Yes, today women continue to be in a situation of inequality in front of men, and not even in the world of art they can escape of it. We can imagine those women that had an artistic gift and all that they had to go through in past times. Not only their work wasn’t valued but, in many cases, women weren’t even allowed to do such activities.
March the 8th was selected to become International Women’s Day, as in that same date but in 1909 a fire in New York factory ended with the life of 129 women. Russian politician Clara Zetkin was the first one to propose the idea of an International Women’s Day during the 2nd International Conference of Socialist Women celebrated in Copenhagen in 1910. Besides, in this same conference was reiterated the demanding of universal vote for all women.
In this article we want to pay tribute to feminine representatives that once were or still are part of the world of art, both for their artistic skills as well for their defiance of conventionalisms of their time. We want to acknowledge their effort, tenacity and willingness to fight against a still sexist world.
Currently we still see that fame and value of feminine artists continue to be in a lower level. Proof of this are some studies that state that the works of the most demanded women artists have a value up to 10 times smaller than their male colleagues.
We now present you some of the past and present female visual artists best valued that to this day continue to fight, using talent as their weapon to get more women to reach the place they deserve in the world of art.
Camille Claudel (1864 – 1943)
Since a Young age, Camille enjoyed modeling mud. But she also started to demonstrate her great capacity to reflect in that inert material the faces of her loved ones. What began as a mere distraction later became a passion that her family didn’t like. They expected her to follow the same path as the rest of the girls of her time that focused exclusively on being housewives.
In 1884 she began to work with Auguste Rodin and had a love relationship with him, who became her model and muse. Sadly Rodin was emotionally bounded to another women and refused to leave her. This situation served as inspiration for Camille in her most important works like “L’Age mûr” (the mature age). Her fame is such that to this day she continues to be promoted by several artists and appearing in art magazines.
Yayoi Kusama (1929)
Yayoi is a Japanese artist and writer. She began to get interested in art since a very young age while being influenced by pop art and minimalism.
Throughout her career she has worked with a number of different media: paint, collage, sculpture, performance art and installations. Most of these exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelia, repetition and patterns.
Kusama is a precursor of pop art movements, minimalism and feminist art that influenced her contemporaries Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. This Japanese artist’s works are some of the most demanded worldwide.
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)
This Mexican painter was married with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Her life was marked by a serious accident in her youth that kept her in bed for long periods of time and facing up to 32 surgical interventions. Her pictorial work focuses on her own life and suffering and is artistically strongly influenced by her husband. Although her work was admired by several artists of her time, it was after her death that her works got bigger transcendence.
Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
She was a writer, illustrator and fabulist of children literature. She became an intellectual specialized in nature and she carried out several studies about lichens, mushrooms and plants that had to be presented to the circle of researchers by her uncle because women were not allowed to do so.
In 1902 she published her first illustrated tale (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) and it had such a success that for 8 years she didn’t stop writing animated stories. In 1905 she married the editor Frederick Warne against her parent’s will. Unfortunately, he died that same year. Then Beatrix bought the Top Hill farm in Scotland that became scenery of her numerous stories.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
She was an American abstract expressionist painter. She was influenced by the work of Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg who participated with her in the Abstract Art Movement 1946-1960.
The painter developed her own pictorial technique to apply paint to the canvas. This technique known as soak stain, consists on mixing the paint with turpentine in a blender and letting the fabric to absorb it to eliminate any tridimensional sensation.
This technique also inspired the color field movement where artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland got involved in. This movement turned out to be precursor of minimalism.
Helen’s most representative work is the “Mountains and sea” painting.
Tamara Lempicka (1898-1980)
Her real name was Maria Górska and was a Polish painter. In the beginnings of the 20th century she stood out as portraitist and representative of art deco. She painted artists, noble and famous people in Paris. New York critics loved her. Her works always displayed a feminine figure, fashion, luxury and eroticism.
Among aristocracy she was one of the most quoted artists as she became fashion portraitist for this social class and made covers for the German fashion magazine Die Dame. Gradually her paintings lose notoriety and the Nazi government considered them soft porn.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
She was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Pennsylvania but spent most of her adult life in France where she became friends with Edgar Degas and joined the impressionist movement.
She’s most known for her series of works of mothers and children. Although the artist explores in her works other aspects of women’s social and private lives. A sudden loss of vision forced her to retire from painting, but thanks to her work impressionism entered the United States.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
She was a French nationalized American artist and sculptress. Known by her spider sculptures that earned her the nickname “Spider Woman”, she’s one of the most important artists of contemporary art.
Precisely her work “Spider” is considered one of the most valued in feminine art as it was sold in an auction for $10.7 million. In spite of her fruitful career with abstract works, she also works with the human figure expressing themes like treason, loneliness or anxiety. A clearly autobiographic work marked by a childhood trauma caused by the relationship her father had with her nanny.
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
She was an English painter. In 1936 she entered the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Art in London, where she started her studies on drawing and painting. Next year she met the German painter Max Ernst who indirectly introduced her to surrealist movement.
In 1943 she met Edward James in Mexico, a becoming collector of surrealist artists. She lived there for 43 years, became part of the surrealist movement, met Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo to whom became good friends.
Her pictorial language combines sinister and supernatural things, religious symbols and Jung psychology in imaginary worlds where dream and reality get together.
Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962)
She was a prominent Russian painter specialized in cubo-futurism, one of the currents of Russian avant-garde. Some of her works were related to iconic art and Russian popular art, others focused on futurism and cubism that later evolved into Rayonism. Her work was well received by the public although her lifestyle –far from social conventionalisms– always caused controversy.
Goncharova, as well as Louise Bourgeois, is considered as one of the best valued feminine artist and a proof of that is the selling of her paint “Flowers” for $10.8 million.
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
She was the first women to join the impressionist movement. Morisot was model and friend of Manet. She had an important role in the development of French impressionism and her works were displayed side by side with those of Degas, Renoir and Monet.
Her work “Après le déjeuner” broke all auction records of the famous London betting house Christie’s and was sold for $11 million. That’s why she’s considered to be the best valued artist in the world.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887- 1986)
She was an American artist pioneer in visual arts. She studied at the Art Institute Chicago under the guidance of John Vanderpoel. In 1907 she moved to New York to join the Art Student League where she met the European art of Rodin and Matisse.
Her most famous works are paintings of big scale flowers like Black Iris (1926), as well as her series of paintings like Jack-in-a-Pulpit (1930). In 1946 she moved to New Mexico that she had met before in one of her travels. During the decades of 1930’s and 1940’s she widen her register and introduced animal bones and skulls into her paintings.
The artist wanted to give life and visual expression to her emotions and this took her to paint nature based abstractions.