Louise Catherine Breslau

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Louise Catherine Breslau
Louise-Catherine Breslau, Autoportrait.jpg
Self-portrait of Louise Catherine Breslau, holding a dog (1891).
Maria Luise Katharina Breslau

(1856-12-06)December 6, 1856
Munich, Germany
DiedMay 12, 1927(1927-05-12) (aged 70)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
NationalityGerman-born Swiss
EducationAcadémie Julian

Louise Catherine Breslau (December 6, 1856 – May, 12 1927) was a German-born Swiss painter, printmaker, and pastel artist active in France. She trained at the Académie Julian in Paris and exhibited at the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the late nineteenth-century.


Early years[edit]

Born Maria Luise Katharina Breslau into an apparently-assimilated Munich-based German Jewish family of Polish Jewish descent.[1] In 1858, when Breslau was two years old, her father accepted the position of professor and head physician of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Zurich, and the family moved to Switzerland. In December 1866, Dr. Breslau died suddenly from a staph infection contracted while performing a post-mortem examination. Suffering from asthma all her life, Breslau turned to drawing as a child to help pass the time while confined to her bed. She spent her childhood in Zurich, Switzerland, and as an adult made Paris her home (where she also dropped "Maria", perhaps taking "Maria" as inappropriate for a Jew regardless of whether its use is for "Mariam" or "Mary")[citation needed].

Lydia Escher (1858–1892) was a childhood friend of Louise Breslau in Zürich, and in her letters she told to take singing and piano lessons, and Lydia was inspired by the creative genius.[2]


The Artist and Her Model

After her father's death, Breslau was sent to a convent near Lake Constance in hopes of alleviating her chronic asthma. It is believed that during her long stays at the convent her artistic talents were awoken. In the late 19th century young bourgeois ladies were expected to be educated in the domestic arts including drawing and playing the piano. These were admirable attributes for a respectable wife and mother. Pursuing a career was quite unusual and often prohibited. By 1874, after having taken drawing lessons from a local Swiss artist, Eduard Pfyffer (1836–1899), Breslau knew that she would have to leave Switzerland if she wanted to realize her dream of seriously studying art. One of the few places available for young women to study was at the Académie Julian in Paris.[3][4]

At the Académie, Breslau soon gained the attention of its highly regarded instructors and the jealousy of some of her classmates, including the Russian Marie Bashkirtseff. She also met notably at this art school her longlife friend the Irish artist Sarah Purser[5] and Sophie Schaeppi (Switzerland), Maria Feller (Italy), Jenny Zillhardt and her sister, Madeleine Zillhardt.

In 1879, with a portrait Tout passé, Breslau was the only student from the Académie Julian women's atelier to debut at the Paris Salon. Tout passé was a self -portrait that included her two friends. Shortly afterwards Breslau had changed her name to Louise Catherine, opened her own atelier, and was becoming a regular contributor and medal winner at the annual Salon. Due to her success at the Salon and favorable notice from the critics, Breslau received numerous commissions from wealthy Parisians. She joined the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1890, not only exhibiting in its salons but also serving on the jury. She eventually became the third woman artist, and the first foreign woman artist to be bestowed France's Legion of Honor award.

Over the years, Breslau became a well-regarded colleague to some of the day's most popular artists and writers including Edgar Degas and Anatole France. One person who was very special in Breslau's life was Madeleine Zillhardt with whom she spent over forty years. Madeleine, a fellow student at the Académie Julian, became Breslau's muse, model, confidant, and supporter. Zillhardt inherited Breslau’s estate and later donated sixty of the artist’s pastels and drawings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. In 1932, Zillhardt published a book about Louise Breslau titled Louise Catherine Breslau et ses amis (Louise Catherine Breslau and her Friends).

Breslau died in 1927, and in 1928, the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris honored her with a retrospective. Her work was also featured in a 1932 retrospective at Galerie Charpentier dedicated to women who trained at the Académie Julian.

Personal life[edit]

During World War I, Breslau and Zillhardt remained at their home outside Paris. Although she naturalised to Switzerland many years earlier, she showed her loyalty for the French by drawing numerous portraits of French soldiers and nurses on their way to the Front. After the war, Breslau retired from the public and spent much of her time painting flowers from her garden and entertaining friends.

In 1927 Breslau died after a long illness. According to her wishes, Zillhardt inherited much of Breslau's estate. Breslau was buried next to her mother in the small town of Baden, in Canton Aargau, Switzerland.


Selected works[edit]


Breslau's work is held in the following public collections:




  • Nationalmuseum, Stockholm


  • Bern Kunstmuseum (Museum of fine Art)
  • Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne[23]
  • Kunstmuseum (Basel)[24]
  • The Museum of Art Lucerne[25] exhibits Crying Woman (1905)

United Kingdom[edit]

United States of America[edit]


  1. ^ "Breslau" on Ancestry.com
  2. ^ Anna Katharina Bähler (2013-10-11). "Welti [-Escher], Lydia". HDS. Retrieved 2014-11-29.
  3. ^ oilpaintingsshop.com
  4. ^ (fr)Louise C. Breslau / Arsène Alexandre
  5. ^ Breslau, Louise. "Letters to Sarah Purser from Louise Catherine Breslau,". catalogue.nli.ie. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  6. ^ Conseil de Paris
  7. ^ "Place Louise-Catherine-Breslau-et-Madeleine-Zillhardt", Wikipédia (in French), 2019-03-05, retrieved 2019-03-05
  8. ^ "Le Corbusier-designed barge sinks in Seine flooding". Dezeen. 2018-02-16. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  9. ^ "A Barge Renovated by Le Corbusier Tragically Sank in Paris Last Week". Architectural Digest. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  10. ^ Madeline, Laurence (2017). Women artists in Paris, 1850-1900. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300223934.
  11. ^ "Musée du Louvre - Portrait de Madeleine Zillhardt".
  12. ^ "Musée d'Orsay: Liste de résultats dans le catalogue des collections". www.musee-orsay.fr (in French). Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  13. ^ "Petit Palais, Paris, France".
  14. ^ "Joconde - catalogue - dictionnaires". www2.culture.gouv.fr (in French). Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  15. ^ "Joconde - catalogue - dictionnaires". www2.culture.gouv.fr (in French). Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  16. ^ publics, MAH -. "MAH | Collections en ligne · Les Musées d'art et d'histoire de la Ville de Genève". www.ville-ge.ch. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  17. ^ "Joconde - catalogue - dictionnaires". www2.culture.gouv.fr (in French). Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  18. ^ "Joconde - catalogue - dictionnaires". www2.culture.gouv.fr (in French). Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  19. ^ "Musée Antoine Lecuyer (video - FRENCH)".
  20. ^ "JocondeLab » Détail d'une notice". jocondelab.iri-research.org. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  21. ^ "Musée des Beaux Arts de Dijon, France" (PDF). beaux-arts.dijon.fr. Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  22. ^ "National Gallery of Ireland".
  23. ^ "La Vie Pensive (with Madeleine Zillhardt)".
  24. ^ "Museum Basel Switzerland".
  25. ^ "Museum of Art Lucerne online".
  26. ^ "Fillette à l'Orange".
  27. ^ "Louise Breslau". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  28. ^ "Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco".
  29. ^ "Clark Art - Laziness (Paresse)". www.clarkart.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-27.


  • Krüger, Anne-Catherine. Die Malerin Louise Catherine Breslau 1856-1927. Diss. U. Hamburg, 1988. Biographie u. Werkanalyse zur Erlangung der Würde des Doktors der Philosophie der Universität Hamburg. Hamburg, 1988.
  • Weisberg, Gabriel P and Jane R. Becker, editors. Overcoming All Obstacles. The Women of the Académie Julian. The Dahesh Museum of Art, New York, New York and Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1999.
  • Zillhardt, Madeleine. Louise Breslau und Ihre Freunde. Editions des Portiques 1932. In's Deutsche übertragen von Ernst v. Bressensdorf. Starnberg, 1979.
  • Zillhardt, Madeline. Louise Catherine Breslau et ses amis. Paris: Éditions des Portiques, 1932.
  • Becker, Jane R. “Nothing Like a Rival to Spur One On: Marie Bashkirtseff and Louise Breslau at the Académie Julian.” In Overcoming All Obstacles: The Women of the Académie Julian, edited by Gabriel P. Weisberg and Jane R. Becker, 69-113. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
  • Lepdor, Catherine, Anne-Catherine Krüger, and Gabriel P. Weisberg. Louise Breslau: de l'impressionnisme aux années folles. Lausanne: Musée cantonal des beaux-arts de Lausanne, 2001.
  • Laurence Madeline ; with Bridget Alsdorf, Richard Kendall, Jane R. Becker, Vibeke Waallann Hansen, Joëlle Bolloch "Women artists in Paris, 1850-1900" New Haven, Connecticut : Yale University Press, 2017

External links[edit]

Media related to Louise-Catherine Breslau at Wikimedia Commons