Linda Nochlin, an American art historian, published her essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in 1971. She is talking about a lot of hardship for the women contemporary artists, and “obstacles” in their way to become famous. Linda’s essay came to be regarded as “a pioneering essay for both feminist art history and feminist art theory” and it initiated “a search for prominent women artists in history”.
One of the best known as an Optical Art artist was Bridget Riley who was born in England in 1931. “Op art, short form for optical art, is a genre in abstract art in which the artist creates an optical illusion through precise manipulation of patterns, shapes and colours”. Bridget Riley was following the footsteps of Victor Vasarely who was also a famous artist who created op art pieces.
She began to create her optical art in 1960 and in 1968 she won the “International Prize for Painting” at the Venice Biennial, being the first British contemporary painter, and the first woman to be awarded the prize. She has painted murals for the Tate and the National Gallery in London.
Bridget Riley, Hesitate 1964 © Bridget Riley 2018
One of the most well known Art Deco painters is Tamara de Lempicka, who was born in 1898 in Warsaw, Poland. She said that “I live life in the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don’t apply to those who live on the fringe.” But the 20th Century was the era of “Jazz Age, flappers, Prohibition, the Charleston, gangsters, The Great Gatsby, Mary Pickford, and F. Scott Fitzgerald”. Also was the time of “all outstanding examples of the decorative arts style called Art Deco” as new designs of jewellery, furniture, clothes, fabrics, and ceramics. In painting the art movement was characterized by “precise and boldly delineated geometric shapes and strong colours”. Maurice Denis and André Lhote were Tamara de Lempicka’s teachers after she started to spend time in France and in the United States. Lempicka painted all the portraits of “wealthy aristocrats” using dynamic and vibrant colours so common for Art Deco style. She is also known for her nude female bodies, portrayed in groups, changing the “traditional way of depicting a nude woman for the pleasure of the male viewer”. Madonna, the talented American singer, is a great fan of her artworks.
Tamara De Lempicka
Tamara De Lempicka Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, (1929)
Louise Bourgeois was born in 1910 in a family where her father was kind of “tyrannical philanderer”; he was cheating on her mother with her teacher, aspect which will hunt Bourgeois for a long time in special that her mother was not reacting at her husband infidelities. “Her artwork ultimately became renowned for their highly personal thematic content involving the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body”. Beside her sculptures and installations, she did a lot of paintings and also printmaking. Her preferred subjects were: the human body, family, death and the secrets of the subconscious.
Louise Bourgeois, Maman (1999). The Guggenheim Museum of Art, Bilbao, Spain.
Mary Cassatt was born in the USA, in the state of Pennsylvania, but she will spend almost all her life in France, where she found the artistic foundation for her career, the Impressionism, an art movement “in which the artists focused on capturing the momentary effect of a scene rather than accurately depicting it”.
Very well educated in London, Paris and Berlin, speaking fluently French and German, she started to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris and her talent made her one of the most famous female artists of all time. Her themes were scenes from everyday women’s life an also she showed the bond between mother and child in her artworks.
Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)
Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887 in the USA and is a representative of the “American Modernism – an artistic and cultural movement which peaked between the two World Wars”. She broke the link to traditional and challenged the art world with her paintings combining a new free and abstract representation. She loved to do large flowers close-ups, New Mexico’s landscapes and animal skulls. She was named the “Mother of American Modernism“, and in 1977 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.
Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe, was sold for $44,4 million dollars in 2014 the highest profit for an artwork by a deceased female artist, “just 25% of the record-breaking $179m paid for Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger the following year”.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris III (1926), Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1969
The art world is in a continuous change where women are outselling already “their male counterparts”. In the UK, Maria Balshaw will be the first female director of Tate Galleries, and Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, is an advocate of female artist rights to be better represented by museums. In Tate Modern, there are 959 male artists part of the permanent collection compared to 335 female artists, what is “just not good enough”. Why she reserved the rooms in the Switch House (Tate Modern extension) to female artists as “Louise Bourgeois, Ana Lupas and Suzanne Lacy when it opened last summer”.
“And I think what we did with Switch House was in a way very simple. We didn’t dress it up as a strategy or positive discrimination – it was just great work by women and an attempt to redress the gender balance. Simple as that. And a lot of my peers said: What a relief.” said Morris.
Author: Rozalia Mos