Can you name 5 women
artists? The #5WomenArtists campaign celebrates Women’s History Month in March and the
important role of women in the arts. This online exhibition explores the work of several women whose art is represented in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
(Angelica Kauffmann, Swiss, 1741–1807, active Italy and England) Angelica Kauffmann was one of the most prominent and respected female artists of the 18th century. During a three-year stay in Italy, Kauffmann became part of the burgeoning circle of artists, architects, archaeologists, and historians who looked to the Greek and Roman empires for inspiration. Having made English connections through the community in Rome, she moved to London in 1766. Kauffmann soon became a respected society portraitist. She joined Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds as an early member of the Royal Academy and was one of only two female founding Academicians. The subject of this painting—Eleanor, Countess of Lauderdale—was known for her kindness and beauty, qualities Kauffmann captured through fluid brushwork and a soft color palette.
(Anna Atkins, British, 1799–1871) Anna Atkins was a dedicated amateur botanist and the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographs. "British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions," a botanical reference book, took Atkins 10 years to complete. All of the book's imagery, and even its text, was created with the cyanotype photographic process. To make a cyanotype, objects such as this fern are placed directly on photographic paper. When exposed to light, the paper reacts and deepens in color, except where the paper’s surface is obscured. Atkins created thousands of cyanotypes in the course of her study of the natural world.
Julia Margaret Cameron
(Julia Margaret Cameron, British, born India, 1815–1879) Julia Margaret Cameron became enamored with photography at the age of 48, when her children gave her a camera as a gift. Cameron is best known for her powerful portraits of family and friends—many of them important artists and writers—and the experimental quality of her work. Her prints often include scratches, smudges, and other traces of her process, and many of her best-known images are out of focus. At the time, her unconventional techniques were often derided by critics, yet within just six months of taking up the camera, Cameron had gallery representation in London. Here, Cameron has masterfully manipulated the light streaming in from the image’s right to illuminate the planes of her subject’s face in a way reminiscent of a finely carved cameo. The subject, Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, née Julia Jackson, was the mother of writer Virginia Woolf.
(Berthe Morisot, French, 1841–1895) In 19th-century France, it was unusual for a woman to pursue a career, but Berthe Morisot was born into a prosperous family that encouraged her artistic inclinations. At the age of 20, Morisot became the pupil of acclaimed artist Camille Corot. She met Édouard Manet while they were both copying Old Master paintings at the Louvre, and she would later pose for him. In 1874, Morisot married Édouard's younger brother and fellow painter, Eugène Manet, and the couple had one child, Julie. It is Julie who peers over the fence in this painting. "The Basket Chair" depicts the garden of Morisot and Eugène Manet’s Paris home. The painting is freely worked, with large areas of the canvas remaining exposed, creating an unfinished appearance and evoking the playful naiveté of childhood. Morisot was a central member of the Impressionist group, showing in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions and hosting regular gatherings at her home of Parisian artists and intellectuals including Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
(Mary Cassatt, American, 1844–1926, active France) The daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania banker, Mary Cassatt studied art in Philadelphia before moving to Europe at age 22. She settled in Paris in 1847 and quickly established herself as an artist specializing in paintings of women, often depicting interactions between women and children.
Cassatt developed a distinctive style favoring strong line, loose brushwork, and bold color that prompted Edgar Degas to invite her to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1879. Although forced into early retirement by failing eyesight, she remained active in the art world, serving as a mentor to many young artists and encouraging wealthy Americans to buy Impressionist art.
(Dorothea Lange, American, 1895–1965) Perhaps no other image has shaped our collective memory of the Great Depression like Dorothea Lange’s "Migrant Mother." Lange took this photograph while on assignment for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Depression to raise awareness of and provide aid to impoverished farmers. Lange’s photographs were used primarily to illustrate informational publications, including reports to governmental agencies, newspaper stories, and magazine features. She often used money earned from publishing her photographs to support migrant relief efforts. Prior to her work with the FSA, Lange had operated a successful portrait studio in San Francisco. Moved by the plight of those directly impacted by the Depression, she began photographing bread lines and protests in the San Francisco streets, leading her work away from commercial portraiture and into a daring new direction. Today, Lange is considered a pioneer of social-documentary photography who captured moments of intense emotion with a formal power that continues to resonate.
(Dorothy Hood, American, 1918–2000) Dorothy Hood’s paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works allude to interior, psychological spaces. Between 1943 and 1961, she spent most of her time in Mexico, where she befriended many of the major figures of Mexico’s avant-garde including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo. Hood’s drawings from the 1950s show the influence of her Mexican contemporaries as well as the earlier Surrealist movement as she explores forms inspired by nature and elaborated into spare, abstracted compositions. Hood spent time in New York in the late 1950s, and her work was shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1958 and 1959. In 1961, Hood settled in Houston, where she joined the faculty of the Museum School (now known as the Glassell School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). She was the focus of solo exhibitions at the MFAH in 1963 and 1975. Hood received many honors and was showcased in exhibitions throughout her long career.
(Vera Lutter, German, born 1960) To capture her mysterious, monumental photographs, Vera Lutter creates enormous pinhole cameras out of darkened rooms, shipping containers, and specially constructed boxes. The exposures can last for days, weeks, or months. Lutter retains the negative form of the resulting image as the final work—a literal reflection of space and time as determined by the immediate visual environment. The subject here is the Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, in Venice, Italy. Though this public square is normally bustling with tourists, Lutter’s serene image lacks any traces of life because of the extremely long exposure time: Anything that moved through the frame was not present long enough to appear in the final image. At a time when analog negatives are disappearing from photographic practice and process, Lutter finds new magic in the traditional materials of her medium. Her work was the subject the 2015–16 exhibition "Vera Lutter: Inverted Worlds" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
María Fernanda Cardoso
(María Fernanda Cardoso, Colombian, born 1963, active Australia) María Fernanda Cardoso was born in Bogotá and is known for her installations and sculptures made from organic materials. This installation, "Woven Water: Submarine Landscape," is built from suspended starfish, utilizing both shape and shadow to create complex spatial effects. The patterns are inspired by Cardoso's interest in fractal theory and its application in nature. "Woven Water" was featured in the 2015–16 exhibition "Contingent Beauty: Contemporary Art from Latin America" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Cardoso’s work often explores the intersection of art and science, and she holds a PhD with a specialization in art and science from Sydney University in Australia.
(Mequitta Ahuja, American, born 1976) Reworking the genre of self-portraiture, Mequitta Ahuja probes the construction of both image and identity. Ahuja’s paintings begin as acts of performative photography: Dressed in elaborate costumes that often reference her African American and South Asian heritage, Ahuja poses herself as triumphant epic heroes, warriors, and other archetypal power figures for the camera. Notable within the composition of "Off the Edge" is the hand-held remote shutter control Ahuja uses to snap the photographs that inspire her richly textured paintings. Although it may not be obvious at first that "Off the Edge" is a self-portrait, the corded shutter control references the reality of the painting’s construction. "Off the Edge" was featured in the 2016 exhibition "Statements: African American Art from the Museum's Collection" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to experience works of art by women artists in person. Themed gallery tours, scheduled throughout March 2017, are included with general admission, which is free every Thursday.