Tag Archives: history

The Women of Art History Hold a Lot of Surprises

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Frida Kahlo

Researching the women of art history was both exciting and deeply disturbing for me. With Women’s History Month about to kick off in a few days and equality across the board in the national and global spotlight, I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what it was like for the women who went before me.
I studied art history in college. I have studied the Florentine Renaissance with none other than the director of the famed Uffizi Gallery’s daughter, a well-respected art historian in her own right. I have pored over books and books on the subject of art history on my own for nearly 20 years, as I love the subject. In another life, I would have loved to be an art historian.
All this is to say: I know my art history, but I had to dig back in my memory pretty hard — assisted by Google — to find a list of 12 women painters. (I stuck to two-dimensional artists, as that is my art form.)
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Joan Mitchell

When I look to the past for guidance, as artists often do. I do not see myself staring back at me. I see a sea of predominantly European men. I often ask the question: “Name five famous female artists.” Very few can do that. That is sad to me. Where were all the women?
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Mary Cassatt

They were there, painting, when they could. Historically, a woman’s life was primarily centered on caring for home and family. Hard to imagine, but even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, woman were forbidden from the cafés of Europe. To be allowed into a circle of artists or a movement such as Impressionism, a woman needed a man to vouch for her, both among other artists and among the buying public’s perceptions.
Only three women ever made their way into the Impressionist group. And the rules were different for them.
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Artemisia Gentileschi

I also learned in my research that today, in 2017, statistically I make 22 percent less money than my male counterparts, and that potential buyers are more likely to by art from men, and only 30 percent of all artists represented in galleries are women.*
I have no answers for you, my dear reader, only the facts to lay before you, and the invitation to come along with me throughout March as we celebrate some extraordinary woman who, against all odds, did make the history books.
Let us learn, know, and celebrate! Look for this celebration on my Facebook page starting March 1.
As always let’s continue the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. Cheers!

What’s the Big Deal? The Story of the Most Famous Painting in the World

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The year is 2001; the backdrop, a college art history class. I’m on the edge of my chair. My professor is talking about the Mona Lisa, perhaps the world’s most famous painting.

It is here that we can pause and consider why the story of art is as important as the image itself. When Leonardo painted this portrait, portraits were largely commissioned to show one’s wealth and position, as in Ghirlandaio’s portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni. Notice that Giovanna is not facing us; she is certainly not looking right into our eyes as the Mona Lisa is. The backdrop is indoors, featuring her jewelry (highlighting her wealth) and a book (signifying that she is educated), as well as a quote from the ancient Roman poet Martial (to show that she’s cultured).

So Mona was a first in many ways. It is the firsts that show up in art history. Mona is not only looking right at us, boldly, but she is in simple clothes, outside (gasp!) and there is nothing that tells of her position. Instead, Leonardo focuses on the person. Though there is some debate as to who this person is, she is widely believed to be Maria Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Florentine. Yet, all we see is the person.

Leonardo also used lights and darks to create a more dramatic effect (chiaroscuro) and invented sfumato, a misty haziness. This is believed to be the reason we cannot tell where Mona is looking and whether she is smiling. Leonardo was said to have loved the painting so much that he never gave it to the patron and it was found among his possessions when he died.

To me, these things made this very familiar painting come alive. Now I see what the “big deal” is and why she is so famous. Doing what everyone else was doing never landed anyone in a art history book. It’s a good reminder for all of us to think outside the box. and also, an inspiration to learn the background of art. Artists are always responding to their life and times. It’s why I disagree with those who say that art should speak for itself and not need an explanation. It is in the explanation that we learn what an artist is thinking of, what they are responding to.

It is why for me, personally, as a landscape painter, that I want to learn as much about my subject as possible before I paint it. The story is the meaning as much as your response to the art is. Then you can bring your own story to a work of art. What does it make you feel?

As always, I love to hear from you. Do you have a story of a great work of art that moves you? What’s your story?

Let’s keep the conversation going on Facebook and Instagram where you can find me checking in on most days.

Cheers!