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how women were overlooked in art history

For centuries, women have been exclusively known as the muses, wives or lovers of established artists. Art history can be rather limiting, in that it ultimately represents a skewed impression of the world of art, “forgetting” certain great artists for varied reasons to do with their ethnicity, gender or social standing. Women were all too often constrained to the sidelines, regarded merely as “pupils” of male artists worldwide. As the painter Agnes Thurnauer writes, “I started going to museums when I was pretty young. And very quickly, I began looking at the names of artists only to find there were no female first names.”

Women were not only barred from apprenticeships and studios, they were prohibited from attending art schools, which made it practically impossible to attain the right materials needed to create beautiful art. Discussing the topic of art history, the white western male viewpoint has blatantly been accepted as the standard direction for art historians as well, which proves to have great insufficiencies on ethical as well as intellectual grounds.

The feminist critique poses a strong hostility to this stance, to stand for unacknowledged talent, to account for the very presence of the variegated topic of art history. It stands to expose the arrogance and meta-historical naivete of the art world, a perspective so fatal to individuality and expression. Today – despite the emergence of great female figures in recent years, women artists still suffer from late recognition in comparison to their male counterparts.

For instance, Louise Bourgeois, a major French-American artist, was seventy years old when her first retrospective was displayed at the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York City.

Some forgotten painters include-

Amrita Sher-Gil

A Hungarian-Indian painter of the early 1900s, Amrita was dubbed a pioneer in modern Indian art, “one of the greatest avant-garde artists of the early 20th century”. One of her most renowned oil paintings is titled “Young Girls”, and brought her great recognition on its completion. She represented individuals going about day to day tasks.

Artemisia Gentileschi

Born in Rome, Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi garnered widespread success before ending up unremembered in centuries bygone. She adopted the chiaroscuro technique, used to represent shadows and light defining 3-D images. She was the first woman ever to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, and tended to depict herself as the heroine in her works.

Clara Peeters

Clara Peeters was a still-life artist from Antwerp, trained in Flemish Baroque painting. She made her career mainly in the new Dutch Republic, as part of the Dutch Golden Age of painting, however, aspects of her life remain very uncertain. She was unusual for her time primarily for being a female painter.

Hilma af Klint

af Klint was born in Stockholm, and graduated from the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. She went on to become well-known for her figurative work and served as secretary of the Association of Swedish Women Artists. Based on the ideals of Spiritualism and Theosophy, she sought a method to reconcile religion with the many recent scientific advances. Her works explored a dualistic view of creation, evolution, and the world.

Marie-Gabrielle Capet

French neoclassical painter Marie-Gabrielle Capet excelled in portraits of all styles including watercolours, oil paint and miniatures. Unfortunately, she fell into obscurity after her death. She secured commissions from the upper middle class and nobility, eventually royalty.

To reveal biases and prejudices in a world so ignorant requires force against professional competency, and while we can’t undo the past, we can surely seek to celebrate the work of the marginalised and neglected in history.

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