What Women?

In yesterday’s satirical post, I referenced Linda Nochlin‘s acclaimed 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been no Great Women Artsts?” In honor of National Women’s Day, I reread it and got to thinking about women artists and the many, many artists who have been left out.

I am not striking today, though I support those women who are. Instead, I thought I’d contribute to the spirit of the day by discussing a few women who have been left out of the canon. I looked through the book I taught with most recently and found that the following  women artists were left out. There are, of course, many more. But here are ten, in chronological order:

Lavinia Fontana, 1552–1614
This woman was the real deal. She was a successful painter, earning commissions traditionally reserved for male artists, including mythological and religious subjects. She also painted female nudes. She was born in Bologna, but later moved to Rome, where she became court painter to Pope Paul V. She earned many awards for her work.

Fontana_Self-Portrait, 1577
Lavinia Fontana, Self-Portrait, 1577

Anna Maria van Schurman, 1607–78
German-born Dutch artist, poet, and scholar. She was the first woman university student in Europe. As an artist, she worked in a variety of media, including painting, engraving, and paperwork. She was a prolific writer.

AnnaMaria_vanSchurman_Self-Port, 1640
Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-Portrait, 1640

Elisabeth Haselwood, 1644–1715 & Elizabeth Godfrey, 1720–58
Think metalwork was reserved for men only? Think again. Elisabeth Haselwood of Norwich, England, and Elizabeth Godfrey of London both had prominent careers as gold- and silversmiths. Haselwood learned silversmithing with her husband in the seventeenth century. After his death, she continued to work with silver leading her own shop, and registering her own silversmithing mark. Godfrey worked in both gold and silver, learning the craft from her father. Like Haselwood, she ran a metalsmithing business independently after the death of her husband.

Marguerite Gérard, 1761–1837
Marguerite Gérard was a successful French painter, and sister-in-law to the much more famous (and oft-reviled) painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Her style shares some of the softness of Fragonard’s paintings, but is really more indebted to Dutch genre painting. Like many celebrated Dutch artists, she is known for her small scenes of domestic interiors. She was wildly successful with private patrons, who purchased her paintings for their homes. I see a lot of similarities between her work and that of Jean Siméon Chardin, who is all over the survey textbooks.

Marguerite Gérard, Sleep My Child, 1788

Sarah Goodridge, 1788–1853
I wrote about this interesting artist in a while back. She was an American miniaturist/portraitist, whom I found especially fascinating because of her bold gesture of sending her lover a watercolor of her breasts. That detail aside, Goodridge had a surprisingly successful career, given the world she was born into. She painted several prominent American political figures and opened her own portrait studio in Boston in 1820.

Sarah's Self portrait
Sarah Goodridge, Self-Portrait, 1830 (originally posted to Flickr as Miniature Painting, Sarah Goodridge: Self Portrait by freeparking 2007-10-06 13:51:40)

Dora Carrington, 1893–1932
If you’ve never heard of English artist Dora Carrington, you’re in for a treat, because this woman is utterly fascinating and I cannot do her justice in a brief introductory paragraph. Going simply by “Carrington,” she was a prolific artist, though didn’t really try to gain critical success. She made several paintings, but is especially known for her works of decorative art. She was closely associated with the Bloomsbury Group. Madly in love with writer Lytton Strachey for most of her life, with whom she had a lifelong friendship and who happened to be gay, she committed suicide upon his death. Her work is not easily categorized and rewards careful observation.

Photo of Carrington
Photograph of Dora Carrington with Lytton Strachey

Gee’s Bend Quilters
The women of Gee’s Bend Alabama have passed down the skill of quilt-making from generation to generation. The Gee’s Bend Quilters, are all descendants of slaves who worked at the Pettway Plantation at a bend in the Alabama River. Examples of their quilts survive from the first quarter of the twentieth century, and quilters from the collective are still active today. Their quilts are phenomenal and tell the unspoken histories of generations of women.

Gee's Bend
Photograph of Jennie Pettway and Jorena Pettway working on a quilt with an unidentified child, 1937

Maria Martinez, 1881–1980
One of the most important American artists of the twentieth century, Maria Martinez brought an awareness of the ceramic traditions she learned at her San Ildefonso Pueblo to the attention of a broader, non-Native public. Growing up, the ceramic vessels she learned to make were utilitarian objects, but as mass-produced vessels became more readily available, ceramics vessels became less intrinsic in pueblo life. Martinez was an especially adept ceramicist and was famous for her black-on-black ceramic vessels, which she sold to tourists who appreciated them for their aesthetic–rather than utilitarian value.

Photo of Maria Martinez, 1945

Louise Bourgeois, 1911–2010
This woman was extremely famous and I’m surprised she’s not in the survey. She is most celebrated for her sculpture, but was also an installation artist, a painter, and printmaker. She is also remembered for her writing, some of which has been published in The Return of the Repressed. Her work cannot be easily summed up, but much of it deals with memory and I find it particularly alluring and beautiful.

Louise Bourgeois 1982, printed 1991 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989
Robert Mapplethorpe, Lousie Bourgeois 1982, printed 1991, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation (via Tate UK; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mapplethorpe-louise-bourgeois-ar00215)

Ock Pop Tok
Ock Pop Tok (meaning “East Meets West”) is a Laos-based weaving collective founded by two women (a Brit and a Laotian) in 1999. The collective has allowed the handmade weaving traditions of Laos to continue in the face of mass-production, and employs local women who might not otherwise earn a living wage for their craft. Their work is diverse and beautiful. You can learn about some of the artists who contribute to the collective on their website, where you can buy their products, which range from clothing and jewelry to wall hangings. Work from the collective has been featured in museums around the world.

Queen Naga Wall Hanging (via Ock Pop Tok; http://ockpoptok.com/shop/webshop/queen-naga/)

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