10 Female Artists Forgotten By Art History

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Many great female artists tend to be forgotten in art history. Those who have been neglected and marginalized for years or even centuries, lately are regaining their place on museum walls. There is still a lot to be done in this matter–and maybe today is a good day to put a few of these great artists into the spotlight again.

1. Caterina van Hemessen

Forgotten Female Artists: Caterina van Hemessen, Self-portrait, 1548, Kunstmuseum Basel
Forgotten Female Artists: Caterina van Hemessen, Self-portrait, 1548, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Caterina van Hemessen (1528–1587) was a Flemish Renaissance painter. She is most known for being the first painter to create a self-portrait depicting an artist at their easel. The body of her work is small, but Caterina is also known for a series of small-scale female portraits completed between the late 1540s and early 1550s and a few religious compositions.

Caterina was lucky because she had a relative who trained her as a painter – in her case it was her father. Generally it was difficult for a woman to become a painter at that time. For example, studying the nude male body was a real problem. The apprenticeship system meant that an aspiring artist would need to live with an older artist for 4–5 years, often beginning from the age of 9-15 and this was also a problem.

Her work stopped in 1554, around the time she got married.

Forgotten Female Artists: Fede Galizia, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1596, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Florida
Forgotten Female Artists: Fede Galizia, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1596, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL, USA.

Fede Galizia (c. 1574– c.1630) was an Italian Renaissance painter, a pioneer of the still life genre. One of her signed still-lifes made in 1602 is said to be the first dated still-life by an Italian artist. Fede was trained by her father from early childhood. By the age of twelve, she was sufficiently accomplished as an artist to be mentioned by Gian Paolo Lomazzo, a painter and art theorist, who wrote: “This girl dedicates herself to imitate the most extraordinary of our art.”

The style of her portraits derived from the naturalistic traditions of the Renaissance in Italy with a sharply realistic approach. She also received several public commissions for altarpieces in Milanese churches. When not painting portraits, Galizia was primarily interested in painting still-lifes, a genre in which she was a pioneer and for which she is best remembered. Sixty-three works have been cataloged as hers, of which 44 are still-lifes.

3. Clara Peeters

Forgotten Female Artists: Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, c. 1615, Mauritshuis
Forgotten Female Artists: Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, c. 1615, Mauritshuis, Den Haag, Netherlands.

Clara Peeters (1607–1621) was a still-life painter who was one of the great painters of Dutch Golden Age. Many aspects of her life and work remain very unclear, especially outside the period 1607 to 1621 from which period dated paintings are known.

Most female Dutch painters also specialized in still-lifes, which did not require knowledge of anatomy, among other advantages for women. Peeters mostly painted subjects including food, and shaped the traditions of the Dutch “breakfast pieces” with plain food and simple vessels, and “banquet pieces” with expensive cups and vessels in precious metals. She loved to paint different types of cheese too.

4. Marie-Gabrielle Capet

Forgotten Female Artists: Marie-Gabrielle Capet - Self-Portrait, 1783, National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo
Forgotten Female Artists: Marie-Gabrielle Capet, Self-Portrait, 1783, National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.

Marie-Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) was a French Neoclassical painter. She came from a modest background and her previous background and artistic training remain unknown. However, in 1781 she became the pupil of the French painter Adelaide Labille-Guiard in Paris, one of the very few who had been accepted to the Royal Academy of Art. Marie-Gabrielle was mainly a portrait painter and she used both oil paints and pastels. She counted among other customers several members of the royal family and other prominent members of Paris society.

Forgotten Female Artists: Marianne North's painting of Nepenthes northiana.
Forgotten Female Artists: Marianne North, A New Pitcher Plant from the Limestone Mountains of Sarawak, Borneo (Nepenthes northiana), Marianne North Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, England, UK. Wikimedia Commons.

Marianne North (1830–1890) was a biologist and botanical artist who painted during the Victorian era. She was trained as a vocalist, but her voice failed so she then devoted herself to painting flowers. She traveled with her father a lot. He was a member of parliament and after he died she decided to continue traveling alone. Marianne traveled the world, visiting every continent except Antarctica. Without the ease of photography her work served, and still serves, as an important resource for studying the natural world. Various plants have been named in her honor, including an entire genus of plants named Northia.

6. Harriet Powers

Forgotten Female Artists: Harriet Powers, Pictorial Quilt, 1895-98, Musuem of Fine Arts, Boston
Forgotten Female Artists: Harriet Powers, Pictorial Quilt, 1895-98, Musuem of Fine Arts, Boston

Harriet Powers (1837–1910) was an African-American freed slave and a folk artist who created quilts in rural Georgia. She used traditional appliqué techniques to record local legends, Bible stories, and astronomical events. Only two of her quilts are known to have survived: Bible Quilt and Pictorial Quilt. Thanks to a letter discovered in 2009, we know she was a literate woman who transformed well-known stories she read herself into pictorial masterpieces.

Jennie Smith, who had purchased the first quilt Powers made, Pictorial Quilt, arranged for it to be exhibited at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. The Bible Quilt is thought to have been commissioned by a group of “faculty ladies” at Atlanta University, and given (together with Powers’s descriptions) as a gift to a retiring trustee.

7. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

Forgotten Female Artists: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, La Mort Parfumee, 1921, © The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Forgotten Female Artists: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, La Mort Parfumee, 1921, The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864–1933) was a Scottish artist whose design work became one of the defining features of the Glasgow Style during the 1890s. Margaret with her sister, Frances were students at the Glasgow School of Art studying courses in design. She worked in a variety of media, including metalwork, embroidery, and textiles. Later she collaborated with her husband, the architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. She was inspired by Celtic imagery, poems by Morris and Rossetti, literature, symbolism, and folklore. Her husband once wrote: “Margaret has genius, I have only talent.”

8. Hilma af Klint

Forgotten Female Artists: Hilma ad Klint, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV, 1907,  Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints.
Forgotten Female Artists: Hilma af Klint, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV, 1907, Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings are among the earliest abstract art. Her abstract works even precede the first purely abstract compositions by Wassily Kandinsky, so she should be called a pioneer of abstract art. She belonged to a group called “The Five”, a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called ‘high masters’ – often by way of seances. The Five also created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896. Her paintings were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.

9. Lyubov Popova

Forgotten Female Artists: Lyubov Popova, Air+Man+Space, 1912, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg,
Forgotten Female Artists: Lyubov Popova, Air+Man+Space, 1912, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) was one of the most talented, prolific, and influential women artists of the Russian avant-garde. She tried herself as Cubist, Suprematist, and Constructivist. In 1915 she developed her own variant of non-objective art based on a combination of principles of icon painting (flatness, linearity) and avant-garde ideas. Her fascination with construction allowed her to join other constructivists in absolute rejection of easel painting. In 1921 she turned entirely to industrial design. She excelled in designing clothing and textiles and also produced posters, book designs, ceramics, and photomontages. She died of scarlet fever in 1924 in Moscow.

10. Hannah Höch

Forgotten Female Artists: Hannah Höch, Made for a Party, 1936,
Forgotten Female Artists: Hannah Höch, Made for a Party, 1936, Hannah Höch / Artists Rights Society. Whitechapel Gallery, London, England, UK.

Hannah Höch (1889–1978) was a German Dada artist. She was one of the originators of photomontage – a type of collage in which the pasted items are actual photographs or photographic reproductions pulled from the press and other mass-produced media. Höch’s works circled around the concept of the “New Woman”: an energetic, professional, and androgynous woman, who is ready to take her place as man’s equal. She was also interested in social roles and who organizes them. The influence of this early work and training can be seen in her later work, involving references to dress patterns and textiles.


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10 Female Artists Forgotten By Art History was first posted on March 7, 2021 at 5:00 pm.
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