Hello, everyone! Mixing it up a little from the usual bookish content lately to talk about some of the female artists I really like and think you should know about.
Isabella Stewart Gardner
Okay, so Stewart Gardner wasn’t an artist but rather an art collector. I think she’s so interesting that I just had to mention her in this post. She founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which is one of my favourite museums ever. She and her husband travelled the world collecting art and keeping it in a private collection in their home. Following her husband’s death, she transformed their home into the museum and continued to live on the fourth floor until her death. If you’re ever in Boston, I highly recommend the museum—it’s truly beautiful.
I think Dora Maar often gets overlooked. For a time she was Picasso’s mistress until he threw her over for a younger woman. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette—one because it’s brilliant, but also because she talks how much of a misogynistic ass Picasso was. But Dora Maar was an artist in her own right. She is mostly known for her surrealist photography, but if you’re interested in learning more about her life and the people around her, give Finding Dora Maar by Brigitte Benkemoun a go! Be warned, while she had a pretty hard life and was mistreated by Picasso and her friends, she wasn’t exactly an angel herself.
I just wrote an entire essay about Artemisia Gentileschi, so get ready for some facts. Gentileschi was born in 1593 in Rome to Orazio Gentileschi, who was a famous painter. When she was a young woman, her father got her private art lessons with one of his colleagues, Agostino Tassi, he sexually assaulted Artemisia in his studio. Her father bought a court case against him, during which Artemisia was tortured with thumbscrews, which was the court’s way of verifying her version of events. He was convicted but his punishment was never carried out.
Artemisia, however, went on to a successful career during which she painted many incredible depictions of historical women being badasses. For example, Judith slaying Holofernes, which some have read as being a sort of revenge against Tassi. She also painted a self-portrait as ‘La Pittura’, or the Allegory of Painting. Yes, she literally painted herself as the human form of painting itself. No one else could ever.
Beale is another artist I just wrote an essay about, so again—I feel like I know a lot about her. She is often described as being Britain’s first female artist, though we all know they were out there. Anyway, Mary’s husband lost his income and she became the family’s breadwinner through creating her art. Her earliest surviving artwork is a self-portrait of her, her husband and son—it’s also considered to be one of the first portraits of a husband and wife. Surprising absolutely no one, the men of her day seemed to not pay her any mind as no contemporary criticism of her has ever surfaced to this day.
Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Another complete badass. Vigée Le Brun was a court painter at Versailles during Marie Antoinette’s reign. Because of the revolution, she was forced to flee France with her young daughter, Julie. Her portraits are mostly of women in Court, often with their families, including the paintings she did of Marie Antoinette herself. She’s been criticised, even by feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, for her portraits being ‘narcissistic’. Personally, I think that as a woman living during a time where women were not taken seriously as artists (or otherwise) that Vigée Le Brun knew how to play the game.
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