Women’s rights have come a long way in the past hundred years. A big factor in the movement for gender equality has been the reassessment of the roles of notable women from history – in particular, those who were underappreciated or overlooked in their own time. Most recently, the film Hidden Figures has shed light on the three African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in the development of the US space programme. Do your research and you’ll find that intelligent, inventive and pioneering women who were unfairly pushed out of the frame by men can be found throughout history and across many disciplines, including art.
Typically, if you were to stop somebody on the street and ask them to name three famous artists, they would come up with male names like Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. But throughout history there have been countless female artists who have contributed hugely to the art world. The following five are just a small selection of the EzeFrame team’s favourites.
Of all the popular female artists, Frida Kahlo is perhaps the best known. Her distinctive painting style is instantly recognisable, in no small part due to her own iconic look; Kahlo incorporated her self-portrait into virtually all of her paintings, placing her raven hair, bushy eyebrows, fierce stare and elaborate headdresses in the middle of the frame – ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’ is a particularly fine example of this.
What’s particularly interesting about Kahlo now is that, when she first stepped onto the art scene, it was as the wife of Diego Rivera – a mural painter who was, at that time, far more widely recognised as an artist. In the intervening years, Kahlo has become the more famous of the two.
Georgia O’Keeffe is best known today for her large flower paintings, but she was also an artist who depicted landscapes. The flower paintings remain her most famous – and perhaps notorious – works, because of their supposed association with female genitalia. Paintings such as ‘Inside Red Canna’ attracted attention as many perceived them as depicting a woman’s vulva. Interestingly, it was O’Keeffe’s husband Alfred Stieglitz who first suggested this – O’Keeffe herself was uncomfortable with the framing of her paintings in this manner, and tried to counter the male perspective by asking her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan to write about her work.
Regardless of the truth behind O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, today she is seen as a symbol for female empowerment – which, ironically, may not have been the case had the ‘female genitalia’ association never been made.
Berthe Morisot may be a name many people are familiar with – but often, not as an artist. Born in France in 1841, Morisot lived most of her life in Paris and was a member of the Impressionist circle, producing artworks that were displayed in the prestigious Salon de Paris. Sadly, the painting that she is today most famous for is not one she painted herself. In 1872, fellow Impressionist douard Manet painted Morisot (his sister-in-law) while she was in mourning for her father. The resulting painting, ‘Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets’ is celebrated today as one of the great portraits of the Impressionist age and can be seen in the Muse d’Orsay in Paris.
If you’ve seen Manet’s portrait but never realised the story behind the sitter, it’s not too late to familiarise yourself with Morisot’s own artworks. Her stunning painting ‘The Cradle’ hangs in the Muse d’Orsay along with the Manet
portrait – and, interestingly enough, was painted in the same year. A little closer to home, in London’s National Gallery, hangs Morisot’s ‘Summer’s Day’.
The 60s was a decade of experimentation, and in the art world, that meant a movement away from traditional media, forms and techniques. Looking back from the 21st century, the art of that period can be neatly summarised by the names of three artists: pop art pioneers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and abstract painter Bridget Riley. Even if you aren’t familiar with Riley’s name you will have seen her paintings: vast, monochromatic or primary-coloured geometric arrangements that often have the effect of an optical illusion (‘Movement in Squares’ of 1961 being one of the most iconic). Now known as op art, this distinctive, mind-bending, iconoclastic painting style aligned itself with the big topics of the era: hallucinogenic drugs, the threat of nuclear war, and the capabilities of the human brain. Simply put, Riley’s challenging artworks made people think about art – and the world – in ways they hadn’t had to before.
The painters on this list so far were all working in the past 200 years, which may lead us to believe that female artists only arrived on the scene relatively recently. This, of course, is not true – as evidenced by the works of Rachel Ruysch, who was born in the Netherlands in 1664 and came to prominence as one of the finest still-life painters of her age. The Dutch Golden Age is, like most other periods in art, dominated by male names such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals. But the truth is that none of these men were producing works like Ruysch, a woman who invented her own style so she could create works like ‘Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge’ in breathtaking detail.
Appreciating the Work of Female Artists
The list of notable female artists is far longer than five names – to continue your own education, check out the work of Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Lee Krasner, Yayoi Kusama, Cindy Sherman and Tracey Emin. And don’t forget that one of the best ways to support female artists (whether living or dead) is to visit exhibitions of their work. EzeFrame is also on hand for all your picture framing needs – so if you decide to invest in a good quality Ruysch, Morisot or Kahlo print, visit our Picture Frames & Mounts page, enter the dimensions of your image and let us send you the ideal frame. It’s about time these fantastic paintings got their spot on the wall.