Since the beginning of time, the history of art has been dominated by men. Often women artists are overshadowed by their male counterparts, due to the patriarchal system that puts trust in the authority of the “male genius” and gives women the role of “the muse.” The statistics of women in the art world are shocking: not only are they poorly represented, but they are also making less money practicing the same profession, almost $20,000 less per year than men. A recent study also showed that out of all the living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America, only 13.7% of them are women. The museum statistics for women artists held in major permanent collections are equally deplorable.
For centuries, women were barred from studying nude models, relegated to only learning “women’s art” like textiles and weaving, and held back at every stage of their career. Singulart highlights five women artists who persevered and gained recognition despite these challenges, changing the history of art against all odds.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656)
An Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi is known as one of the most accomplished painters in the generation after Caravaggio. She was the first woman to be accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence and today is seen as one of the most progressive painters of her time. Often inspired by myths or religion, she painted scenes that depicted women in positions of both strength and suffering. Her first known work Susanna and the Elders is seen as a feminist masterpiece, depicting a scene from the Book of Daniel in which a young woman is being harassed in the bath by two older men. Her work will be commemorated in a retrospective at the National Gallery in London in 2020.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Mary Cassatt was the only American artist to exhibit alongside the Impressionists in Paris. After the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts refused her request to attend drawing sessions with nude models, she moved to France to train as an artist and ended up spending most of her life there. She was greatly influenced by the Impressionist movement and collaborated with artists like Edgar Degas, eventually introducing Impressionism to the American public. She often painted the private lives of women, especially the relationship between mothers and their children.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Georgia O’Keeffe is known as the “Mother of American Modernism,” a style that emerged between the two World Wars that challenged tradition with new artistic ideas in abstraction and the avant-garde. She is most famous for her works of New Mexico landscapes and her abstract paintings of flowers that have been widely interpreted by critics to represent female sensuality, though she never intended this reading of her work. Nonetheless, Georgia O’Keeffe became one of the first female painters to gain respect in the New York art scene in the 1920s.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Most famous for her self-portraits, Frida Kahlo was an iconic Mexican painter and remains to this day a feminist symbol worldwide. After having polio as a child and then suffering great injuries from a bus accident when she was just 18, she underwent many operations and experienced physical and psychological wounds that influenced her paintings. Incorporating elements of folk art and Mexican cultural heritage, Frida Kahlo explored themes such as identity, gender, race, and postcolonialism in her striking self-portraits and surrealist scenes.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist best known for her large spider sculptures that explored dark psychological themes and childhood trauma. She also worked as a painter and printmaker, focusing on subjects like domesticity, sexuality, and death. Bourgeois is associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement but also with Surrealism and Feminist Art, securely taking her place as one of the great contemporary artists in history.