Monday, October 20, 2008

Great women artists

Madame Perregaux - 1789
Oil on oak, 100 x 78 cm, 39 3/8 x 30 3/4 in
Wallace Collection, London
Vigée Le Brun

As a woman studying art history in high school and university
there were very few role models. This wasn't because none
existed, but because art history at that time was taught in
a highly sexist manner, and it would be easy to believe that
my girlfriends who were interested in drawing and I were
the first women painters ever to exist. Not true of course.

One of my favorite portrait painters from the past is
Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 17 55 - 1842. Most people
know her as Vigée Le Brun. She was a famous french painter,
prolific in her output (I think she painted more than
1,000 paintings in her day). She also wrote her memoirs
and instructions on how to paint -- still fascinating reading

Mary Cassatt was one of the few women painters who
should have been on our art history agendas, but
she wasn't someone my teachers mentioned. I admire
her work. Her portraits represent to me the best
possible combination of accuracy and painterly

Woman in black

c. 1882 (180 Kb);
Oil on canvas,
100.6 x 74 cm (39 3/4 x 29 in)

One of the saddest stories of a woman artist is that
of the Canadian portrait painter Lynn Donoghue.
I met her when I was an art writer for a Canadian
art magazine. She was a vital young woman, and an
amazingly fresh portrait painter. Experimental,
bold, and unique, her portraits were like nothing
I'd ever seen.

A close friend of mine knew Lynn well, and owns
several of her paintings. Through this connection
I understand that the last year of her life was harrowing.
Trying to make a living as an artist in Canada is difficult, even
when you're in the top flight, and collected by
most major galleries, which she was. In her
last year she lost a major grant, and significant
commission my friend told me. She was
a diabetic and died of an insulin reaction. She
was only 50 and would have had a long and
promising career in front of her. I cannot find
an image of her work to show you on the net. And that
is unbelievable. Five years after her death she has
effectively vanished. If I find one I'll put it on the blog.

Until that time, courage women and men. We
artists have to stick together.

There are many other women of note I could
mention here, but for now this will do.

Have an honouring-the-women-in-your-life day.


Susan Carlin said...

Thank you for this post, Barbara.
I promise to encourage the women I meet today, and tomorrow, and every day. I see the need always.

Barbara Muir said...

Thanks Susan,

And you certainly do encourage me. To be fair the men I know who are artists need encouragement too, and that is one of the great features of these blogs.

Thanks a million for your encouragement and for doing the great work you do.


Anonymous said...

hi Barbara,

I did a bit of research and came up with this. I hope the url will work for you. Amazing work.


Barbara Muir said...

Thanks Mic,

I posted your suggestion in a special
blog honouring just Lynn.

Take care,


Melinda said...

This is such an important subject! We women must continue to write and say the names of women artists. We can make them household names. If we only practice the names of famous male artists, we do ourselves a disservice. There really is a lot of documentation on women artists, we just have to disseminate the info.

Thank you for posting about Lynn Donoghue. I didn't know about her or that Canadian artists struggle in the same way as US artists.

Barbara Muir said...

Thanks Melinda,

I couldn't find anything about her the
first day, but subsequently did.

She was just an amazing portrait


Theresa Rankin said...

This is a subject very close to my heart...the classes I taught and teach on occasion are only for women. I try my best to instill the drive and encouragement that they so sorely lack in today's art world. We have made progress but unfortunately there is still a bit of....can't find the word....but the idea that we are somehow weak or less than serious still pervades. I used my whole name for a few years now I use only my last seemed to make a difference...but I have still heard "Oh she's a woman" said with a bit of a let down after finding out my first name. So sad....there are so many exceptional woman artists.

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Theresa,

You are one of them. Isn't that sad that you have to use 19th century strategies (not using your first name)in the 21st century.

The other dilemma, and I'll probably
talk about it in a future blog, is
pretty versus serious art. The term
often used to put down people who want to create beauty with their work is "decorative."

As a writer for an art magazine, I saw a lot of what passed for "serious" -- stuffed baby
goats with two heads (real animals
stuffed by a taxidermist) sitting on
a bed of broken glass. But I think
this is another part of what women
face -- and men too - who record the
world they live in, and live happy

Take care,


Anonymous said...

Hi Barbara, Finally I've finished the progression and I've some time to catch up. Ive missed several of your posts as 40 hours at work and a 30x40 took up a boat load of time. My favorite Cassat is the one of the girl in the yellow dress reading a book. Don't remember the title but I saw it this last summer at the Denver Art Museum. It was part of an impressionist show that had a bunch of old time biggies like Monet but the one I remember from the entire exhibit was this one. She was a heck of a painter. ew

Portrait Artist

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