Female creators of a vast world of light

"Bonne Année" by Aloïse (picture: Cantonal art museum in Lausanne)

An exhibition in Lausanne is highlighting the work of three women who each had to struggle against prejudice while establishing themselves as artists during the early 20th century.

This content was published on February 26, 2001 minutes

"O vast world of light" is the appropriate title of the exhibition, of paintings and coloured drawings by Aloïse, Alice Bailly and Violette Diserens. Light is in abundance in their works, ironically perhaps, considering there were dark sides to their lives.

To begin with, at a time when female equality was in its infancy, the world of art when they were in their prime was very much male-dominated. As the exhibition shows, all three artists gave vent to their frustrations through creativity - using luminous colours in their flights of fantasy.

Violette Diserens (1888-1965) was a feminist who fought for better access to art education by women, who also had to overcome obstacles to get their work exhibited in museums and galleries. She was a prominent member of the Swiss Society of Women Painters and Sculptors.

Alice Bailly (1872-1938), who was equally forceful in campaigning for sex equality, is considered one of the leading French-Swiss artists of her time. As the exhibition shows, her paintings at various stages of her life were influenced by a variety of art movements, including Cubism, Futurism and Fauvism.

She was a pioneer of the technique of using coloured strands of wool as a painter would use brush strokes, to produce collages.

But perhaps of the three, Aloïse (1886-1964) led the most extraordinary life and had the biggest struggle against adversity.

After leaving school she worked as a governess, at one stage in the service of the court of Kaiser William II in Berlin. On returning to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I she became a pacifist and campaigner for humanitarian ideals.

In 1918 Aloïse was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and confined to a mental hospital.

There, she began to draw on paper rolls, creating a large number of colourful drawings of a fantasy world populated by females, many of which are included in the exhibition, which is at the cantonal art museum in Lausanne until April 22.

Aloïse has been called the queen of "Art Brut" - the "raw art" movement sometimes referred to as "outsider art".

She died in 1964 at the age of 78, having spent the final 46 years of her life in a mental hospital.

by Richard Dawson

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