By Janice Childers, Senior Editor, ProQuest
International Biography of Art/ARTbibliographies Modern
When The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, opened in 1978, an article published in Vogue by Barbara Rose stated: “Personally, I believe that a museum of women’s art is a challenging, purposeful idea whose time has come. Women have been treated badly by existing museums and by the discipline of art history....”1 The 20th and 21st centuries have brought a growing interest in women artists in scholarship, in the art market, and the general appreciation of the art-going public.
Essayists in Reassessing the Roles of Women as 'Makers' of Medieval Art and Architecture, Visualising the Middle Ages present women artists working alongside male counterparts in manuscript illumination and finds a wider than expected variety of social classes involved in textile creation and decoration.2 The nature of this behind-the-scenes work has resulted in only a handful of artists known by name. The Bavarian illuminator known simply as Claricia is a favorite example. Her signature and presumed self-portrait, which depicts her as the tail of a "Q", blosters the theory of women illuminators in a 12th-century convent scriptorium in Augsburg, Germany.
The Renaissance ushered in a shift towards humanism and a greater - if still limited - recognition of women's artistic abilities. Renaissance women artists were often attached to a convent, or learned painting from their fathers. Social norms prohibited study of the male nude by women, resulting in subject matter heavily weighted towards portraits, female nudes, and domestic scenes. One of the best-known Renaissance women artists, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c. 1656), refused to limit herself, focusing instead on the strength of women in difficult circumstances through her allusions to biblical and mythical subjects, as in Judith and Holofernes. Gentileschi was the first woman to become a member of Florence's prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno.3
In 16th- and 17th-century Spain, new research refutes commonly-held views that women were virtually barred from the arts scene. A contemporary of Gentileschi, Sofonisba Anguissola, was trained as a painter along with her sisters so that they could contribute to their dowries, the family having fallen on hard financial times.4 Her paintings are indicative of her aristocratic pursuits, including musical instruction and ever-present chaperones. Her appointment to the Spanish court of Philip II is often lauded as an artistic achievement, although she served as a lady of honor to Queen Isabella rather than a court painter. Most of her known work consists of portraits for private patrons, and is well represented in museums in the U.S. and Europe.
Her tumultuous relationship with fellow sculptor and mentor, Auguste Rodin, and eventual mental decline have been captured via film, stage, and ballet biographies, but Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was an accomplished sculptor who began her studies at the Académie Colarossi, later studying with Rodin in his workshop.5 While clearly influenced by her mentor's work, Claudel's work shows a clear understanding of anatomy, and an eye for dynamics, and graceful lines.
Around the same time in Cincinnati, Ohio, Maria Longworth Nichols founded the Rookwood Pottery Company, best known for the manufacture of iconic Arts and Crafts pieces. Rookwood began as an amateur club in 1880, but achieved its first gold medal at the Paris Exposition by 1889. It has the distinction of being one of the first manufacturers in the region founded and operated mostly by women.6
The 20th century brought an increase in the number of working women artists and a wider range of subject matter in their work. Depression-era artists such as Bernarda Bryson Shahn (1903-2004) participated in Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. Shahn created lithographs for the Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration), and illustrations for children's literature.7
Hannah Höch (1889-1978), a Dada artist in Berlin, critiqued the misogyny and racism rampant in the Weimar Republic by creating meticulously-cut photomontages from everyday images [see image above], re-contextualized into satirical and political statements.8 Her focus on gender stereotypes and cultural status sets Höch's work apart from that of her male counterparts.
Current research provides many examples of contemporary women artists — Judy Chicago, Cindy Sherman, Yayoi Kusama — making statements about feminism, politics, or patterns in their work. Indigenous artists including Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) and Dorothy Robinson Napangardi (Australian Aborigine) have used art as a means to celebrate ethnicity and culture, and question gender and social norms.
Librarians: Sign up for free trials during Women’s History Month.
Are you headed to the 2015 ARLIS/NA 43rd Annual Conference, March 19-23, in Fort Worth, Texas? Be sure to stop by the ProQuest booth (#40)!
Sources (items 2-8 are from Art, Design and Architecture Collection):
1. The Vogue Archive, Rose, Barbara. “Talking About Art: Women Artists: Pro and Con,” Vogue, Volume 177, Issue 4, 1987, pp. 150, 152.1.
2. Smith, K. A. (2013). Medieval women are 'good to think' with. Journal of Art Historiography, (9), KAS1-KAS15.
3. Endres, Amy L. "Painting Lucretia: Fear and Desire a Feminist Discourse on Representations by Artemisia Gentileschi and Tintoretto." Order no. 1538549, the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, 2013.
4. Gardonio-Foat, Casey. "Professional Women Artists of Golden Age Iberia: Careers in Context." Order no. 3524262, New York University, 2012.
5. Bougault, Valérie. "Camille Claudel, Témoin De Son Temps." Connaissance Des Arts (2014): 82-87.
6. Simpson, Richard V. "An American Art Pottery Primer." Antiques and Collecting Magazine 110, no. 1 (03, 2005): 28-33.
7. Grieve, Victoria. "The Visual Production of Citizenship: Children's Literature of the Works Progress Administration, 1937-1942." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Spring, 2013): 26-47.
8. Epp Buller, Rachel Anne. "Fractured Identities: Photomontage Production by Women in the Weimar Republic." Order no. 3141466, University of Kansas, 2004.
Image on home page of blog ("Q" by Claricia, 12th C.) and on this page ("Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic," 1919 Hannah Höch) are from Wikimedia and are used here via public domain/commons license.