be an artist. Although it was uncommon for women to attend art academies at the time, Abbéma took lessons from Charles Chaplin, Jean-Jacques Henner and Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. At age sixteen, she exhibited a painting of her mother at the Paris Salon, but it was her full-length portrait of Sarah Bernhardt exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1876 that garnered national attention. Abbéma executed multiple portraits and a bronze medallion of the actress, with whom she was a close friend and possibly lover.

Abbéma’s early works were mostly portraits of costumed actors and actresses at the Comédie Française. Her rapid brushstrokes and light touch deftly captured the spirit of her sitters. Her high-profile sitters included French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, and architect Charles Garnier. From 1881, Abbéma’s work demonstrated an influence of Japanese painting and an increasing portrayal of flowers and animals. Abbéma developed a variety of techniques using oil paints, pastel, and watercolor, and worked on various supports including fans. Her genre scenes and indoor and outdoor group scenes were often exhibited at the Salon.

Abbéma received several commissions for decorative panels for town halls throughout Paris and the Palace of the Governor of Dakar in Senegal. Other commissions in Paris included Gismonda and the Woman of Samaria, 1904, and Magpie, 1907, for the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, Joan of Arc, 1914, for the church of Notre-Dame de Lorette, and allegorical subjects for the Musée de l’Armée and the hall of the National Horticultural Society of France. Abbéma contributed regularly to journals such as the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, L’Art and L’Art et la Mode, and provided engravings for René Maizeroy’s La Mer. She solidified her international recognition after exhibiting at the Women’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Abbéma continued to exhibit at the Salon until 1926. She died the following year in Paris.

Other Occupation(s):
Activist, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Private lessons, Paris, France
Related Visual Artists:
student of Charles Chaplin student of Louise Devedeux student of Jean-Jacques Henner student of Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran friend of Sarah Bernhardt influenced by Rosa Bonheur
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, Republic of France, Paris, France (1906) Bronze Medal, Exposition Universelle, Paris, France (1900) Palmes Académiques, Republic of France, Paris, France (1887) Honorable Mention, Le Salon, Société Nationale des Artistes Français, Paris, France (1881)
Earliest exhibition:
Le Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France (1874)
Artist retrospective(s):
Related places
Paris (died at)
A Game of Croquet
Portrait of a Young Girl with a Blue Ribbon