The pioneering women painters who changed the world of art


In 2015, German artist Georg Baselitz said: “Normally women sell well, but not as painters. Adding to his previous comments where he remarked: “Women don’t paint very well, that’s a fact”, they don’t pass “the market test”.

While it is true that men generally amass higher value at auctions, and indeed Pablo Picasso’s record fee of $ 179 million far eclipses Georgia O’Keeffe’s female record of $ 44 million, this is revealing of the societal exclusions that have suppressed women in the arts for centuries and her comments reveal that these are clearly still in play.

In truth, the fact that women can now compete globally with male artists and the fact that art academies are now 90% female is a triumph in itself, and that is due in large part to to pioneering precursors. who came before them. The problem, of course, is that this discussion continues – as Marilyn Minter said Artnet when asked if the art world is still sexist, “Hahaha… is the Pope Catholic? “

Towards the beginning of the breadcrumb trail of women in art is Sofonisba Anguissola. She was an Italian Renaissance painter who lived between 1532 and 1625. She was born into a relatively poor noble family but expressed enough painting skills to eventually make it to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo. who immediately recognized his talent. Such praise represented a seismic moment for women in the arts, but the reverberations would reverberate very slowly.

Fortunately, the sui generis talents of many female performers at the turn of the century rocked the stage like a pinball machine in play during an earthquake and held the door open for others. It is these pioneers that we focus on below, along with their life and heritage in the art world.

Georgia o’keeffe

“I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I have never let him stop me from doing just one thing I wanted to do.”

(Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Contrary to popular belief, Georgia O’Keeffe’s art was not simply an attempt to effeminize every budding flower, erect mountain or horny skull into a gaping orifice or proud appendage of emboldened sexuality, but rather to get to the very heart of a single subject. . To be sure, the “deeply vaginal” cliché has entered the lexicon of the critical coterie for good reason, but there is a greater notion at play than simply translating a chasm of spasm onto a buttercup – the attempt to O’Keeffe was to unearth the inner femininity or masculinity of the “everyday” in an interesting display of vibrant colors and shapes. In that sense, his art itself represented the truth of egalitarianism in a meta just as much as its presence within the industry.

His singular approach to painting was born from the marriage of a curious youth and an indifference to the status quo of art in early adulthood. She was a farm girl raised in the American postcard prairies of Wisconsin. The open space resembling a wild web that surrounded him gave him the right to roam, but O’Keeffe’s opinion, even at an early age, was that there was so much to explore in the universe. miniaturized from a single flower, as there was in the macrocosm of which they were a part. The reverberations of this philosophy can be seen in the ripples that continue to unfold from the epicenter of modernism.

As far as modern artists are concerned, in general, the importance of the piece is not limited to the image alone but is deeply linked to the artist behind it. O’Keeffe’s legacy challenges the scope of his work alone with its cultural impact. O’Keeffe was a feminist who sat right on the precipice of the emerging frontier of female art.

This inner feeling of provocative liberation was deeply rooted in his youth. Interestingly, this usurps a notion we often defend of feminism as some sort of urban battleground of ties and pantsuits, rebelling against patriarchy, far removed from the apparent conservatism of rural life.

However, O’Keeffe’s rural education planted a resolute stalk of self-reliance in her. Her own mother had hoped to become a doctor, and several of her aunts never married and instead chose to pursue independent careers.

This outspoken resilience was at the heart of her feminism as she made her way into the male-dominated world of the turn of the art world of the twentieth century. She was a vital figure in liberation, not only in bringing to light a necessary need for equality, but in passionately propagating self-expression that went beyond egalitarianism and elucidated the human need for creativity.

Frida Kahlo

“They thought I was surreal, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.

(Credit: Alamy)

This quest to escape to find a deeper truth in art was absolutely vital for the troubled Frida Kahlo. This allowed her to rise above the pain she lived with, concluding, “At the end of the day, we can endure more than we think we can. She has lived with suffering and conflict and expresses that her work “carries with it the message of pain”, however, she has been able to go beyond that, finding both salvation in her art and a way. to preserve a state of joyful exultation, poetically postulating: “I paint flowers so that they do not die.”

Much of the root of his pain was physical and perhaps that is why his work often deals with physical form in the most superficial sense: self-portraits. In 1925, she was returning from school in Mexico City when a bus accident left her with serious injuries that would poison the rest of her life with lingering pain and health problems. At that time, she had planned to become a doctor, but the demands of such a job left the dream in ruins in the fallout from the accident.

During her recovery, she was bedridden for months and as a result, she returned to the artistic passion of her youth by using an easel specially adapted to paint her surroundings. Unlike the realism that had preceded her, her own interpretation of reality was deeply individualistic. Rather than copying her environment identically, she colored her canvas with reality in an experiential sense; “I am my own muse,” she said, “the subject I know best.”

With this development of a unique style, her work became emblematic of Mexico’s postcolonial search for national identity, a feminist representation of the female experience and an exploration of sexuality made her an LGBTQ + icon. This combination of beauty and harsh political, social and individual realities contained in his work has led surrealist artist André Benton to describe his paintings as “a ribbon around a bomb”.

For a while, during her marriage to Diego River, she was part of a primitive artist couple nicknamed “The Elephant and the Dove”, but far from being in her husband’s shadow, she is boldly stepped out and lit his own way. As River once remarked, “[her paintings] exalted the feminine characteristics of resistance, honesty, authenticity, cruelty and suffering. Never before has a woman depicted on a canvas such anguished poetry as Frida did. “

With this, she inspired future pioneers like Patti Smith to pursue the arts by showing that it is not only possible to both live a full life and to do so, but it is also possible on your own terms. It is a notion still celebrated by rising Brazilian artist and photographer Camila Fontenele de Miranda, “Frida taught me and inspired me to seek my sense of self in this world… In addition to the range of possibilities that ‘an artist like Frida Kahlo gives us, there is so much to discuss about the artist and the topics covered in her work including: sexuality, gender, language, that life is not separate from work , human relations, etc.

Paula Rego

“Art is the only place where you can do what you love. It’s freedom.

(Credit: Alamy)

The late Australian art critic Robert Hughes described Paula Rego’s work as “telling stories, fairy tales, fables, plays, parables and the folklore with which she grew up.” But it’s a psychic tale mixed with stories from the confessional, the psychiatrist’s couch and his own bad dreams. This folklore she grew up with was a subversive force against the fascism that surrounded her Portuguese upbringing. She still propagates that same subversive force of creativity to this day.

As the Tate Gallery in London adds: “Since the 1950s, Paula Rego has played a key role in redefining figurative art in the UK and around the world. An uncompromising artist with extraordinary imaginative power, she revolutionized the way women are represented.

“I think all the paintings since there were paintings were about stories,” Rego says. “All stories give an explanation to the world. They all give a face and in their own way they give meaning to the world. His work gives meaning to stories and gives them physical form. Building on this central idea, she had shaped the lives of many people and often the obscured condition of women as sexism in art and the world at large becomes less clear.

Her work is noted by many critics for its portrayal of women as non-feminine, displaying brutal and animalistic qualities in her uncompromising depictions. This, for many, is not a particular style and even more a true representation of women in the physical world and not fantasies in the mind of the male gaze.

Paula Rego boldly defined much of modern art. Where O’Keeffe and Kahlo may have been outliers, she assured that their legacy would prevail. There is still room for progress, and she proudly pursues it, exhibiting work at the Tate and other notable galleries, alongside David Hockney and Frank Auerbach.

In short, the main criticism of Georg Baselitz’s comments is that the value of art is not in its “market test” value, as the legacy of these women will attest.

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