ca. 460 BCE
Red Figure Vase depicting woman painting a volute krater
|Herrad von Landsburg|
Self-Portrait from Hortus deliciarum
Original copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelha
The Renaissance and Baroque eras were the first periods in Western history in which secular (non-religious) female artists gained international reputations. The rise in the number of women artists during this period may be attributed to major cultural shifts, including a move toward humanism, a philosophy affirming the dignity of all people which was central to Renaissance thinking, and helped to raise the status of women. In addition, the identity of the individual artist in general was regarded as an important component of artwork beginning from that point in history. Art moved from that of craftsmen. Artists, unlike earlier craftsmen, were now expected to have knowledge of perspective, mathematics, ancient art, and to study of human body.
Knowledge of the body, considered essential for creating realistic human figures and group scenes, required working from male nudes and corpses. Women were typically barred from training from the nude, and were therefore precluded from creating such scenes, required for the large-scale religious compositions that received the most prestigious commissions during this time.
Women did sculpt and paint, however, but an apprenticeship period required quite a commitement. It involved living and training with an older artist for 4 to 5 years, which, of course meant that women who did train in painting were typically taught by a close male relative such as an uncle or father. Female sculptors such as Properzia de’ Rossi and Luisa Ignacia Roldán were awarded public commissions, and painters such as Lavinia Fontana, Catharina van Hemessen, and Judith Leyester began to depict themselves in self-portraits, not just as painters but also as musicians and scholars, which served to highlight their well-rounded education.
|Catharina von Hemessen|
Mixed media: tempera on oak panel
Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland
Oil on Canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Women artists in the Baroque period began to change the ways in which women were depicted in art. As they were not able to train from nude models who were always male, they were certainly familiar with the female body and began to create images of women as conscious beings rather than detached muses. One of the premier examples of this presentation is Judith beheading Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi (seen below), in which Judith is depicted as a strong woman determining her own destiny.
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Oil on canvas
78 x 63 inches
Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Allegory of Poetry and Music
Oil on canvas
Kenwood House, London, UK
The Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-71
Oil on Canvas
Royal Collection, London
During the nineteenth century, access to academies and formal art training became more accessable for women in both Europe and North America. The Society of Female Artists (The Society of Women Artists) was established in 1855 in London, and has staged annual exhibitions since 1857, when three hundred fifty-eight works were shown by one hundred forty-nine women. Julia Margaret Cameron and Gertrude Käsebier became well known in the new medium of photography, where there were no traditional restrictions nor established training to prevent them from exploring the field equally with men.
|Julia Margaret Cameron|
Sadness (Ellen Terry)
The Twentieth century saw the art world shift from Paris to New York with the armory show in 1913. Post-Impressionism (Les Nabis), Art Nouveau, and Symbolism occured in the late nineteenth century and led to the first twentieth-century art movements: Fauvism in France and Die Brücke ("The Bridge") in Germany. Fauvism introduced heightened non-representational colour into figurative painting. Alice Bailey, a Swiss painter attended separate classes for women at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where she became interested in Fauvism, and showed some paintings in the style at the Salon d'Automne alongside principal painters of the movement.
Oil on canvas, 32 × 23½ inches
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Microcosm and Macrocosm
Oil on masonite
37 x 19 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Throughout the rest of the twentieth century and into the new millenium, women have continued to be innovators in art. 1950s American Abstract Expressionists included Elaine de Kooning, an Abstract Expressionist, Figurative Expressionist painter in the post-World War II era and editorial associate for Art News magazine. She married William de Kooning, a leading artist in the movement. Detachment from the world of imagery was reversed in the 1960s by the Pop Art movement, notably Andy Warhol, where brash commercial imagery became a Fine Art staple. One of the few women recognized as a Pop artist is Marisol Escobar. She began to be influenced by Warhol and Lichtenstein. One of her best-known works from this period is The Cocktail Party, a life-size group installation of figures at the Toledo Museum of Art. All the figures, gathered together in various guises of the social elite, sported Marisol’s face. Marisol dropped her family surname of Escobar in order to divest herself of a patrilineal identity and to "stand out from the crowd."
The Cocktail Party
Sculpture: wood and mixed media
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
|Maya Ying Lin|
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Two walls of black granite approximately 500 feet long
58,132 names inscribed of the men and women who died in the war
Untitled Film Still #58
Gelatin Silver Print
approximately 7 x 10 inches
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Further investigation and reading:
Cynthia Freeland, But is it Art?
Nancy Heller, Women Artists: an Illustrated History
Nancy Heller, Women Artists: Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts
Jeannie Shubitz, Women, Art and Gender History, http://www.ic.arizona.edu/ic/mcbride/ws200/womenandgender.html
Wendy Slatkin, Women Artists in History
Susan Fisher Sterling, Women Artists: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
C. Wiedemann, 50 Women Artists You Should Know
Cornelia Butler, Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art