We’re not the first to have overlooked the contributions of female artists and certainly most had more challenging routes to success than many of their male counterparts. But today we’re giving them their due. Read on to learn more about eight inspirational women who helped pave the way for their fellow female artists.
1.Hildegard of Bingen
She lived most of her life in solitude in a hilltop Rhineland monastery more than 900 years ago, but her legacy is a lasting one. According to Classic FM, “This remarkable woman had left behind a treasure-trove of illuminated manuscripts, scholarly writings and songs written for her nuns to sing at their devotions.” And yet her name didn’t even appear in a reference book prior to 1979.
2. Sofonisba Anguissola
The life of a female artist during the Renaissance and Baroque periods was anything but easy. While their male counterparts were being heralded as virtuoso, AKA “mortal Gods,” they were denied by critics who regarded them as the “passive sex” and unworthy of wielding the painter’s brush. Says Artsy, “These women fervently fought back, developing innovative painting techniques and advancing younger generations of female artists, teaching them to eschew the men who would try to stifle their development.”
3. Agnes Denes
This Hungarian-born American conceptual artist is celebrated for her work in a huge range of media, including everything from poetry to sculpture and beyond. Her best-known work, the environmental installation Wheatfield — A Confrontation (1982), juxtaposed two acres of wheat in the heavily populated spaces, rubble-strewn spaces in lower Manhattan. Denes has said that her motivations for the work “grew out of a long-standing concern and need to call attention to our misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values.”
4. Rachel Whiteread
Before the age of 40, British artist Rachel Whiteread had already received the annual Turner Prize, and she’d been chosen as one of several Young British Artists to exhibit at the Royal Academy’s Sensation exhibition. Today, she lives and works in London.
5. Georgia O’Keeffe
In giving 20th century painter Georgia O’Keeffe a spot on its list of “The 10 Most Subversive Women Artists in History,” The Guardian explained, “Compared with some artists in this list she may seem soft, but her cussed exploration of her own body and soul mapped out a new expressive freedom for women making art in the modern age.”
6. Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
In addition to painting Marie Antoinette more than 30 times in her capacity as the queen’s personal portrait painter, she also left behind more than 600 portraits and 200 landscapes.
7. Harriet Powers
This southern African American quilt maker born a slave in Georgia in 1837 is well-known for her extraordinary work which depicted scenes from both American history and the Bible using the applique technique. Today, Powers has only two surviving story quilts: One is now part of the National Museum of American History collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. while the other is on exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
8. Lavinia Fontana
It’s hardly a surprise that Italian painter Lavinia Fontana has been categorized as a “subversive and inspirational” artist. After all, she was the first woman artist to paint female nudes. She also boasts the largest documented body of work among female artists before 1700.