May 2, 2009
Women Artists of the Past
Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington
I would bet that when you hear “Old Master” you think of men! Yep I was right you did... didn’t you? Well that is not your fault it is the historians that have made you think that way! Do you think that women of long ago never lifted a paint brush or sculpted???
Many male artists at the time of the Old Masters and can you believe it…today scoffed at their female colleagues. Thomas Hart Benton believed that "an art school is a place for young girls to pass the time between high school and marriage."
Edgar Degas, a known male supremacist, saw women as "animals" with an "absence of all feeling in the presence of art." Yes I said “animal”!
Now the men are not the only ones here to blame…female historians have kept the women artist under raps too!
Here are some female artists you want to know about.
Fede Galizia, a 17th-century painter, was celebrated for her depiction of fruit so vividly that her patrons thought they could feel the skins, as in the fuzz of the peaches in her "Still Life with Peaches in a Porcelain Bowl." She became known for her skill at age 12.
Louise Moillon also was a 17th-century still life painter began selling her art at age 10. Her proficiency at capturing the texture of water droplets and the texture of woven baskets earned her acceptance into the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. She accomplished this when the Academy decreed still life painting unimportant!
Rachel Ruysch, mother of 10, began painting in the 17th century and worked into her ‘80s in the following century. She portrayed still life’s of flowers as if they were still alive I have seen her work in person and it is breathtaking! How cold you do this with 10 children?
Judith Leyster, a 17th-century artist and mother of 15 (now here is a brave woman) was known for large-scale figure painting. She was also inducted into an all-male painter’s guild, how intimidating would that be? I don’t know if I could do that!
A 16th-century sculptor named Properzia did Rossi was famed for carving intricate compositions, such as entire crucifixions, on the pits of apricots and cherries, now that would take some real patience and talent! Here is the best news…she won out over male competitors in a contest for a marble work in a Bologna church.
An 18th-century artist, Francoise Duparc, gained her celebrity after the French Revolution by painted portraits of working class people, and was kept out of the French art world.
Anne Seymour Damer, a 19th-century portrait sculptor, received commissions from King George III and Napoleon. This is my favorite thing about her; she loved what she was doing so much that she asked to be buried with her sculpting tools.
Lavinia Fontana painted thoughtful portraits between the 16th and 17th centuries that were renowned for showing the sitters’ personality outfitted with beautiful clothing and jewelry.
A19th-century portrait painter Sarah Miriam Peale painted the likenesses of the then Secretary of State Daniel Webster, numerous congressmen and foreign dignitaries.
Marie-Eleonore Godfroid, another 19th-century portrait painter dedicated her studies to socially prominent women and their children.
This is just marvelous, an 18th- to 19th-century portrait painter, by the name of Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrunearned actually enough money at her art to support herself, her widowed mother, and her younger brother. Who said women can’t be artists?
Michelangelo sent his drawings to copy and be critiqued to Sofonisba Anguissola, a 16th-century portraitist, was in demand for her sharp detailing, warm colors and communicative eyes
Marie Antoinette was the chief patron of 18th-century still life painter Ann-Vallayer-Coster. The French queen actually gave her an apartment in the royal palace. Even after the Revolution her popularity was strong and her painting continued to sell.
The founder the British Royal Academy with fellow painter Mary Moser was 18th- to 19th-century painter, Angelica Kauffmann. She received her first commission before she was a teenager!
A 20th-century sculptor, Anna Hyatt Huntington was best known for carving life-size images of horses out of marble, complete with flaring nostrils and windswept manes. She won first place in a Paris competition for her life-size equestrian statue of Joan of Arc in 1910, the judges took back the prize when they discovered she was female….how dare they!
Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th-century painter famed for anatomy and dramatic effect, brought her art teacher to trial for rape. In order to be believed she submitted to torture (thumbscrews). The teacher was jailed for eight months. A movie bio of Gentileschi called Artemisia, which came out a few years ago, showing her as a lovesick girl and the sex between teacher and student as consensual. The film maker was a woman!!! Ironic!
Then we come to a contemporary woman who has ignored female artists she is historian Sister Wendy Beckett. In her book The Story of Painting, she failed to acknowledge that Kauffmann and Moser studied life-drawing at the British Royal Academy, along with English greats William Blake, J.M.W. Turner and Joshua Reynolds. A slap on the wrists for you Sister Beckett!
Between the Renaissance and the start of the 20th century, women weren’t permitted to draw from life (nude models)…oh no they could not see a male in the nude! The nude, you see, was the main subject of art from ancient times to those of Renoir and Rodin. The women were not allowed into schools that offered life-drawing because of this.
In 1893 students in a women's modeling class at the Pennsylvania Academy
were forced to use a cow as their model. Yes I said a “cow” how insulting. I would much rather look at a nude than a cow!
Sister Wendy's exhaustive 721-page history goes blank on the subject of Kauffmann and Moser studying the human form in an academic setting for the first time ever! I wonder why she ignored these women. Sister Wendy is not the only women who have ignored women artists, a historian by the name of Helen Gardner wrote a book; Art Through the Ages in 1926. This book went on to become a standard text book for collage students but it never gave these or other women their dues.
Then we come to the 20th century, Georgia O’Keefee suffered humiliation when male critics insisted on seeing female genitalia in her flower paintings. She was so embarrassed by the comparison that she told New York art critic Emily Genauer, "I hate flowers. I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move!
She tried to stand up to those who called her work “shameless” by explaining the paintings.
"Everything was going so fast. Nobody has time to reflect... There was a flower. It was perfectly beautiful, but it was so small, you really could not appreciate it. So I thought to make it like a huge building going up. If I could paint that flower on a huge scale, then you could not ignore its beauty. People would be startled. They’d have to look at it." Well the idiots looked at it and saw vulvas!
At this time O’Keeffe was literally outraged to the point of dysfunction. She was not able to carry on with her painting at one point just because of what some idiot critics saw in her work.
Eventually as time passed she went back to it.
Here is a real hero, Rosa Bonheur a 19th century animal sculptor wanted to get animal anatomy exactly right. So she started by visiting slaughterhouses in trousers, of course she needed a police permit to wear the trousers and the permit needed renewing every six months. She made the effort now that is what I call true determination!
Well I guess it all boils down to this, it was right for a woman to manage a pleasant hearth and home for her family, she could keep busy doing needlework or ceramics, these were useful things to make the home more beautiful! Plus she could pro-create like crazy, but she could never be a serious artist, that domain was for men only! Women were not capable of artistic genius! How unfair this must have seemed to the women of those days!
Today is better but when I first started selling my work I was told to just sign my paintings with my initials only. So I guess there is still some antiquated notion that women are not made to create anything but babies!!!!