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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Famous Women in the Arts

Women in the Arts

Women in the Arts

Women artists have been making art throughout history; unfortunately, their work has often been overlooked and undervalued. Historical stereotypes about the sexes have caused certain media, such as textile or craft arts, to be primarily associated with women and have been demoted below the “fine art.” Women in art have been faced with challenges due to gender biases in the mainstream fine art world. They have encountered difficulties in training and trading their work, as well as recognition.

To discover the significant contributions of women to the art world, explore below our collection of Women in the Arts:

Explore Women in the Arts

A Tour of Women in the Arts

  • Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625)
    • Sofonisba Anguissola was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Northern Italy, to a relatively poor noble Genoese family. She received a well-rounded education that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome, where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent. The Spanish queen was a keen amateur painter, and in 1559, Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting. Anguissola later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II.

  • Élisabeth Sophie Chéron (1648 – 1711)
    • Élisabeth Sophie Chéron was trained by her artist father, while still a child, in the arts of enameling and miniature painting. Her father was a Calvinist and endeavored to influence his daughter to adopt his religious belief. But, her mother was a Roman Catholic, and she persuaded Elizabeth to pass a year in a convent, during which time she ardently embraced the Catholic faith. She was an affectionate daughter to both her parents and was indifferent to proposals of marriage throughout her life, many from brilliant men in her intellectual circle. In 1708, at age 60, and to the surprise of her friends, she married Jacques Le Hay, the King’s engineer, after which she was known as Madame Le Hay. She called her marriage a “philosophical union.”

  • Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656)
    • Artemisia Gentileschi was a female Italian Baroque painter. In an era when the artistic community or patrons did not readily accept female painters, she was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia in Florence. Artemisia specialized in painting pictures of women from myths, allegories, and the Bible. That she was a woman painting in the seventeenth century and that she was raped as a young woman, overshadowed her achievements as an artist. Fortunately, today, she is regarded as one of the most progressive and expressive painters of her generation.

  • Angelica Kauffman (1741 – 1807)
    • Maria Kauffmann, usually known in English as Angelica Kauffman, was a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a successful career in London and Rome. She was a history painter, portraitist, and landscape painter. She was one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London in 1768. Kauffman was born in Switzerland, and then her family moved several times to different Italian cities and then to Austria, where her father was working for the local bishop. Her father was a skilled Austrian muralist and painter, who was often traveling for his work. He trained Angelica, and she worked as his assistant. Angelica, a child prodigy, acquired several languages, including German, Italian, French, and English. She was also a talented musician but chose art rather than the opera, which was perceived to have a “reputation.”

  • Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun ( 1755 – 1842)
    • Madame Vigée LeBrun’s career blossomed when was granted patronage by Marie Antoinette. She painted more than 30 paintings of the queen and her family but was forced to flee the country after the arrest of the royal family during the French Revolution. After escaping France in 1789, she lived and worked in the major European capitals. She enjoyed the patronage of European aristocrats, actors, and writers. She was elected to art academies in ten cities. Her artistic style was part of the aftermath of Rococo, while she also adopted a neoclassical style. Her color palette was Rococo influenced, but her style assumed the emerging Neoclassicism. Vigée Le Brun left a legacy of some 660 portraits and 200 landscapes, and when she was in her eighties, she published her memoirs in three volumes, called Souvenirs.

  • Marie-Denise Villers (1774 – 1821)
    • Marie-Denise Villers (née Lemoine) was a French painter who specialized in portraits. Villers was a gifted pupil of Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767–1824). In 1794, she married an architecture student who supported her in her art, even though during that time, many women were forced to give up professional artwork after marriage. Her life between the time of her last dated painting in 1814 and her death in 1821 remains a mystery.

  • Rosa Bonheur (1822 – 1899)
    • Rosa Bonheur was a French artist, a painter of animals, and sculptor, known for her artistic realism. Bonheur was considered to be the most famous female painter during the nineteenth century. Her most famous work is this her monumental, “The Horse Fair.” As a realist painter, she broke from tradition in depicting the horse eye as it is, and not using anthropomorphism for emotional effect. Her work led to international fame and recognition; when she traveled to Scotland, she met Queen Victoria, who greatly admired Bonheur’s work.

  • Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1823 – 1903)
    • Sophie Gengembre Anderson was a French-born British artist who specialized in genre painting of children and women, typically in rural settings. This painting, “Elaine,” was the first public collection purchase of a woman artist. Anderson broke the barrier for women artists in 1870 by creating this grand history pictures. Today, Anderson’s work is in the collection of numerous museums and galleries, mainly in the United Kingdom.

  • Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895)
    • Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was an Impressionist painter who exhibited for the first time in the highly esteemed Salon de Paris in 1864. The Salon was the annual exhibition of the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris. Her work was selected for exhibition in six subsequent Salons until, in 1874, she joined the “rejected” Impressionists in the first of their shows, which included Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. Morisot, an original member of the group and contributed paintings to seven of its eight Impressionist exhibitions and contributed financially to sustain the Impressionist Movement. Morisot was married to Eugène Manet, the brother of her friend and colleague Édouard Manet.

  • Mary Cassatt  (1844 – 1926)
    • Mary Stevenson Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Pennsylvania but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. Cassatt enjoyed the wave of feminism that occurred in the mid-1800s. It allowed relatively more accessible educational opportunities. She also became an outspoken advocate for women’s equality. She campaigned for equal travel scholarships for students in the 1860s, and the right to vote in the 1910s. As a successful, highly trained woman artist who never married, she portrayed women and mothers with dignity and the suggestion of a more in-depth, meaningful inner life. Cassatt objected to being stereotyped as a “woman artist” and actively supported women’s suffrage.

  • Anna Lea Merritt (1844 – 1930)
    • Anna Massey Lea Merritt painted portraits, landscapes, and religious scenes and etchings. She was born in Philadelphia but lived and worked in England for most of her life. Merritt worked as a professional artist for most of her adult life. Merritt had intended to end her professional career as a painter after her wedding, but she returned to painting after her husband’s death. “Love Locked Out” became the first painting by a woman artist acquired for the British National Collection.

  • Elizabeth Thompson (1846 – 1933)
    • Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler, was a British painter, who specialized in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles. She wrote about her military paintings in an autobiography published in 1922: “I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism.” She married Lieutenant-General Sir William Butler, becoming Lady Butler. Famous for her portrayals of battle scenes, Elizabeth Butler was a remarkable artist and one of the few 19th-century women to acquire fame for her historical paintings.

  • Margaret Bernadine Hall (1863 – 1910)
    • Margaret Bernadine Hall was an English painter who spent most of her career in Paris. After this painting, between 1888 and 1894, Hall traveled extensively to countries including Japan, China, Australia, North America, and North Africa, returning to Paris in 1894. Most of Hall’s paintings have disappeared or not survived.

  • Camille Claudel (1864 – 1943)
    • Camille Claudel was a French sculptor, who although she died in relative obscurity, has, in recent times, gained recognition for the originality of her work. She was the co-worker and lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin. The Musée Rodin in Paris has a room dedicated to Claudel’s works. Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop around 1884 and became a source of inspiration for him. She acted as his model, his confidante, and his lover. She never lived with Rodin, but the affair agitated her family; as a result, Claudel left the family home. In 1892, after an abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin, although they saw each other regularly until 1898. After Rodin saw Claudel’s The Mature Age for the first time, in 1899, he wholly and suddenly stopped his support for Claudel.

Quotes by Women in the Arts

Quotes about Art by women artists express their truth based on their experience and feelings. Quotes about Art are popular because most people can relate to them in some way and on some level.

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“I predict an hour when the term Women In Art will be as strange sounding a topic as the title Men In Art would be now.”
– Cecilia Beaux

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“If we don’t always understand animals, they always understand us.”
– Rosa Bonheur

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“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?
– Frida Kahlo

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“To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“Women should be someone and not something.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“Real painters understand with a brush in their hand.”
– Berthe Morisot

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“In art, one is usually totally alone with oneself.”
– Paula Modersohn-Becker

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“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone because I am the person I know best.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“There’s only one thing in life for a woman; it’s to be a mother… A woman artist must be… capable of making primary sacrifices.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“A love of nature is a consolation against failure.”
– Berthe Morisot

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“I think the time is coming for struggle and uncertainty. It comes into every serious and beautiful life. I knew all along that it had to come.”
– Paula Modersohn-Becker

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“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“There are two ways for a painter: the broad and easy one or the narrow and hard one.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“It is important to express oneself… provided the feelings are real and are taken from your own experience.”
– Berthe Morisot

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“Lack of money rivets us firmly to the ground; one’s wings are clipped.”
– Paula Modersohn-Becker

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“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“I am independent! I can live alone, and I love to work.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.
– Frida Kahlo

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 “Poverty does not terrify me, but the loneliness kills me.”
– Angelica Kauffman

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“The days you work are the best days.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“Life is full of surprises, and I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes.”
– Sofonisba Anguissola

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“The first sight of Degas’ pictures was the turning point of my artistic life.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“Acceptance, under someone else’s terms, is worse than rejection.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“I have not done what I wanted to, but I tried to make a good fight.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

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“I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“It is as well not to have too great an admiration for your master’s work. You will be in less danger of imitating him.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“I love you more than my own skin.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“I have touched with a sense of art some people; they felt the love and life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist?”
– Mary Cassatt

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“American women have been spoiled, treated and indulged like children; they must wake up to their duties.”
– Mary Cassatt

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“The epithets of imbeciles have never bothered me.”
– Rosa Bonheur

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A Tour of Artists

More Women Artists coming soon

Our focus on Women Artists will expand with new profiles added every month. Included on our list are:

  • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Cecilia Beaux
  • Lavinia Fontana
  • Marie Bashkirtseff
  • Suzanne Valadon
  • Marie Bracquemond
  • Clarice Beckett
  • Rosalba Carriera
  • Michaelina Wautier
  • Marie-Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond
  • Rachel Ruysch
  • Barbara Longhi
  • Jeanna Bauck
  • Elizabeth Jane Gardner

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“I am a painter. I have earned my living honestly. My private life is nobody’s concern.”
– Rosa Bonheur

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Photo Credit: Marie-Denise Villers  [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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