Women artists  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Women have been involved in making art in most times and places, despite difficulties in training and trading their work, and gaining recognition. In the West the Middle Ages were arguably the best period for women artists; the introduction of drawing from life models made it far harder, for reasons of decorum, for women to obtain the specialised training now required for a professional artist. The replacement of illuminated manuscripts, in their final period apparently largely painted by women, with printing and printmaking also represented a setback for women.

In the last few decades, historians have endeavored to rediscover the artistic accomplishments of women and to incorporate them into the narrative of art history that has neglected them.

Contents

Ancient and classical periods

There are no records of who the artists of the prehistoric eras were, but the studies of many early ethnographers and cultural anthropologists indicate that women often were the principal artisans in the cultures considered as Neolithic, creating their pottery, textiles, baskets, and jewelry. Collaboration on large projects was typical. Extrapolation to the artwork and skills of the Paleolithic follows the same understanding of the cultures known and studied through archaeology. Cave paintings exist that bear the handprints of women and children as well as those with the handprints of men.

In the earliest records of western cultures, few individuals are mentioned, although women are depicted in all of the art, some showing their labors as artists. Ancient references by Homer, Cicero, and Virgil mention the roles of prominent women in textiles, poetry, and music and other cultural activities, without discussion of individual artists in the culture. The case for men is the same among their writings.

Among the earliest historical records of Europe concerning individual artists, Pliny the Elder wrote about a number of Greek women who were painters, including Helena of Egypt, daughter of Timon of Egypt, Timarete, Eirene, Kalypso, Aristarete , Iaia, and Olympias. While only some of their work survives, there is a caputi hydria in The Torno Collection in Milan attributed to the Leningrad painter from circa 460-450 B.C. that shows women working alongside men in a workshop where both painted vases.

Medieval era

In the early Medieval period, women often worked alongside men. Manuscript illuminations, embroideries, and carved capitals from the period clearly demonstrate examples of women at work in these arts. Documents show that they also were brewers, butchers, wool merchants, and iron mongers. Artists of the time period, including women, were from a small subset of society whose status allowed them freedom from these more strenuous types of work. Women who were artists, often were of two literate classes, either wealthy aristocratic women or nuns. Women in the former category often created embroideries and textiles. Those in the later category often produced illuminations.

There were a number of embroidery workshops in England at the time, particularly at Canterbury and Winchester; Opus Anglicanum or English embroidery was already famous across Europe - a 13th century Papal inventory counted over two hundred pieces. It is presumed that women were almost entirely responsible for this production. One of the most famous embroideries of the Medieval period is the Bayeux Tapestry, of cloth embroidered with wool that is 230 feet long and which narrates the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. The Bayeux Tapestry may have been created in either a commercial workshop, by a royal or aristocratic lady and her retinue, or a workshop in a nunnery. In the 14th century, a royal workshop is documented, based at the Tower of London, and there may have been other earlier arrangements.

Manuscript illumination affords us many of the named artists of the Medieval Period including Ende, a tenth century Spanish nun; Guda, a twelfth century German nun; Claricia, twelfth century laywoman in a Bavarian scriptorium. These women, and many more unnamed illuminators, benefited from the nature of convents as the major loci of learning for women in the period and the most tenable option for intellectuals among them.

In many parts of Europe, with the Gregorian Reforms of the eleventh century and the rise in feudalism, women faced many strictures that they did not face in the Early Medieval period. With these changes in society, the status of the convent changed. In the British Isles, the Norman Conquest marked the beginning of the gradual decline of the convent as a seat of learning and a place where women could gain power. Convents were made subsidiary to male abbots, rather than being headed by an abbess, as they had previously.

In Pagan Scandinavia, there was a female runemaster, who is the only historically confirmed female runemaster in Sweden; her name was Frögärd i Ösby working ca. 1000-1017.

In Germany, however, under the Ottonian Dynasty, convents retained their position as institutions of learning. This might be partially because they were often headed and populated by unmarried women from the royal and aristocratic families. Therefore, it is in Germany where the greatest late Medieval period work by women emerges, as exemplified by that of Herrade of Landsberg and Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is a particularly fine example of a German Medieval intellectual and artist. She wrote The Divine Works of a Simple Man, The Meritorious Life, sixty-five hymns, a miracle play, and a long treatise of nine books on the different natures of trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, minerals, and metals. From an early age, she claimed to have visions. When the Papacy supported these claims by the headmistress, her position as an important intellectual was galvanized. The visions became part of one of her seminal works in 1142, Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), which consists of thirty-five visions relating and illustrating the history of salvation. The illustrations in the Scivias, as exemplified in the first illustration, showing Hildegarde experiencing visions while seated in the monastery at Bingen, differ greatly from others created in Germany during the same period. They are characterized by bright colors, emphasis on line, and simplified forms. While Hildegard likely did not pen the images, their idiosyncratic nature leads one to believe they were created under her close supervision.

The twelfth century saw the rise of the city in Europe, along with the rise in trade, travel, and universities. These changes in society also engendered changes in the lives of women. Women were allowed to head their husbands' businesses, if they were widowed. The Wife of Bath in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is one such case. During this time, women also were allowed to be part of some artisan guilds. Guild records show that women were particularly active in the textile industries in Flanders and Northern France. Medieval manuscripts have many marginalia depicting women with spindles. In England, women were responsible for creating Opus Anglicanum, or rich embroideries for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothes and various types of hangings. Women also became more active in illumination. A number of women likely worked alongside their husbands or fathers, including the daughter of Maître Honoré and the daughter of Jean le Noir. By the 13th century, most illuminated manuscripts were being produced by commercial workshops, and by the end of the Middle Ages, when production of manuscripts had become an important industry in certain centres, women seem to have represented a majority of the artists, and scribes, employed, especially in Paris. The movement to printing, and of book illustration to the printmaking techniques of woodcut and engraving, where women seem to have been little involved, represented a setback to the progress of women artists.

Renaissance era

Artists from the Renaissance era include Caterina dei Vigri, Maria Ormani, Sofonisba Anguissola, Lucia Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Barbara Longhi, Fede Galizia, Diana Scultori Ghisi, Esther Inglis, Marietta Robusti (daughter of Tintoretto), Properzia de' Rossi, Mayken Verhulst, Levina Teerlinc, and Catarina van Hemessen

This is the first period in Western history in which a number of secular female artists gained international reputations. The rise in women artists during this period may be attributed to major cultural shifts. One such shift was a move toward humanism, a philosophy affirming the dignity of all people, that became central to Renaissance thinking and helped raise the status of women. In addition, the identity of the individual artist in general was regarded as more important; significant artists whose identity is unknown virtually cease from this period.

Two important texts, On Famous Women and The City of Women, illustrate this cultural change. Boccaccio, a fourteenth century humanist, wrote De mulieribus claris (Latin for On Famous Women) (1135-59) which was a collection of biographies of women. Among the 104 biographies he included was that of Thamar (or Thmyris), an ancient Greek vase painter. Curiously, among the fifteenth century manuscript illuminations of On Famous Women, Thamar was depicted painting a self-portrait or perhaps, painting a small image of the Virgin and Child.

Christine de Pizan, who was a remarkable late medieval French writer, rhetorician, and critic, wrote City of Women in 1405 about an allegorical city in which independent women lived free from the slander of men. In her work she included real women artists, such as Anastaise, who was considered one of the best Parisian illuminators, although none of her work has survived. Other humanist texts led to increased education for Italian women.

The most notable of these was Il Cortegiano or The Courtier by sixteenth century Italian humanist Baldassare Castiglione. This enormously popular work stated that men and women should be educated in the social arts. His influence made it acceptable for women to engage in the visual, musical, and literary arts. Thanks to Castiglione, this was the first period of renaissance history in which noblewomen were able to study painting.

Sofonisba Anguissola, shown right, was the most successful of these minor aristocrats who first benefited from humanist education and then went on to recognition as painters.

Artists who were not noblewomen were affected by the rise in humanism as well. In addition to conventional subject matter, artists such as Lavinia Fontana and Catarina van Hemessen began to depict themselves in self-portraits, not just as painters but also as musicians and scholars, thereby highlighting their well-rounded education.

Along with the rise in Humanism, there was a shift from craftsmen to artists. Artists, unlike earlier craftsmen, were now expected to have knowledge of perspective, mathematics, ancient art, and study of the human body. In the late Renaissance the training of artists began to move from the master's workshop to the Academy, and women began a long struggle, not resolved until the late 19th century, to gain full access to this training.

Study of the human body required working from male nudes and corpses. This was considered essential background for creating realistic group scenes. Women were generally barred from training from male nudes, and therefore they were precluded from creating such scenes, required for the large-scale religious compositions that received the most prestigious commissions.

Although many aristocratic women had access to some training in art, though without the benefit of figure drawing from nude male models, most of those women chose marriage over a career in art. This was true for example, of two of Sofonisba Anguissola's sisters. The women who are recognized as artists in this period were either nuns or children of painters. Of the few who emerge as Italian artists in the fifteenth century, all who are known today are associated with convents.

These artists who were nuns include Caterina dei Virgi, Antonia Uccello, and Suor Barbara Ragnoni. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the vast majority of women who gained any modicum of success as artists were the children of painters. This is likely because they were able to gain training in their fathers' workshops.

Examples of these women who were trained by their father include painter Lavinia Fontana, miniature portraitist Levina Teerlinc, and portrait painter Catarina van Hemessen. Women artists during this period in Italy, even those trained by their family, seem somewhat unusual.

In certain parts of Europe, particularly northern France and Flanders, however, it was more common for children of both genders to enter into their father's profession. In fact, in the Low Countries where women had more freedom, there were a number of artists in the Renaissance who were women. For example, the records of the Guild of Saint Luke in Bruges show that, not only did they admit women as practicing members, but also that by the 1480s twenty-five percent of its members were women (many probably working as manuscript illuminators).

Baroque era

Artists from the Baroque era include: Mary Beale, Rosalba Carriera, Élisabeth Sophie Chéron, Isabel de Cisneros, Josefa de Ayala better known as Josefa de Óbidos, Giovanna Garzoni, Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Maria Sibylla Merian, Louise Moillon, Maria van Oosterwijk, Magdalena de Passe, Clara Peeters, Luisa Roldán known as La Roldana, Rachel Ruysch and Elisabetta Sirani.

As in the Renaissance Period, many women among the Baroque artists came from artist families. Artemisia Gentileschi is an excellent example of this. She was trained by her father, Orazio Gentileschi, and she worked alongside him on many of his commissions. Luisa Roldán was trained in her father's (Pedro Roldán) sculpture workshop.

Women artists in this period began to change the way women were depicted in art. Many of the women working as artists in the Baroque era were not able to train from nude models, who were always male, however, they were very familiar with the female body. Women such as Elisabetta Sirani created images of women as conscious beings rather than detached muses. One of the best examples of this novel expression is in Artemesia Gentileschi's, Judith beheading Holofernes, seen to the left, in which Judith is depicted as a strong woman determining her own destiny. While other artists, including Botticelli and the more traditional woman, Fede Galizia, depicted the same scene with a passive Judith, in her novel treatment, Gentileschi's Judith appears to be an able actor in the task at hand. Action is the essence of it and another painting by her of Judith, leaving the first scene, which is shown to the right.

Still Life emerged as an important genre around 1600, particularly in the Netherlands. Women were at the forefront of this painting trend. This genre was particularly suited to women, as they could not train from nudes, but could access the materials for still life readily. In the North, these practitioners included Clara Peeters, a painter of banketje or breakfast pieces, and scenes of arranged luxury goods; Maria van Oosterwijk, the internationally renowned flower painter; and Rachel Ruysch, a painter of visually-charged flower arrangements. In other regions, still life was less common, but there were important women artists in the genre including Giovanna Garzoni, who created realistic vegetable arrangements on parchment, and Louise Moillon, whose fruit still life paintings were noted for their brilliant colors.

Eighteenth century

Artists from this period include, Rosalba Carriera, Giulia Lama, Anna Dorothea Therbusch, Angelica Kauffmann, Mary Moser, Maria Cosway, Anne Vallayer-Coster, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Adèle Romany, and Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, Marguerite Gérard.

In many countries of Europe, the Academies were the arbiters of style. The Academies also were responsible for training artists, exhibiting artwork, and, inadvertently or not, promoting the sale of art. Most Academies were not open to women. In France, for example, the powerful Academy in Paris had 450 members between the seventeenth century and the French Revolution, and only fifteen were women. Of those, most were daughters or wives of members. In the late eighteenth century, the French Academy resolved not to admit any women at all.

The pinnacle of painting during the period was history painting, especially large scale compositions with groups of figures depicting historical or mythical situations. In preparation to create such paintings, artists studied casts of antique sculptures and drew from male nudes. Women had limited, or no access to this Academic learning, and as such there are no extant large-scale history paintings by women from this period. Some women made their name in other genres such as portraiture.

Other women were innovative in their ability to compensate for their lack of training. Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun used her experience in portraiture to create an allegorical scene, Peace Bringing Back Plenty, which she classified as a history painting and used as her grounds for admittance into the Academy. After the display of her work, it was demanded that she attend formal classes, or lose her license to paint. She became a court favourite, and a celebrity, who painted over forty self-portraits, which she was able to sell.

In England, two women, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser, were founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768. Kauffmann helped Maria Cosway enter the Academy. Cosway went on to gain success as a painter of mythological scenes, however, these women remained in a somewhat ambivalent position at the Royal Academy, as evidenced by the group portrait of The Academicians of the Royal Academy by Johan Zoffany now in The Royal Collection. In it, only the men of the Academy are assembled in a large artist studio, together with nude male models. For reasons of decorum given the nude models, the two women are not shown as present, but as portraits on the wall instead. The emphasis in Academic art on studies of the nude during training remained a considerable barrier for women studying art until the twentieth century, both in terms of actual access to the classes and in terms of family and social attitudes to middle-class women becoming artists. After these three, no woman became a full member of the Academy until Laura Knight in 1936, and women were not admitted to the Academy's schools until 1861.

By the late eighteenth century, there were important steps forward for artists who were women. In Paris, the Salon, the exhibition of work founded by the Academy, became open to non-Academic painters in 1791, allowing women to showcase their work in the powerful annual exhibition. Additionally, women were more frequently being accepted as students by famous artists, such as, Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Nineteenth century

Artists from this period include Lucy Bacon, Marie Bashkirtseff, Anna Boch, Rosa Bonheur, Olga Boznańska, Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, Camille Claudel, Marie Ellenrieder, Kate Greenaway, Kitty Lange Kielland, Edmonia Lewis, Constance Mayer, Victorine Meurent, Berthe Morisot, Suzanne Valadon, Enid Yandell, and Wilhelmina Weber Furlong among others.

Marie Ellenrieder and Marie-Denise Villers worked in the field of portraiture in the beginning of the century, and Rosa Bonheur in realist painting and sculpture.

Barbara Bodichon, Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, Kate Bunce, Evelyn De Morgan, Emma Sandys, Elizabeth Siddal, Marie Spartali Stillman, and Maria Zambaco were women artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

During the century access to training for women was largely opened up. The British "Government School of Design", which evolved into the Royal College of Art, admitted women from its foundation in 1837, but into a "Female School" which was treated somewhat differently, with "life"- classes consisting for several years of drawing a man wearing a suit of armour. The Royal Academy Schools finally admitted women from 1861, but they initially only drew draped models. However other schools in London, including the Slade School of Art from the 1870s, were more liberal. By the end of the century women were able to study the naked, or very nearly naked, figure in many Western European and North American cities.

The Society of Female Artists (now called The Society of Women Artists) was established in 1855 in London and has staged annual exhibitions since 1857, when 358 works were shown by 149 women, some using a pseudonym.

Julia Margaret Cameron and Gertrude Kasebier became well-known in the new medium of Photography, where there were no traditional restrictions, and no established training, to hold them back.

Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler), perhaps inspired by her life-classes of armoured figures at the Government School, was the first woman to become famous for large history paintings, specializing in scenes of military action, usually with many horses.

Berthe Morisot and the Americans, Mary Cassatt and Lucy Bacon, became involved in the French Impressionist movement of the 1860s and 1870s. American Impressionist Lilla Cabot Perry was influenced by her studies with Monet and by Japanese art in the late nineteenth century. Cecilia Beaux was an American portrait painter who also studied in France.

In 1894, Suzanne Valadon was the first woman admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in France. Laura Muntz Lyall, a post-impressionist painter, exhibited at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, and then in 1894 as part of the Société des artistes français in Paris.

Twentieth century

Notable women artists from this period include: Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Romaine Brooks, Leonora Carrington, Mary Cassatt, Elizabeth Catlett, Camille Claudel, Sonia Delaunay, Dulah Marie Evans, Helen Frankenthaler, Elisabeth Frink, Françoise Gilot, Natalia Goncharova, Grace Hartigan, Barbara Hepworth, Eva Hesse, Sigrid Hjertén, Malvina Hoffman, Gwen John, Käthe Kollwitz, Lee Krasner, Frida Kahlo, Laura Knight, Barbara Kruger, Marie Laurencin, Tamara de Lempicka, Séraphine Louis, Dora Maar, Maruja Mallo, Agnes Martin, Ana Mendieta, Joan Mitchell, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O'Keeffe, Bridget Riley, Verónica Ruiz de Velasco, Anne Ryan, Charlotte Salomon, Augusta Savage, Zinaida Serebriakova, Henrietta Shore, Sr. Maria Stanisia, Suzanne Valadon, Remedios Varo, Nellie Walker and Marianne von Werefkin, Ogura Yuki.

Sr. Maria Stanisia was able to overcome the patriarchal attitudes both within early twentieth century Chicago and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to become acclaimed as one of the greatest painters in the field of religious art

In the Art Deco era, Hildreth Meiere made large-scale mosaics and was the first woman honored with the Fine Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects.Template:Fact Tamara de Lempicka, also of this era, was an Art Deco painter from Poland.

In 1927, Dod Proctor's painting Morning was voted Picture of the Year in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and bought by the Daily Mail for the Tate gallery. Its popularity resulted in its showing in New York and a two year tour of Britain.

Surrealism, which became prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, had a number of prominent women artists, including Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo.

Lee Miller rediscovered solarization and became a high fashion photographer. Dorothea Lange documented the Depression. Margaret Bourke-White created the industrial photographs that were featured on the cover and in the lead article of the first Life Magazine. Diane Arbus based her photography on outsiders to mainstream society. Graciela Iturbide's works dealt with Mexican life and feminism, while Tina Modotti's captured the country's revolutionary spirit.Template:Vague Annie Leibovitz's photographic work was of rock and roll and other celebrity figures.

Aleksandra Ekster was a Constructivist, Cubo-Futurist, and Suprematist artist well known and respected in both Moscow and Paris. Sonia Delaunay and her husband were the founders of Orphism. Mary Carroll Nelson founded the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media (SLMM), whose artist members follow in the tradition of Emil Bisttram and the Transcendental Painting Group, as well as Morris Graves of the Pacific Northwest Visionary Art School. In the 1970s, Judy Chicago created The Dinner Party, one of the most important works of feminist art.

Helen Frankenthaler worked with Jackson Pollock in the Abstract Expressionist movement. Lee Krasner was married to Pollock and an abstract artist. Elaine de Kooning was a student and later the wife of Willem de Kooning, who was a realistic painter also.Template:Clarifyme Anne Ryan was a collagist. Jane Frank, a student of Hans Hofmann, worked with mixed media on canvas. In Canada, Marcelle Ferron was an exponent of automatism.

From the 1960s on feminism led to a great increase in interest in women artists and their academic study. Notable contributions have been made by the art historians Germaine Greer, Linda Nochlin, Griselda Pollock and others. Figures like Artemesia Gentileschi and Frida Kahlo emerged from relative obscurity to become feminist icons.

In 1996, Catherine de Zegher curated an exhibition of 37 great women artists from the Twentieth Century. The exhibition, Inside the Visible, that travelled from the ICA in Boston to the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, the Whitechapel in London and the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, included artists' works from the 1930s through the 1990s featuring: Claude Cahun, Louise Bourgeois, Bracha Ettinger, Agnes Martin, Carrie Mae Weems, Charlotte Salomon, Eva Hesse, Nancy Spero, Francesca Woodman, Lygia Clark and Mona Hatoum among others.

Contemporary artists

In 1993, Rachel Whiteread was the first woman to win the Tate Gallery's Turner Prize. Gillian Wearing won the prize in 1997, when there was an all-woman shortlist, the other nominees being Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch and Cornelia Parker. In 1999, Tracey Emin gained considerable media coverage for her entry My Bed, but did not win. In 2006 the prize was awarded to abstract painter, Tomma Abts.

In 2001, a conference called "Women Artists at the Millennium" was organized at Princeton University. A book by that name was published in 2006, featuring major art historians such as Linda Nochlin analysing prominent women artists such as: Louise Bourgeois, Yvonne Rainer, Bracha Ettinger, Sally Mann, Eva Hesse, Rachel Whiteread and Rosemarie Trockel.

Internationally prominent contemporary artists who are women also include Lynda Benglis, Lee Bul, Sophie Calle, Janet Cardiff, Marlene Dumas, Marisol Escobar, Jenny Holzer, Runa Islam, Yayoi Kusama, Karen Kilimnik, Sarah Lucas, Yoko Ono, Jenny Saville, Carolee Schneeman, Shazia Sikander, Lorna Simpson, Lisa Steele, Stella Vine, Kara Walker, and Susan Dorothea White.

In the Autumn of 2006, the British art magazine Latest Art polled thirty experts to compose a list of the thirty greatest women artists ever. Artists on the list are both contemporary and historical including Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Diane Arbus, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Paula Rego, Judy Chicago, Annie Leibovitz and twenty others.

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's paintings, collages, soft sculptures, performance art and environmental installations all share an obsession with repetition, pattern, and accumulation. Her work shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. She describes herself as an "obsessive artist". In November of 2008, Christie's auction house New York sold her 1959 painting No. 2 for $5,100,000, the record price in 2008 for a work by a living female artist.

See also




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