The Women Painters Overlooked By Art History

Discover 14 artists finally getting the recognition they deserve

By Google Arts & Culture

Words by Rebecca Fulleylove

Sem título (1962) by Mira SchendelThe Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Art history can be limiting, in that, while it does give us some insight into the movements, the work, and the artists who have come before us, it ultimately presents a skewed impression of the art world. Why? Because those who were keeping a record of artistic developments, works of art and the artists who created them often seemingly 'forgot' certain groups or individual people due to their gender, ethnicity, or social standing, among many other things.

While we can’t undo the past, we can work towards building a richer picture of art history, celebrate the work of artists who were neglected or marginalized during their careers, and be thankful their work wasn’t lost or destroyed. To make a small dent, here are 14 women painters who were working in the 19th and 20th centuries who were forgotten in art history up until recently.

Catharina van Hemessen (1527/28–after 1567), Antwerp, 1548, oil on panel (1548) by Hemessen, Catharina vanRijksmuseum

Caterina van Hemessen (1528–1588)

Caterina (or Catharina) van Hemessen was a Flemish Renaissance painter. She is the earliest female Flemish painter, in that she’s one of the only ones who can be verified by the work she left. She is mainly known for her series of small-scale female portraits completed between the late 1540s and early 1550s, and a few religious compositions. Van Hemessen is said to have created the first self-portrait capturing an artist seated at an easel. The portrait was painted in 1548 and shows the artist in the early stages of painting a portrait.

A number of obstacles stood in the way of contemporary women, including van Hemessen, who wished to become painters. Their training would involve the dissection of cadavers and the study of the nude male form, while the system of apprenticeship meant that the aspiring artist would need to live with an older artist for four to five years. This often began from the age of 9 or 15, which made it near impossible for many women to follow this path because other “expected duties” took precedent.

The Lamentation of Christ by Catharina van Hemessen (Antwerp 1527/28 – 1560/80)Rockoxhuis

The Lamentation of Christ by Catharina van Hemessen (From the collection of Rockoxhuis)

Portrait of a Woman by Catharina van Hemessen (From the collection of Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp)

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) (1638-1639) by Artemisia GentileschiRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)

Today, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is seen as one of the most skilled painters during her time, but the artist had a difficult time forging a career as an artist. Trained by her father at a young age, she went on to study under Agostino Tassi who raped the young Gentileschi and unsurprisingly, due to the times, her reputation was called into question.

Nevertheless, Gentileschi went on to be the first woman to be admitted to the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts and she also became the head of the household when she separated from her husband, which was very rare at the time. Some of her most powerful works, such as Judith Beheading Holofernes and The Conversion of the Magdalene, focus on the females rather than their male counterparts.

Judith and Holofernes (1620 - 1621) by Artemisia GentileschiUffizi Gallery

Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (From the collection of Uffizi Gallery)

Jael and Sisera (1620) by Artemisia GentileschiMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Jael and Sisera by Artemisia Gentileschi (From the collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)

Still Life with Crab, Shrimps and Lobster (c. 1635 - 1640) by Clara PeetersThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Clara Peeters (1594–1657)

Clara Peeters was a still-life painter who came from Antwerp and trained in the tradition of Flemish Baroque painting. However, she probably made her career mostly in the new Dutch Republic, as part of the Dutch Golden Age painting. Many aspects of her life and work remain very unclear, especially outside the period 1607 to 1621.

Peeters was unusual for her time simply because she was a female painter, the earliest significant woman painter of the Dutch Golden Age. In contrast to their male counterparts, most female Dutch painters specialized in still lifes, which did not require knowledge of anatomy as this was difficult for female painters to get access to as part of their training.

Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries (circa 1625) by Clara PeetersLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Still life with cheeses, artichoke and cherries by Clara Peeters (From the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Stilleven met vissen, zeevruchten en bloemen (ca. 1612 - ca. 1615) by Peeters, ClaraRijksmuseum

Still life with fish, oysters and shrimps by Clara Peeters (From the collection of Rijksmuseum)

Self-Portrait (ca. 1783) by Marie-Gabrielle CapetThe National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Marie-Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818)

Marie-Gabrielle Capet was a French Neoclassical painter who came from a modest background. Her artistic training is of course unknown, but in 1781 she became the pupil of the French painter Adelaide Labille-Guiard in Paris. With the support of Labille-Guiard, Capet secured commissions from the upper middle class and nobility, and eventually royalty.

She excelled as a portrait painter, with her works including oil paintings, watercolors and miniatures. Despite her talent, Capet fell into obscurity after she died. This was for a number of reasons: the fashion for pastels having declined; because most of her works were in private collections that became dispersed over the years; and the fact that society at the time continued to diminish and “forget” the work of female artists.

Lady Elisabeth of France (about 1785 - about 1785) by Marie-Gabrielle CapetPalazzo Madama

Lady Elisabeth of France by Marie-Gabriella Capet (From the collection of Palazzo Madama)

The painter André Vincent (1799 - 1799) by Marie-Gabrielle CapetPalazzo Madama

The painter André Vincent by Marie-Gabrielle Capet (From the collection of Palazzo Madama)

Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788) (1775/1775) by Adélaïde Labille-GuiardThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803)

As well as playing a hand in Marie-Gabrielle Capet’s career, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was a successful portraitist in her own right. Male artists were so threatened by Labille-Guiard and other female artists working at the time that they would invent rivals for them and spread rumors alluding to sexual misconduct. Labille-Guiard was strong and kept fighting for her right to create art and actively supported other female artists to do the same.

The artist managed to prove her critics wrong and she was admitted to the Académie Royale, where she exhibited her works and became Peintre des Mesdames (Painter of the Ladies), which meant she was a painter to the king’s aunts.

Marie-Adélaïde de France, said Madame Adélaïde (1787) by Adélaïde Labille-GuiardPalace of Versailles

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard de France, said Madame Adélaïde by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (From the collection of Palace of Versailles)

Head of a Young Woman (1779) by Adélaïde Labille-GuiardThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Head of a Young Woman by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (From the collection of The J Paul Getty Museum)

Pictorial quilt (1895 - 1898) by Harriet PowersMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Harriet Powers (1839–1910)

Harriet Powers was an African-American slave, folk artist, and quilt maker from rural Georgia. She used traditional appliqué techniques to record local legends, Bible stories, and astronomical events on her quilts. Thanks to a letter discovered in 2009, it was revealed that Powers was a literate woman, who transformed well-known stories she’d read herself into pictorial masterpieces.

Only two of her quilts are known to have survived: Bible Quilt (1886) and Pictorial Quilt (1898). Her quilts are considered among the finest examples of 19th-century Southern quilting.

Canal in Holland (1885) by Tina BlauLeopold Museum

Tina Blau (1845–1916)

Unable to attain an arts education like her male contemporaries, Austrian artist Tina Blau was taught by her father who believed in her talent. Blau became an accomplished landscape painter and the way she painted light and air felt innovative.

The artist, like many female painters at the time, constantly had to deal with critics questioning her abilities. A common belief at the time was that because she was a woman, there had to have been a man guiding her as no woman had the talent to be successful without a man behind her.

Self-Portrait (1898) by Suzanne ValadonThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Suzanna Valadon

Suzanne Valadon is remembered as a model for many artists including Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, but was also a painter in her own right.

She had a penchant for painting female nude figures, and was controversial in her own time because her lack of training meant she worked outside of traditional standards. This led to raw, powerful works which drew criticism but proved popular: she held four solo exhibitions in her lifetime.

Nudes (1919) by Suzane ValadonMASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

Nudes by Suzanne Valadon (From the collection of MASP)

The Abandoned Doll (1921/1921) by Suzanne ValadonNational Museum of Women in the Arts

The Abandoned Doll by Suzanne Valadon (From the collection of National Museum of Women in the Arts)

Queen (for Hous'hill, Catherine Cranston's residence, Glasgow, Scotland) by Margaret Macdonald MackintoshVirginia Museum of Fine Arts

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864–1933)

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh was a Scottish artist whose design work became one of the defining features of the Glasgow Style during the 1890s. The Glasgow Style often took the form of furniture and silverwork, and placed an importance on Celtic imagery.

Margaret, with her sister Frances, were students at the Glasgow School of Art studying courses in design. She worked in a variety of media, including metalwork, embroidery, and textiles and later collaborated with her husband, the architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who we’ve come to know better. She was inspired by Celtic imagery, poems by Morris and Rossetti, literature, symbolism, and folklore. Her husband once wrote of her: “Margaret has genius, I have only talent”.

Dove No. 2 (1915) by Hilma af KlintOlomouc Museum of Art

Hilma af Klint(1862–1944)

Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist whose paintings were among the first abstract art. However, she was overlooked with her male peers, including Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, receiving the limelight. A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky.

Klint belonged to a group called The Five, a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called High Masters —often by way of séances. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas.

Untitled (1933) by Hilma af KlintOlomouc Museum of Art

Untitled by Hilma af Klint (From the collection of Muzeum Umēni Oomouc)

Composition (Blue-Yellow-Black) (1920) by Liubov Sergeievna PopovaMuseu Coleção Berardo

Lyubov Popova (1889–1924)

Lyubov Popova was one of the most prolific, and influential women artists of the Russian avant-garde. She saw herself as a cubist, suprematist and constructivist. In 1915, she developed her own variant of non-objective art based on a combination of principles of icon painting and avant-garde ideas.

Her fascination with construction allowed her to join other constructivists in absolute rejection of easel painting. In 1921, she turned entirely to industrial design. She excelled in industrial design of clothing and fabrics and produced posters, book designs, ceramics, and photomontages. She died aged just 35 of scarlet fever in 1924 in Moscow.

Composition (Red-Black-Gold) (1920) by Liubov Sergeievna PopovaMuseu Coleção Berardo

Composition (Red, Black, Gold) by Lyubov Popova (From the collection of Museu Coleção Berardo)

Shallow Bowl by Florine StettheimerHigh Museum of Art

Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944)

Florine Stettheimer was an American painter, designer, and poet. She was from a privileged background and with her sisters, Carrie and Ettie, she hosted a salon for modernists in Manhattan, which included Marcel Duchamp, Henry McBride, Carl Van Vechten and Georgia O'Keeffe.

In regards to her own work, she rarely showed publicly, preferring to exhibit to a private audience. Cushioned by family resources, Stettheimer refrained from self-promotion and considered her painting "an entirely private pursuit". She intended to have her works destroyed after her death, but lucky for us it was a wish defied by her sister Ettie, her executor.

Heat (1919) by Florine StettheimerBrooklyn Museum

Heat by Florine Stettheimer (From the collection of Brooklyn Museum)

Iriss, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses by Thomas, Alma WoodseyNational Museum of Women in the Arts

Alma Thomas (1891–1978)

Alma Thomas was an African-American artist born in Georgia in 1891. She was an art teacher for 35 years, so her own art career took a backseat, meaning she didn’t find her signature style until she was in her 70s.

Thomas was an expressionist painter and her style saw her paint bold patterns in bright colors reminiscent of mosaic designs. Her late start in life meant she only exhibited once in her lifetime, just six years before her death in 1972. The show was at the Whitney Museum of American Art and she was the first female African-American artist to have a solo exhibit. Thomas’ work has also been shown at the White House on more than one occasion, with Jimmy Carter and more recently Barack Obama both admirers of her work.

Apollo 12 "Splash Down" (1970) by Alma ThomasThe Studio Museum in Harlem

Apollo 12 Splash Down by Alma Thomas (From the collection of The Studio Museum in Harlem)

Celestial Fantasy (1973) by Alma ThomasSmithsonian American Art Museum

Celestial Fantasy by Alma Thomas (From the collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Sem título (1962) by Mira SchendelThe Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Mira Schendel (1919–1988)

Mira Schendel was a Jewish refugee from Switzerland—although she was raised Catholic in Italy—who left an economically declining Europe in 1949 and settled in Brazil. She is now seen as one of Latin America's most important and prolific post-war artists and is thought to have reinvented the language of European Modernism in Brazil. Before her retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2013, Schendel really wasn’t known outside of Latin America. She is remembered for her sculptures, paintings and drawings on rice paper.

Sem título (1954) by Mira SchendelThe Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Sem Título by Mira Schendel (From the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

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