15 Female Artists that Rocked the Art World
One will hardly get surprised hearing that men have been outnumbering women throughout the history of art. Well, there was a time when it used to be a man’s man’s man’s world — nowadays we can’t be sure as everything’s changing so fast. Leaving aside feminist discussions, let’s have a look at 15 female artists that influenced (or are still influencing) the world of art, each in her own manner, so it would never be the same!
ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI (1593 – c.1656)
The first female member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno, Gentileschi rocked Florence with her strong depictions of women suffering and fighting — most scenes are taken from the Bible, myths and allegories. Her Baroque art style was in the highest degree accomplished — no wonder that Artemisia Gentileschi enjoyed the patronage of Italian grand people (including Medici family) and had clients from other countries abroad.
ÉLISABETH LOUISE VIGÉE LE BRUN or MADAME LE BRUN (1755 – 1842)
A real portrait wizard, Élisabeth created some 660 images of people and 200 landscapes that standed out among the coevals’ works due to their vividness and credibility. Today most of the paintings by Madame Le Brun are owned by the Louvre, Hermitage Museum, National Gallery in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and some private collections in Europe and US. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun used to serve as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette — now her masterpieces serve the world’s art heritage.
ROSA BONHEUR (1822 – 1899)
Having displayed her works first at age of 19, Rosa Bonheur soon won wide recognition, even more in England and America than in her home country France. Bonheur specialized in realistic depictions, especially in those of animals. The artist had studied animals’ anatomy extensively, for that reason she was capable of the most accurate and lively depiction of a horse’s or lion’s body. In 1865, Rosa Bonheur was awarded with the Grand Cross Legion of Honor — no woman in France had been honored with such a high order for military and civil merits before.
MARY CASSATT (1844 – 1926)
Pennsylvania-born Mary Cassatt started her artistic career in France that was obsessed with ideas of Impressionism in the very end of the 19 century — she became the only American artist who joined the Impressionist exhibition in Paris.
Her favorite characters were women and children whose close if not to say intimate relationships she depicted so sensuously and softly. Mary Cassatt had a long period of collaboration with Edgar Degas. Well, there is a certain semblance between Cassatt’s young women and Degas’ ballet-girls.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE (1887 – 1986)
Mother of American modernism is her second name — Georgia O’Keeffe was the one who paved a way to abstraction in American art. Her paintings are extra large, mysterious, somehow supernatural. In youth, she mostly painted flowers, in the second part of life she payed more attention to skulls of horses. Georgia O’ Keeffe was a brave reformer and a perfect artist with her own unique manner at once. In 1977, she was awarded the highest civilian honor in the United States — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
HANNAH HÖCH (1889 – 1978)
The lone girl in the most absurd art movement ever called Dada, Hannah Höch did her best to dismantle all the fable and ambiguity from the concept of an ideal woman. Hannah Höch caricatured in her collages the Weimar Republic and the promulgated social models. Apparently, she was one of the pioneers at the field of photomontage techniques — creating collages with the use of actual photographs. During the war times her works were deemed ‘degenerate art’ by Nazi but fortunately most of them survived. In the recent years you could have seen Hannah Höch’s solo shows in Whitechapel Gallery, London, in Berlinische Galerie, in Los Angeles County Museum of Art e.t.c.
TAMARA DE LEMPICKA (1898 – 1980)
The most interesting about the polish artist of high blood Tamara de Lempicka, is that she created works within the frame of traditional easel painting but her brushwork could be surely referred to Art Deco style. Most of all de Lempicka depicted women, solo or in groups — all her characters looked seductive and arrogant in some ways and they didn’t seem to want to indulge a man. Lempicka’s ‘comeback’ happened in the late 60s with the explosion of interest for Art Deco. ‘The Queen of Pop’ Madonna also known for her art collecting passion possesses dozens of Lempicka’s works that she usually loans for exhibitions.
FRIDA KAHLO (1907 – 1954)
The Mexican girl Frida Kahlo was going to be a doctor but became one of the best-known female artists in the world. After getting seriously injured in the road accident, Frida started making self-portraits to express all the pain and sufferings that she was going through. That’s exactly what made her famous. Some people deem Frida Kahlo’s works surrealistic but the artist herself never spoke of her art as of surrealism. Perhaps she created more self-portraits during her lifetime than any other artist did. Curiously, the art of Frida Kahlo is usually compared to the art of her ex-husband and lifelong inspiration, Diego Rivera — often in his disfavor.
LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1911 – 2010)
Sculpture & Installation Art
In the focus of works of the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois are people’s unconscious: desires, meanings, fears. She is well-known for creating huge sculptures and installations that were often exhibited in the public space but there are also some paintings and print makings done by the artist. Her solo exhibitions as well as exhibitions of some of her objects ran at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (NY), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), U.S. 45th Pavilion Venice Biennale (Venice). One year after Bourgeois’ death one of her works “Spider” was sold for $10,7 million at auction — a new record for the price paid for the female artist’s work was set.
LEONORA CARRINGTON (1917 – 2011)
Since Frida Kahlo refused to call her art surrealism, we can draw our attention to another great female artist who was in every way closer to the movement. Leonora had fallen in love with Max Ernst, one of the leading Surrealist artists — ever since she was on intimate terms with the surrealism movement. Surprisingly, Leonora wasn’t interested in Freudian theory, unlike her counterparts — she rather leaned towards an occult metamorphic depiction of female sexuality, often a autobiographical one. She was a prolific writer as well. In 1986, Leonora Carrington was honored with Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award.
HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928 – 2011)
Abstract expressionism is generally considered to be a masculine movement, but Helen Frankenthaler was a remarkable exception. She was creating works within the frames of the style for a few decades in a row, outlasting many male Abstract Expressionists. In 1964, she was included in Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition at LACMA curated by famous Clement Greenberg. Her large-scale watercolor paintings look naive in a way but leave a drastic effect on its viewers. In 2001, Helen Frankenthaler was awarded the National Medal of Arts of US.
BRIDGET RILEY (b. 1931)
Optical art (or Op art, its popular abbreviation) is about creating optical illusions with the help of patterns, shapes and colours. In fact, it’s quite a manipulative kind of art which is rather specific so there are not many famous artists following this movement. Bridget Riley is probably Number 2 Op artist (right after Victor Vasarely) and the best-known woman at the field. That’s why the artist is also known as the Mother of Op Art. Her black’n’white alluring patterns (less often — colorful ones) sound moving, absorbing and really dynamic whereas it’s just a still canvas. In 1968, Bridget Riley represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale where she was awarded the International Prize for painting.
JUDY CHICAGO (b. 1939)
Judy Chicago invented the expression of ‘Feminist Art’ in the 70s and became one of the leading artists of the movement. She is famous for her large installations that are devoted to women’s role during the history. In her art Judy Chicago explores her own sexuality as well as the quintessence of femininity and its relation to the world of men. Probably the most famous works by Chicago are Dinner Party (Brooklyn Museum of Art) and Womanhouse. By the way, the artist’s real name is Judith Cohen — she chose Judy Chicago as a stage pseudonym at the peak of her career.
MARINA ABRAMOVIC (b. 1946)
While some of the previous female artists we talked about were deemed Mothers of their movements, Marina Abramovic is also known as Grandmother of Performance Art. Performance is absolutely a 20th century discovery, so quite a new one — Marina happened to be a pioneer at the field, at least in Europe. Notably, the artist herself often takes quite a passive role in performances she creates — this is a way she encourages the viewer to be an active participant of the action, either physically or mentally. No sense in describing her works as all of them are worth being seen personally. Marina Abramovic was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale 1997.
CINDY SHERMAN (b. 1954)
Loving to change clothes and act as different characters since childhood, Cindy Sherman brought her passion to life and to art, what’s important. She creates staged photography where she features women that differ in age and character type but all of them are subjected to public criticism. Cindy Sherman enjoys working with gender topics, doubtlessly playing for the feminists’ team. In 2012 a major Sherman’s exhibition took place at MoMA (NY). The artist also directed a full-length film in 1997 — it ran under the name “Office Killer”.
Needless to say, a list of female artists whose works just can’t leave the viewer indifferent is to be continued… Each year new stars are born, so let artists shine and make the world better regardless of their gender, ethnicity and different social factors.
Text \\ Yulia Kryshevich