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Female artists, the great forgotten ones in art history?
Major Questions in Art History
15.04.2020 | Nina Meisel

The place and importance of female artists in art history is still not self-evident for everyone. The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich (first edition published in 1950), a fundamental art-historical reference, is a prime example of this. Its English and French editions do not mention any women, and its German edition cites only one. However, as early as the 1970s initiatives to (re)discover female artists, led by researchers such as Linda Nochlin, gave rise to exhibitions highlighting work by women, such as Some Canadian Women Artists at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in 1975, elles@centrepompidou at the Musée national d’Art moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou in 2009, and more recently, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, initially organised at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2017.

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 example, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a major twentieth-century French American artist was seventy when she had her first retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1981. And then it was not until 2008 that a major French institution, the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou, presented an exhibition of her work. Pioneer video artist, Nil Yalter (born in 1938), had to wait until 2016 before the 49 Nord 6 Est – FRAC Lorraine presented her first retrospective. Other artists have received posthumous recognition, such as the surrealist photographer Claude Cahun (1894-1954) who was discovered in the 1990s more than thirty years after her death.

Like institutional recognition, the art market has been late in taking notice of female artists. The financial question is clear in certain careers, such as that of Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), split between saleable academic work and mediumistic painting, where she distinguished herself as a pioneer of abstraction. She was not rediscovered until 1986, forty-two years after her death, in the exhibition The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890-1985 in Los Angeles. According to the artist’s wishes, her will stipulated that her work was to remain secret for at least twenty years after her death, yet it was not until 2008 that her first retrospective was held at the Modern Museet in Stockholm. Cuban painter and sculptor Carmen Herrera (born in 1915) is another example: she sold her first painting in 2004, at the age of eight-nine. This sale was followed by institutional success and the inauguration of a significant retrospective of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2016.

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1938 | Egypt
Nil Yalter - AWARE

Nil Yalter

1915 | Cuba
Carmen Herrera - AWARE

Carmen Herrera

1911 — France | 2010 — United States
Louise Bourgeois - AWARE

Louise Bourgeois

1862 — 1944 | Sweden
Hilma af Klint - AWARE

Hilma af Klint

1894 — France | 1954 — Jersey
Claude Cahun - AWARE

Claude Cahun

1931 — 2019 | Lebanon
Huguette Caland - AWARE

Huguette Caland

1936 — Germany | 1970 — United States
Eva Hesse - AWARE

Eva Hesse

1908 — 1958 | Poland
Maria Jarema - AWARE

Maria Jarema

1967 — 1999 | Cuba
Belkis Ayón - AWARE

Belkis Ayón

1886 — 1973 | Brazil
Tarsila do Amaral - AWARE

Tarsila do Amaral

1939 — Bangladesh | 2015 — France
Novera Ahmed - AWARE

Novera Ahmed

1912 — 1973 | Hungary
Klára Langer - AWARE

Klára Langer

1913 — 2009 | United States
Helen Levitt - AWARE

Helen Levitt

1930 — 1999 | United States
Lee Lozano - AWARE

Lee Lozano

1907 — 1969 | United Kingdom
Mary Martin - AWARE

Mary Martin

1898 — China | 1986 — Switzerland
Fang Junbi (Fan Tchun-pi) - AWARE

Fang Junbi (Fan Tchun-pi)

1910 — Hungary | 2003 — Netherlands
Eva Besnyő - AWARE

Eva Besnyő

1877 — 1962 | Germany
Gabriele Münter - AWARE

Gabriele Münter

1900 — 1984 | United States
Alice Neel - AWARE

Alice Neel

1889 — 1978 | Germany
Hannah Höch - AWARE

Hannah Höch

1827 — 1888 | France
Éléonore Escallier - AWARE

Éléonore Escallier

1840 — 1916 | France
Marie Bracquemond - AWARE

Marie Bracquemond

1801 — 1886 | Italy
Félice de Fauveau - AWARE

Félice de Fauveau

1912 — 1986 | Switzerland
Verena Loewensberg - AWARE

Verena Loewensberg

1881 — United Kingdom | 1962 — Switzerland
Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn - AWARE

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn

1894 — Moravia (now Czech Republic) | 1980 — Israel
Anna Ticho - AWARE

Anna Ticho

1929 — 2015 | Norway
Inger Sitter - AWARE

Inger Sitter

1848 — Spain | 1924 — France
Amélie Beaury-Saurel - AWARE

Amélie Beaury-Saurel

1844 — 1923 | France
Sarah  Bernhardt - AWARE

Sarah Bernhardt

1799 — 1871 | United Kingdom
Anna Atkins - AWARE

Anna Atkins

1844 — United States | 1926 — France
Mary Cassatt - AWARE

Mary Cassatt

1927 — 2014 | Spain
Esther Boix - AWARE

Esther Boix

1815 — India | 1879 — Sri Lanka
Julia Margaret Cameron - AWARE

Julia Margaret Cameron

1814 — Spain | 1884 — United Kingdom
Georgiana Houghton - AWARE

Georgiana Houghton

1820 — Italy | 1904 — France
Mathilde Létizia Wilhelmine Bonaparte - AWARE

Mathilde Létizia Wilhelmine Bonaparte

1869 — 1937 | France
Clémentine-Hélène Dufau - AWARE

Clémentine-Hélène Dufau

1825 — 1909 | France
Hélène Bertaux - AWARE

Hélène Bertaux

1860 — 1957 | France
Gabrielle Debillemont-Chardon - AWARE

Gabrielle Debillemont-Chardon

1828 — 1888 | France
Claude Vignon (Marie-Noémi Cadiot-Constant Rouvier, dite) - AWARE

Claude Vignon (Marie-Noémi Cadiot-Constant Rouvier, dite)

1903 — 1974 | Turkey
Aliye Berger - AWARE

Aliye Berger

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