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8 Women Who Have Changed Art History Forever
Power art ladies that should never be overlooked as they shaped visual arts
Art Girls Jungle 19 Aug 2020

The history of art is littered with the names of great men—Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, etc. But what about the women who have helped shape the world’s visual history? Although women artists have been involved in the making of art throughout history, their work, when compared to that of their male counterparts, has been often obfuscated, overlooked and undervalued, with many of their works has even been wrongly attributed to male artists.

Here we highlight the power art ladies that should never be overlooked.

Brush up on your history and get to know the women who have changed the art world forever to inspire your art world career journey!

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (French, 1755–1842)

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun via Apollo Magazine

With the support of Marie Antoinette, she was admitted into the French Academy at the young age of 28 as one of only four female other members.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun also known as Madame Le Brun, was a prominent self-taught French portrait painter of the late 18th century. She became an artist despite the obstacles many women faced in late 18th-century Paris and worked during some of the most tumultuous times in European history. Vigée Le Brun created a name for herself in Ancien Régime society by serving as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette. With the support of Marie Antoinette, she was admitted into the French Academy at the young age of 28 as one of only four female other members. Vigée Le Brun was loved for her amiable portraits of aristocratic women, deemed more natural than the works of her male contemporaries. Her artistic style is generally considered part of the aftermath of Rococo with elements of an adopted Neoclassical style. Forced to flee Paris during the Revolution, the artist traveled throughout Europe, impressively obtaining commissions in Florence, Naples, Vienna, Saint Petersburg, and Berlin before returning to France after the conflict settled. She enjoyed the patronage of European aristocrats, actors, and writers, and was elected to art academies in ten cities. Vigée Le Brun created some 660 portraits and 200 landscapes in her lifetime. In addition to many works in private collections, her paintings are owned by major museums, such as the Louvre, Hermitage Museum, National Gallery in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and many other collections in continental Europe and the United States.

Berthe Morisot ( French 1841 – 1895)

Image via drawpaint academy

“I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that’s all I would have asked for, for I know I’m worth as much as they.”

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was a French painter and a member of the circle of painters in Paris who became known as the Impressionists. Today she is considered to be one of the greatest female artists.  She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt. Born into an affluent bourgeois French family, she was the great-niece of celebrated Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. In 1864, Morisot exhibited for the first time in the highly esteemed Salon de Paris. Morisot had a close relationship with fellow artist Édouard Manet, whose brother she eventually married. Manet painted several portraits of her. Her art focused on domestic scenes and she preferred working with pastels, watercolor in delicate hues, and charcoal. Her work that had an elegance and lightness theme throughout was often criticized as being too “feminine” . In 1890 Morisot wrote about her struggles to be taken seriously as a female artist in her journal, stating “I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that’s all I would have asked for, for I know I’m worth as much as they.”

Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944)

Hilma af Klint via Wikapedia

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future‘ – remains the most-attended Guggenheim exhibition ever.

Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were, to the current art community, the first Western abstract art.  She showed a love and ability in visual art in her early years and after the family moved to Stockholm, she studied at Tekniska skolan in Stockholm, today known as Konstfack. She was then admitted at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and later she was allocated a scholarship in the form of a studio in the so-called “Atelier Building” (Ateljébyggnaden), owned by The Academy of Fine Arts. At the Academy of Fine Arts she met Anna Cassel, the first of the four women (Cassel, Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman, and Mathilda Nilsson) with whom she later worked with calling themselves the “The Five” (De Fem), a group of artists who shared her ideas. Through her work with the group The Five Hilma af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualizing invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. She explored world religions, atoms, and the plant world and wrote extensively about her discoveries.
It wasn’t until the Guggenheim Museum hosted a major survey of her work that Hilma af Klint was finally widely recognized as a preeminent pioneer of abstract art; her earliest abstract compositions were completed years before those of Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. On view from October 2018 to April 2019, “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” featured an array of big, bright, somewhat magical-looking abstract works and remains the most-attended Guggenheim exhibition ever.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)

Georgia O’Keeffe via huckmag

In 2014, O’Keeffe’s 1932 painting Jimson Weed sold for $44,405,000, more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist. 

Georgia O’Keeffe who has been recognized as the “Mother of American modernism” came from humble beginnings. Born on November 15, 1887, in a farmhouse located at 2405 Hwy T in the town of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, her parents were dairy farmers. In 1905, O’Keeffe began her serious formal art training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she ranked at the top of her class and then the Art Students League of New York. After her studies she want on to become a seminal figure of American Modernism. In 1915 O’Keeffe was one of the very first American artists to produce a purely abstract work of art, in contrast to the dominant movement of American realism.  Later in her career art historian Linda Nochlin interpreted Black Iris III (1926) as a morphological metaphor for female genitalia, but O’Keeffe rejected that interpretation, claiming they were simply pictures of flowers.
After her death on November 20, 2014, O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 (1932) sold for $44,405,000 in 2014 at auction to Walmart heiress Alice Walton, more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist.

Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz  (Chilean, 15 September 1860 – 1951)

(Left) Errázuriz in her Paris apartment posing infront of a cubist Picasso painting and a Giacometti floor lamp for Jean Michel Frank. Photograph taken for Harper’s Bazaar U.S. magazine, 1938.   (Right) Portrait by Picasso, graphite on woven paper, 1921.

Eugenia Errázuriz, Chilean of Basque decent, was a patron of modernism and a style leader of Paris from 1880 into the 20th century, who paved the way for the modernist minimalist aesthetic that would be taken up in fashion by Coco Chanel. Over her lifetime she had an extraordinary influence in Europe in art , literature, music and interior design as both muse and patron. Her circle of friends and protégés included Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau. A vibrant and beautiful woman, she was painted by artists such as Jaques Emile Blanche, John Singer Sargent, Boldini, Chartran, Hellen, Madrazo, Conder and Picasso.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo via Planbar Magazine

Today Kahlo is viewed by many as an icon of female creativity.

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and relics of Mexico. Inspired by the country’s popular culture, she employed a naive folk-art style to explore questions of identity, post colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society.  Although she was disabled by polio as a child, Kahlo had been a promising student headed for medical school until she suffered a bus accident at the age of eighteen, which caused her lifelong pain and medical problems. Kahlo’s work as an artist remained relatively unknown until the late 1970s, when her work was rediscovered by art historians and political activists. By the early 1990s, she had become not only a recognized figure in art history, but also regarded as an icon for Chicanos, the feminism movement and the LGBTQ+ movement. Kahlo’s constant remaking and layering of her own identity was an important predecessor to identity politics and continues to inspire artists today.

Lee Krasner ( American October, 1908 – June 19, 1984)

Lee Krasner via dnamag

Lenore “Lee” Krasner was born in New York in 1908 and died in the same city in 1984. Her Russian-Jewish parents were recent immigrants who had fled from Russia. From childhood, Krasner knew she wanted to be an artist and later reflected, ‘it [was] clear that my “subject matter” would be myself…’  The American abstract expressionist painter, with a strong speciality in collage, was married to Jackson Pollock who throughout her career overshadowed her contribution to the artworld. Her work changed enormously with her spirit of invention and today Krasner is now seen as a key transitional figure within abstraction and in American art, who connected early-20th-century art with the new ideas of post-war America. Her work fetches high prices at auction and she is also one of the few female artists to have had a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art and the Barbican.

Peggy Guggenheim (American,August 26, 1898 – December 23, 1979)

Peggy Guggenheim via Sleek Magazine

‘I dedicated myself to my collection. A collection means hard work. It was what I wanted to do and I made it my life’s work. I am not an art collector. I am a museum.’ -Peggy Guggenheim, Peggy Guggenheim and Her Friends, 1970-76

Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim was an American art collector, bohemian and socialite. Born in 1898 to the wealthy New York City Guggenheim family, she was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who died  heroically on the Titanic in 1912, and the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, who established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. After growing up in New York City, Peggy traveled to Europe in 1921. In 1938, Peggy opened an art gallery in London, called Guggenheim Jeune, she was beginning, at 39 years old, a career which would significantly affect the course of post-war art. Guggenheim collected art in Europe and America primarily between 1938 and 1946. In 1939-40, having abandoned her project for a museum in London, Peggy relocated to Paris and busily acquired works for her collection, resolving to “buy a picture a day.” She purchased many masterpieces during these turbulent times, including works by Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian and Francis Picabia, among others.  She exhibited this collection as she built it; in 1949, she settled in Venice, where she lived and exhibited her collection for the rest of her life. Today The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the most important museums of European and American art of the twentieth century in Italy. It is still located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice and is one of the most visited attractions in Venice.

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