…(or Sculpt, or Photograph, or Perform, or….)
Have you seen The Object, that iconic surrealist sculpture in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York? This fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon that likely graces the pages of your art history book was created in 1936 by artist and photographer Méret Oppenheim (1913–1985). Oppenheim, though born in Germany, was a Swiss artist.
And she was female.
In honor of Women’s History Month in March, after relating my college tale of being told by a fellow student that I “paint like a man,” I challenged you to list all the famous women artists and those artists who identify as female who you can remember. So far, we have a cornucopia of 109 artists!
Despite the noteworthy nature of The Object, Oppenheim was not mentioned on anyone’s list. However, it will probably come as no surprise that the name on everyone’s list was a different female Surrealist and Modern artist – Frida Kahlo.
Kahlo (1907-1954), was a Mexican artist known for her self-portraits that reflected her physical pain and tragedy. Like several of the women most often listed, though she was married to a fellow artist, through achieving her own fame, she managed to not merely stand in her husband’s shadow.
Since a quick Internet search for Kahlo’s name will result in a vast array of merchandise available for purchase, including pencil cases, makeup bags, and paper dolls, I think the argument could be made that she ultimately eclipsed the success of her spouse, muralist Diego Rivera.
I would also venture to say that American Modernist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), included by most of the contributors, is more of a household name than her albeit famous husband, photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz.
Unfortunately, none of us remembered to list Elaine de Kooning.1
Pablo Picasso fans will know the name Dora Maar (1907-1997). However, most of us do not know her for her own Surrealist photography, paintings and poetry, but for being a muse and lover to the infamous Cubist.
And for those who are well acquainted with that Artistic Wyeth Triumvirate of NC, Andrew, and Jamie, did you also know that Andrew had two sisters? Henriette (1907-1997) and Carolyn (1909-1994) were also artists.
Despite the absence of names such as Oppenheim and Maar on our collective lists, I am happy to say that the Surrealist movement was well represented beyond Kahlo. Diverse American artist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) – a painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet – was listed twice, and British-born Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), who lived in Mexico City, was mentioned by several contributors.
In addition to O’Keeffe, others who appeared on multiple participants’ lists included Impressionists Mary Cassatt (American, lived in France; 1844-1926) and Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895); Abstract Expressionists Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011); American figurative and portrait painter Alice Neel (1900-1984); American Feminist and installation artist Judy Chicago (b. 1939); conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović (Yugoslavian-born; b. 1946); British Modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975); French-American sculptor and installation artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010); and Postmodernist, conceptual and Feminist artist Barbara Kruger (1945).
Additional artists who are among those on my own list as well as appearing on the list of one other contributor were French Realist painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899); French sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943); Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653); German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945); Japanese multidisciplinary, installation, performance, conceptual and Pop artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929); American photographers Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949), Sally Mann (b. 1951), and Cindy Sherman (b. 1954); American sculptor Louise Nevelson (Ukrainian-born; 1899-1988); and Japanese-born conceptual, multimedia, and performance artist and musician Yoko Ono (b. 1933).
Names new to me who were listed by at least two others include British artists Tracey Emin, Tanith Hicks, Paula Rego, and Jenny Saville.
Emin (b. 1963) and Saville (b. 1970) are both Young British Artists (YBA’s), a loose group of visual artists that also includes Damien Hirst. To create her autobiographical, often provocative work, Emin uses various media including needlework, traditionally considered a task for women.2 Saville is known for her large-format paintings of nudes.
Rego (Portuguese-born; b. 1935) is a painter, pastellist, and printmaker whose work is often based on folk tales, fables, and storybooks. Hicks, who creates jewelry, masks, and other items, is inspired from a similar source – European folklore, myths, and fairytales.
I was determined to reach 50 names on my own list – and I’m happy to say that I surpassed that goal! During this time period, I also ran across many other creatives who I had forgotten to mention – including another important Surrealist, the Argentinean painter, illustrator, and writer Leonor Fini (1907-1996) – as well as artists who were new to me, such as Agnes Martin (1912-2004), an American minimalist abstract painter born in Canada.
Alas, for every name, there are many others who we thus far have neglected to list, and, like all artists, they each have their own story worth telling. Eva Hesse (1936-1970) was a Postminimalist sculptor with a tragic life whose family fled Hitler’s Germany when she was only three. Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750), a Dutch floral still-life painter, enjoyed great success as court painter to the Elector Palatine in Düsseldorf, Bavaria, Germany.
Were you surprised when you read Ruysch’s dates? If you only know the names of contemporary women artists, you may assume that there were few to no female creatives in the age of the Old Masters. Such artistic forerunners laid important groundwork for those who came after, for we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Three noteworthy classical painters from the Renaissance through the 18th century who I am glad to have included are Lavinia Fontana, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun.
Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana (1542-1614) became the first woman painter from Bologna to achieve fame throughout Italy. Though she had 11 children, Fontana pursued a flourishing art career while her husband tended to the household chores, in addition to painting backgrounds and frames for his wife. She was commissioned to paint religious, mythological, and nude subjects as well as portraits, thus expanding the scope of subject matter created by female painters in her day.3 According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Fontana is regarded as the first woman artist, working within the same sphere as her male counterparts, outside a court or convent.”4
Successful Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) brought the dramatic, theatrical “Caravaggesque” style of painting from Rome to Florence, Genoa, and Naples. Her version of Judith Beheading Holofernes (1614-1620) features a biblical heroine who looks like she’s fully capable of getting the grisly job done! Most versions of this theme by Gentileschi’s contemporaries make Judith look as if she is barely able to lift a sword. 5
Élisabeth Louise or Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842) became the court painter to the French queen, Marie Antoinette. After escaping Paris during the French Revolution, Vigée-Lebrun went on to enjoy fame across Europe as well as France, living for a time in Italy, Austria, and Russia. 6 During this period of exile, Vigée-Lebrun commanded much higher prices for her portraits than did her contemporaries. 7
Prior to the French Revolution, painter Jacques-Louis David paid Vigée-Lebrun a so-called “compliment” that may sound quite familiar if you read my initial article on this subject. After Vigée-Lebrun’s admission to the Royal Academy, during an exhibition at the Salon, David told his fellow artist that “one of her paintings was so good it looked as if it had been painted by a man.” 8
Fast forward to today, and my favorite “new to me” inspirational artist story has to be that of Phyllida Barlow. This British sculptor (b. 1944) celebrated her 73rd birthday in April. Her star began to really rise in 2010, and she was recently selected to represent the UK at the 57th Venice Biennale that opened to the public on May 13, and runs through November 26, 2017. 9
In her recent article about Barlow, Charlotte Higgins offers some insight into the artist’s recent rise to fame. While gender may have been a factor in delaying her success, Higgins also cites some good news: that “the art world has, over the past decade, been collectively in the mood to reassess the work of older women.” 10
In keeping with this trend, according to Andrew Goldstein in his recent article for Artnet, the Board of Directors of the Venice Biennale has recently been awarding the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement as a way “to embrace an accomplished older female artist whose contributions had gone without due recognition for too long.” This year, the honor went to Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939). Also a painter, this American artist is best known for her pioneering contributions to Feminist performance art. 11
Though only around one third of this year’s Venice Biennale artists are female, Liliana Porter (Argentinean-born; b. 1941), who lives and works in New York, is participating with a sculptural installation in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity.12 In contrast, the curators of the 2017 Whitney Biennial in New York have selected a much better balance of both women and minority artists. Most of the oil and acrylic painters included this year are women, including 87 year old former Minimalist Jo Baer (b. 1929).13 14
I wholeheartedly agree with environmental artist Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009), another woman from my list, when she said that artists do not retire. Just ask 88 year old Japanese multidisciplinary artist Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), whose retrospective exhibition, Infinity Mirrors, just closed at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, featuring works from her 65 year career as well as recent paintings. 15
And of course, well-known American folk artist Grandma Moses (1860-1961) didn’t even begin painting until she was 78. But best of all is Aboriginal artist Loongkoonan (b. c.1910). This Nyikina elder from Western Australia began painting around age 95, and, now around 107, is still exhibiting her work.
And you thought yoga, meditation, and a vegetarian diet were going to be my secrets for longevity.
Sometimes, good things take time to come to fruition. Just this March, the Musée Camille Claudel opened in Claudel’s former family home in Nogent-sur-Seine, France. Claudel was a student, studio assistant, artistic collaborator, and lover of sculptor Auguste Rodin, who cast a very large and dark shadow. After her breakup with Rodin, she destroyed much of her own work before entering an asylum, but the museum was able to acquire 43 surviving drawings, casts, and sculptures.16
Claudel does appear on our list below, along with 108 other creatives. Many you may already know, but for any names new to you, I hope you’ll take time to explore the bodies of work of these varied artists who work along the full spectrum of styles and media, including painting, photography, printmaking, performance art, installation, illustration, choreography, and activism.
While some participants chose to list their well-deserving colleagues as well as those women already in the Art History books, I had already chosen not to do so, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, lest the list get too unwieldy. I have marked my contributions with asterisks. While I hope you will take the time to research the works of many of these women, I call your attention to a few particular favorites:
Diana Al-Hadid (Syrian-born; b. 1981): her striking, elegant mixed-media sculptures, installations, and drawings often contain figural elements. Al-Hadid now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Meinrad Craighead (b. 1936): this American visionary artist, a former Catholic nun, explores the theme of the Divine Feminine in her artwork, often including mythological elements and animals.
Evelyn DeMorgan (1855-1919): an English painter influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly Edward Burne-Jones. Spiritualism was a recurring inspiration for the artist.
Julie Heffernan (b. 1956): an American painter known for her symbolic self-portraits and lush fantasy landscapes. Her most recent works have an environmental message.
Michele Oka Doner (b. 1945): an American sculptor who merges natural forms with figural elements in her most recent pieces. The wide scope of her work also includes public art.
Sylvia Wishart (1936-2008): a Scottish landscape artist from Orkney. She created layers of interest in her works by frequently depicting reflections and using texture.
My deep appreciation to all those who participated – thank you for remembering artists both known and unknown to me, and for remembering some of those who I had neglected to list.
While this was more of an exercise rather than an exhaustive overview, there are so many more names in my Women Artists book that I roll my eyes in frustration that I didn’t list them all. If you don’t see your favorites here, please add the names in the Comments section of my blog post and let’s keep the list growing!
I think I’ll add Suzanne Valadon right now and make it 110….
All the best, and Namaste,
(Please note: I am humbled and honored that some of you chose to include me on your lists! I’ll do my very best to try to be remotely worthy of inclusion in such esteemed company.)
- *Marina Abramović
- *Diana Al-Hadid
- Jackie Anderson
- *Laurie Anderson
- *Phyllia Barlow
- *Jennifer Bartlett
- *Jackie Battenfield
- Vanessa Beescroft
- Gretchen Bennett
- *Rosa Bonheur
- Lee Bontecou
- *Louise Bourgeois
- *Romaine Brooks
- Laurel Burch
- Dora Carrington
- *Leonora Carrington
- Lorena Carrington
- *Mary Cassatt
- Karen Cater
- *Judy Chicago
- *Camille Claudel
- *Meinrad Craighead
- *Imogen Cunningham
- E.V. Day
- Jay Defeo
- *Evelyn DeMorgan
- *Elsie Dinsmore Popkin
- *Lois Dodd
- Marlene Dumas
- Tracey Emin
- Karen Finley
- Beth Fischer
- *Janet Fish
- *Audrey Flack
- *Lavinia Fontana
- *Helen Frankenthaler
- Amy Funderburk
- Coco Fusco
- Penelope Gavin
- *Artemisia Gentileschi
- *The Guerilla Girls
- Joyce Gunn Cairns
- *Grace Hartigan
- *Barbara Hepworth
- Tanith Hicks
- *Julie Heffernan
- Jenny Holzer
- *Anna Hyatt Huntington
- Jayne Johnson
- *Frida Kahlo
- Margaret Keane
- Karen Kilimnik
- *Käthe Kollwitz
- *Lee Krasner
- Barbara Kruger
- *Yayoi Kusama
- *Dorothea Lange
- *Annie Leibovitz
- Vivian Maier
- *Sally Mann
- Linda McCartney
- Paola McClure
- *Beverly McIver
- Julie Mehretu
- Joan Mitchell
- *Merry Moor Winnett
- Polly Morgan
- *Berthe Morisot
- *Grandma Moses
- *P. Buckley Moss
- *Alice Neel
- Deirdre Nelson
- *Louise Nevelson
- *Michelle Oka Doner
- *Georgia O’Keeffe
- *Yoko Ono
- Catherine Opie
- Ru Paul
- Elizabeth Peyton
- Jody Pinto
- *Beatrix Potter
- Paula Rego
- Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger
- PJ Richards
- Bridget Riley
- Faith Ringgold
- Beth Robertson Fiddes
- Lorraine Robson
- Jennifer Robson
- Jenny Saville
- *Susan Seddon Boulet
- *Cindy Sherman
- Jill Skulina
- Elizabeth Siddal
- Kiki Smith
- Nancy Spero
- Aileen Stackhouse
- Rima Staines
- Dorothea Tanning
- Jocelyn Taylor
- Maggie Taylor
- Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith
- *Suzanne Valadon
- *Élisabeth Louise Vigée LeBrun
- Kara Walker
- Alison Watt
- *Carrie Mae Weems
- Rachel Whiteread
- *Sylvia Wishart
1 Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989), an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist, was married to artist Willem de Kooning.
2 Tracey Emin Studio. “Biography,” accessed May 24, 2017 http://www.traceyeminstudio.com/biography/
3 Nancy G. Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987) 19-20
4 National Museum of Women in the Arts. “Artist Profile: Lavinia Fontana,” accessed May 22, 2017, https://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/lavinia-fontana
5 Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History, 29-32.
6 Heller, Women Artists – an Illustrated History, 58-60.
7 Lara Marlowe, “The French Feminist Painter Who Flattered Marie Antoinette,” The Irish Times, November 19, 2015, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/the-french-feminist-painter-who-flattered-marie-antoinette-1.2435146
8 Marlowe, “The French Feminist Painter Who Flattered Marie Antoinette.”
9 Mark Brown, “Phyllida Barlow: an Artistic Outsider Who Has Finally Come Inside,” The Guardian, April 28, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/28/phyllida-barlow-artist-success-2017-venice-biennale
10 Charlotte Higgins, “Bish-bash-bosh: How Phyllida Barlow Conquered the Art World at 73,” The Guardian, May 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/09/bish-bash-bosh-how-phyllida-barlow-conquered-the-art-world-at-73
11 Andrew Goldstein, “Anne Imhof’s Brooding Goth Performance Wins the 2017 Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion,” Artnet News, May 13, 2017, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/venice-biennale-golden-lion-959171
12 Kevin McGarry, “57th Venice Biennale ‘Viva Arte Viva’,” Art Agenda, May 17, 2017, http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/57th-venice-biennale/
13 Jason Farago, “A User’s Guide to the Whitney Biennial,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/arts/design/a-users-guide-to-the-whitney-biennial.html?_r=0
14 The 78th Whitney Biennial, not without its own heated controversy outside the scope of this article, opened March 17, and runs though June 11, 2017.
15 Hirshhorn. “About the Exhibition,” accessed May 24, 2017, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/the-exhibition/
16 Brigit Katz, “Museum Devoted to Camille Claudel, Long Overshadowed by Rodin, Opens in France,” Smithsonian.com, March 30, 2017, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/museum-devoted-camille-claudel-overshadowed-rodin-opens-france-180962718/