Heroic Women, Real and Fictional (by Dan Dillard)

The women portrayed in this gallery--some real, some fictitious--were strong, many of them underestimated, but all heroic. Their stories vary in history from film to music to civil rights to mythology. One is merely the portrait of a mother, a heroic task in itself.

Sojorner Truth, Charles White, 1940, From the collection of: SCAD Museum of Art
Isabella Baumfree was born a slave and gave herself the name Sojourner Truth when she was about forty-five years old. She spoke out against slavery for the next forty years. This simple sketch shows a kind face that also means business. She looks off into the distance, perhaps seeing a hopeful future. The face is the focus and full of detail, while the background sits in contrast, from the lack of color to the nearly unfinished look of her clothing.
Bucking Horse and Cowgirl, Charles M. Russell, ca. 1925, From the collection of: Amon Carter Museum of American Art
A non-traditional role for women in 1925, this cowgirl riding a bucking horse doesn’t display anyone in particular of note, but shows that the woman has command of the animal. The horse bucks, and has its mouth open looking quite fierce. The woman, by contrast, is not only smiling, but tipping her hat. There is some repetition in the position of the horse and of the woman, arms and legs in similar positions, back arched, both looking in the same basic direction, and the use of red draws the eye to the sash around the cowgirl’s waist.
The Death of Cleopatra, Guido Cagnacci, called Guido Canlassi, 1659/1663, From the collection of: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Cleopatra sits in her throne, apparently dead or dying from a snake bite as a group of women look on. Their expressions are of sadness and shock. One clasps her hands together and others try to help while avoiding the fangs of the killer. The emphasis is on Cleopatra, front and center, well lit and partially nude on the bright red throne, while the others are in shadow. The odd negative space of the background, at the top and to the right, should affect the balance of the image, but doesn’t.
Joan of Arc at Domrémy, Henri Chapu, 1870/1872, From the collection of: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Joan of Arc is portrayed here as if she might be praying. This is in stark contrast to most images seen of her where she is in battle. The soft folds of her clothing and the clean, unblemished look of her skin depict her youth and this sculpture probably says more about her sainthood than her skills as a warrior.
The Mourning Calypso, Angelika Kauffmannová - attributed, 1775/1778, From the collection of: Olomouc Museum of Art
Thought of as equal parts home wrecker and rescuer, Calypso seduced Odysseus away from his wife, Penelope. When Zeus stepped in and made her let her lover go, Calypso obeyed, but mourned the loss of her lover. The melancholy Calypso is portrayed here. The use of color displays her prominently in the foreground, contrasting the dark clouds hanging over her head as she looks out to sea. Your eyes follow her gaze to the tiny vessel that holds her lover as he leaves.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt (Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt), Douglas Granville Chandor, 1949, From the collection of: The White House
Serving four terms as first lady along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt was a politician, diplomat and activist. She is shown in this portrait in several different ways, thinking, laughing, knitting , possibly reading and writing as well as fiddling with her wedding rings. The many images at the bottom of the work add up to equal the woman seen at the top.
Sunday evening, Russell Drysdale, 1941, From the collection of: Art Gallery of New South Wales
A woman is bathing her infant child. Behind her and in the background, we see either two other children and her husband, or perhaps three other children. This scene reminds of the dust bowl and life is hard. Still, she does what mothers do, against all odds. Color and contrast are used to highlight this woman.
Helen Adams Keller, Charles Whitman, 1904, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Helen Keller is shown using two of the senses she did have command of, smell and touch. She grasps the flower as well as holds a book in her lap, most likely braille. Movement throughout the portrait starts with her face and the flower, then down the vase to the book and her hand. The smile on her face doesn't tell of the things with which she struggled, but instead of the things which she overcame.
Sliced Images 'Marilyn Monroe', Park, Chan Girl, 2011, From the collection of: Korean Art Museum Association
An iconic image of Marilyn Monroe recreated. The texture of the piece is its emphasis. Lines curve to form the well-known scene from the film and the rods that hold the pieces together appear to give an upward movement, recreating that blast of air from beneath. There is a great sense of motion here.
Homage to Billie Holiday, Pino Pascali, 1964, From the collection of: Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Torino
A powerfully simple image in homage to jazz singer Billie Holiday. The texture is smooth, and the work is at once angular and organic with curves. The black background is in sharp contrast to the bright red lips, and may comment oh her heritage as well as the silky sounds of her voice.
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