Famous Female Artists And Their Masterpiece Paintings
Female artists have historically been overshadowed by their male counterparts, with many going unnoticed or forgotten. Although some have received renewed recognition in recent decades, the majority of their names are still unknown today.
To help alter this, we're shining a light on some of the great female painters who have been forgotten by history and highlighting their contributions to the world of art.
Famous female artists who changed the world
Surrealism was a popular art movement that eschewed logic and literary realism in favor of tapping into the unconscious mind to reveal the power of the imagination. Leonora Carrington is possibly the most famous female Surrealist artist, although famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo declared that she was not a Surrealist.
Leonora was born in England but lived in Mexico for the majority of her adult life. She was in a romantic relationship with Max Ernst, one of the most important Surrealist painters, and her first Surrealist piece was a portrait of Ernst as a tribute to their romance. Carrington, unlike the other Surrealists, was uninterested in Sigmund Freud's writings. Instead, she is known for her eerie, autobiographical paintings that include images of sorcery, metamorphosis, alchemy, and the occult. Her work is also noted for depicting female sexuality in a way that is separate from male sexuality.
Portrait of Max Ernst
At a dinner party in London in 1937, Leonora Carrington met and fell in love with surrealist artist Max Ernst, and the two began dating immediately. Carrington flew to Paris to live with Ernst soon after, where she met numerous Surrealists. They moved to Saint-Martin d'Ardèche, near Avignon, in 1938, and this painting was created there.
Ernst is pictured holding a lamp with a miniature horse within. Horses frequently appear as Carrington's alter ego in her early paintings and short writings. The horse might either be guiding Ernst forward or be imprisoned and at his mercy, as the message is uncertain. The artwork reflects some of their relationship's ambiguity at the time. Their love effectively came to an end when World War II broke out. Ernst, a German, was first imprisoned by the French as a 'enemy alien,' and then by the Gestapo. Carrington escaped to Spain, where she was hospitalized after suffering from severe mental stress. Both eventually fled to New York, where they traded portraits of one another, with Carrington presenting Ernst with his work.
Sofonisba Anguissola is the most well-known Renaissance female painter. Her father, a nobleman who encouraged her to pursue her creative skill, encouraged her to take up painting. During her lifetime, she was a huge success, and she was even appointed court painter to Philip II of Spain.
She trained young artists, including Anthony Van Dyck, when her age stopped her from painting. Anguissola traveled to Rome as a young woman, when she saw Michelangelo for the first time. The Italian master spotted her brilliance right away and offered her his assistance. In a letter to Michelangelo in 1577, Anguissola's father expressed gratitude for the "noble and attentive devotion that you have shown to Sofonisba, my daughter, whom you introduced to the most honorable art of painting."
The Chess Game
She was 23 years old when she painted The Chess Game in 1555. Anguissola depicted some members of her own family in this painting, which is an intimate depiction of a regular family situation. This, like many of the artist's other portraits of the group, was completed in Spain. She drew inspiration from the individuals in her daily life because she didn't have access to male models.
In The Chess Game, she depicted three of her sisters, Lucia (left), Europa (middle), and Minerva (right), in a relaxed moment playing chess, accompanied by the governess who is watching them. This servant appeared to suggest the virtue of the young girls, as well as a contrast in age and class to the nobility of the girls. Anguissola creates a private space for her sisters. In this picture, she placed her sisters in several stances, which, when combined with the variety of texture found in their sisters' clothing, makes all of her talent very obvious. The game's winner, the sister on the left, is looking at the audience. And the viewer's gaze is drawn around the canvas by all of their gazes.
It's no surprise that Louise Bourgeois became an artist because she was born into a family that sold and restored antique tapestries. The emotional relationships between her parents, on the other hand, would have the greatest impact on her art. Bourgeois père was a tyrant who frequently departed from his marriage, despite her mother's disapproval.
The cloud of codependency that hung over Bourgeois's childhood would eventually find its way into her work, particularly in her iconic spider sculptures, which glorified her mother as a web-spinning arachnid. She became acquainted with notable Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists for her long career, and while her work incorporated elements of theirs, her style was unique.
Maman is a massive steel spider that can only be erected outside or within a large-scale industrial structure. Its body is hung high above the ground on eight skinny, knobbly legs, allowing the observer to stroll around and underneath it.
Each ribbed leg ends in a sharp-tipped point and is joined to a collar above which an irregularly ribbed spiraling body rises, balanced by a similarly sized egg sac below.
Artemisia Gentileschi established herself as a successful painter at an era when women had little opportunity to become professional painters. She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence.
Her paintings, which are known for their dramatic subjects, vibrant colors, and contrasting lights and darks, have recently seen a well-deserved resurgence of interest and respect. Gentileschi was raped by her father's friend and fellow painter Agostino Tassi when she was a child. Unsurprisingly, her reputation was questioned, as it did so often at the time. Artemisia, on the other hand, clung to her story even after she was tortured throughout her testimony. Tassi was convicted after the trial, however, he never served his sentence.
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting
This picture can be classified as both a self-portrait and an allegorical painting, although painting has traditionally been associated with the female figure, implying that no male artist could have created it. This fusion of two different artistic forms explains why this piece has gotten significantly more attention from academics than virtually any other in her career.
The key point of contention is how much of the substance and style is dedicated to creating a self-portrait and how much it symbolically expresses the physical craft of painting. With so many decades having gone since this piece was created in 1638-1639 while the artist was really in the UK, there have been plenty of opportunities to argue both sides of that dispute, and few answers are expected to arise now. The success of her father, Orazio, who had lived in the nation for many years, had enticed her to visit.
Judith Leyster was one of the Netherlands' earliest successful female artists. She was a skilled Dutch Golden Age painter and printmaker most renowned for her genre pictures of ordinary life, which was unique for a woman artist at the time. Her artistic career was short-lived, despite the admiration she received from her peers. She married fellow artist Jan Miense Molenaer in 1636 and gave up painting to devote her time to her family.
Judith Leyster was a well-known artist during her lifetime, but she was completely forgotten after her death. Her work was either left uncredited or credited to her husband, Molenaer, or another painter, Frank Hals. Her initials were discovered on the work Carousing Couple buried beneath a counterfeit signature of Hals in the late 19th century, and she only resurfaced in the late 19th century.
A well-dressed woman sits in a dimly lit room, concentrating on her needlework. The sole source of light is a lamp on the table, which casts a dark, frightening shadow across the room. With one hand, an older man with a fur hat strokes her shoulder, while the other holds a fistful of money.
The dimly lighted and furnished room, as well as the man's leering expression, create an uneasy atmosphere; the viewer is left unsure of what has happened—or what is going to happen.
Angelica Kauffman was the most well-known portraitist in 18th-century Europe, as well as a dedicated historical painter in a period when women were still forbidden from drawing naked women.
She purportedly learned anatomy by studying plaster casts of famous statues because she was unable to participate in life drawing lessons. She had a supportive father, painter Joseph Kauffman, like many other renowned female artists before her. He taught her the fundamentals of drawing and painting and assisted her in furthering her career.
Self-portrait of the Artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting
The picture represents Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807), an Austro-Swiss artist who was indecisive about which of her two skills she should pursue as a young woman. Kauffman chose to be a painter, which was unusual for a woman at the time, and she went on to have a successful career in Britain.
She was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts, and she painted numerous self-portraits to publicize her work, recognizing her unusual standing as a successful female painter. She was in her fifties when she created the painting depicted here, and she may have relished the opportunity to reflect on her young self-determination.
Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was a popular and well-known portrait artist in 18th-century France. She held a unique position as Marie-protégée, Antoinette's having painted her 30 times. In reality, it was the royal intervention that allowed Vigée Le Brun to join the Académie Royale in 1783 as one of just four women allowed.
Vigée Le Brun was compelled to quit France during the French Revolution because of her strong relations with the queen. She did, however, manage to carve out a thriving career acting as aristocratic women and men in Italy, Austria, and Russia before returning to France in 1802, after her name was finally removed from the list of enemy émigrés.
Marie Antoinette and Her Children
Marie Antoinette is depicted wearing a crimson velvet gown with a sable lining in the artwork. Her younger son, Louis XVII, is sitting on her lap, and Marie-Thérèse is leaning on her arm. Louis-Joseph, the Dauphin at the time, stands near the empty cradle, which was meant for her younger daughter, Sophie-Béatrice, who died before the painting was finished.
Symbolism abounds in the painting. Its overall design is influenced by Renaissance images of the Holy Family, as suggested by Jacques-Louis David, a well-known contemporaneous painter. There are other references to Marie Antoinette that are more specific to her, such as the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles behind her or the garment she is wearing, which is similar to one Marie Leszczyska wore in a photograph. On the right, there's also a jewelry cabinet, which recalls Cornelia, an ancient Roman who famously said her children were her jewels. This last reference emphasizes Marie Antoinette's image as a mother, prioritizing her children over financial considerations such as jewelry, particularly in light of the Diamond Necklace controversy.
Rosa Bonheur rose to extraordinary fame and acclaim, becoming the most well-known female painter of the nineteenth century. She specialized in painting horses and livestock and was a magnificently defiant Victorian-era animalier. Her gigantic Horse Fair, which takes up an entire gallery wall at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is without a doubt her masterpiece.
Bonheur defined herself outside of the social and legal constraints of her day, in a century that did everything it could to keep women in their place. She worked for herself, dressed as a man, smoked, and lived with other women. "As far as males go, I only prefer the bulls I paint," she famously stated, referring to her well-known aversion to men.
Ploughing in the Nivernais
It may have been influenced by the opening scene of George Sand's 1846 novel La Mare au Diable, which displays two teams of oxen plowing the soil and expresses a strong commitment to the land. The painting was commissioned by the government and won a First Medal at the Salon in 1849. It is now on display in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
The Nivernais, which included the area around Nevers, was noted for its Charolais cattle, which were to play a key role in the area's agricultural revolution in the nineteenth century. Ploughing in the Nivernais depicts twelve Charolais cattle in two groups of six, which Rosa Bonheur had a reputation for painting. They plough the land on a sunny autumn day; this is the sombrage, the first stage of soil preparation in the fall that allows for aeration during the winter.
The farmer is nearly fully concealed behind his animals, therefore humans play a minimal role in the artwork. In the foreground, freshly ploughed soil stands out, while the area beyond it is bathed in sunlight. The painting's clarity and light are reminiscent of the Dutch works Bonheur had studied as part of her studies (especially those by Paulus Potter).
Mary Cassatt, the only American artist chosen to show among the French Impressionists, was a pioneering woman. She defied her family's expectations and enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to study among her male contemporaries. She moved to Paris after being dissatisfied with her art schooling in the United States, where she worked alongside Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, and Camille Pissarro to help develop Impressionism.
Mary Cassatt was denied access to most of the subject matter favored by her male colleagues because she was a woman. Because she couldn't go to bars and nightclubs or go on day trips to the countryside to paint, she concentrated on modest household situations. As a result, she excelled in painting personal portraits of mothers and children, paying homage to the female experience rather than trivializing it.
The Child’s Bath
Mary Cassatt experimented with compositional elements of Japanese art while addressing the issue for which she is best known—women and children. In 1890, Cassatt visited the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and witnessed a huge exhibition of Japanese prints, which inspired him to create a series of prints influenced by their aesthetics.
Her research of a flattened picture plane and decorative patterning culminated in The Child's Bath. The intimate scene of ordinary life is also a common theme in Japanese prints. The enveloping arms and delicate touch of the mother or nurse in Cassatt's painting give an overall sensation of safety and affection.
Hilma af Klint
Hilma af Klint, who was born in Sweden in 1862, was one of the first women to study at Stockholm's Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Years before Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian are said to have originated abstract art, she began creating profoundly abstract paintings. However, historians have just recently picked up their pencils and begun rewriting the history of contemporary art, finally giving the unsung pioneer her due.
Hilma, who was fascinated by occultism, took part in spiritual séances where she supposedly spoke with spirit guides. Her spirit guide commissioned her Paintings for the Temple, her most ambitious series, in 1906 as a result of her contacts. "The one great duty that I carried out in my lifetime," she subsequently said.
The Ten Largest
The Ten Largest appears to be unconstrained by geographical and temporal constraints. Swirling forms in delicate pastel colors combine rhythmically with cursive characters over ten canvases, creating a visual poem. Petals, ovaries, flowers, and spirals throb with creation sparks.
This series, according to Hilma af Klint, is about the human life cycle, from childhood and youth through adulthood and old age. The ten paintings were created between November and December 1907 on enormous sheets of paper that were then affixed to canvas. Given the works' extraordinary scale, af Klint most likely painted each canvas while it was lying flat on her studio floor.
Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the most prominent woman artists of the twentieth century. She is a fundamental character of American modernism and the foremother of feminist art. In Chicago and New York City, she received classical training. Despite this, she demonstrated her independence from standard art school by making abstract paintings that resisted categorization.
Her sexual close-up renderings of flowers, which many saw as metaphorical representations of the female body, made her famous. O'Keeffe's eyesight began to deteriorate in her 70s. Although she had lost her paintbrush and paints, she had not lost her urge to create. "I can envision what I want to paint," she famously declared. "Whatever it is that inspires you to create is still there." So she started experimenting with clay sculpture and kept doing so until she died at the age of 98.
Black Iris III
O'Keeffe's choice of Irises was no accident. This flower has religious significance, akin to the Tree of Life, which was popularized by artists such as Gustav Klimt. It seems unlikely that she was reusing iconography from her Christian upbringing, which can be used to depict sorrow and disaster.
Instead, it's most likely being used in the same way as her other well-known flower paintings like Jimson Weed, Petunias, and Oriental Poppies. Its inclusion could thus be solely due to the artist's attention on bright inherent colors and gorgeous detail, as well as whatever, was blooming well in her garden at the moment. She chose which plants to cultivate depending on what she thought would be most useful in her line of work.
Yayoi Kusama is most known for her mirrored "Infinity Rooms," although her work spans six decades, including a stay in New York City between 1957 and 1972, where she achieved prominence for outdoor events involving public nudity.
Hallucinations that manifest as flashes of light, fields of dots, and flowers that speak to her have plagued the Japanese artist since childhood—experiences that underpin not only the aforementioned rooms, but also paintings, sculptures, and installations that employ vivid, phantasmagorical patterns of polka dots and other motifs. Her psychological problems, however, persisted, and she committed herself to a mental hospital in Japan in 1977, where she has been ever since.
Fireflies on the Water
Fireflies on the Water is a one-person, room-sized installation. It consists of a small, dimly lit chamber with mirrors on all sides, a pool of water in the center of the room with a dock-like viewing platform protruding into it, and 150 miniature lights suspended from the ceiling. These elements work together to generate a stunning display of direct and reflected light, which comes from both the mirrors and the water's surface.
There appears to be no top or bottom, beginning or end to space. Fireflies embodies an almost hallucinogenic approach to reality, similar to Yayoi Kusama's first room-sized installations, such as Infinity Mirror Room (1965), in which she merged mirrors with her distinctive polka-dotted phallic protrusions in an enclosed chamber. It alludes to influences as diverse as the story of Narcissus and Kusama's native Japanese environment, while also referring to the artist's own mythology and therapeutic creative method.
Tamara De Lempicka
Tamara De Lempicka was the most well-known Art Deco artist, whose life and work reflected the excess and glitter of the 1920s. She made waves in the art world as an icon of emancipated women, drawing sleek, sensual pictures of nobles and celebrities. She was commissioned to paint still life and make art for publications while making a name for herself as a portrait painter.
The decadent lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties appealed to De Lempicka. She photographed both male and female lovers, which could explain why her predominantly female nude paintings have such a powerful erotic intensity. Vita Sackville-West and Colette, two prominent bisexual superstars of the day, were also close friends with her.
Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti
De Lempicka was commissioned by the German fashion magazine Die Dame to create a self-portrait for the cover in 1929. Her painting depicted her behind the wheel of a Bugatti racing car, dressed in a gray scarf and wearing a leather helmet and gloves.
She presented herself as the embodiment of frigid beauty, independence, affluence, and inaccessibility. She didn't own a Bugatti; instead, she had a modest yellow Renault that was taken one night while she and her friends were celebrating at Montparnasse's Café de la Rotonde. A Bugatti type 43's cockpit.
The steering wheel was on the right, rather than the left, as seen in the image. Although the steering wheel is depicted on the left side of the car in De Lempicka's painting, the steering wheel on Bugatti models 23, 43, and 46 at the time was on the right side.
Frida Kahlo, a cult figure famous for her raw and emotional self-portraits, iconic dress sense, and outspoken personality, was once an obscure Mexican surrealist. She spent most of her life dealing with the effects of polio and a bus accident, suffering from recurrent relapses of misery that she then channeled into painting. "Never before had a woman put such anguished poetry on canvas as Frida," her husband, painter Diego Rivera, famously said.
Even though the twentieth century was the first in which women began to achieve equality in the art world, many women were still seen as muses to their famous partners rather than artists in their own right. Frida Kahlo spent her entire life in the creative shadow of her husband, Diego Rivera. She is now regarded as a pioneering feminist artist who centered her work on her female identity. She is regarded as the most famous female painter of all time by some!
The Two Fridas
Shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera, she painted this painting. Frida's two personas are seen in this portrait. The classic Frida in Tehuana attire, with a broken heart, sits next to a free-spirited, modern Frida. Frida wrote about this artwork in her diary, claiming that it was inspired by a reminiscence of an imaginary childhood acquaintance.
She later stated that it was an expression of her despair and loneliness as a result of her separation from Diego. The two Fridas are holding hands in this picture. Both have visible hearts, with the classic Frida's heart being slashed and torn open. The major artery, which runs from the torn heart to the traditional Frida's right hand, is severed by surgical pincers held in the traditional Frida's lap. Her white dress is flowing with blood, and she is on the verge of passing out. Frida's inner torment may be reflected in the stormy sky with disturbed clouds.