On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the spirit of womanhood through the achievements and contributions of female artists who have greatly influenced art history. Each woman in this list has defeated set stereotypes, challenged notions of gender, identity, and sexuality, forged a path for herself in the art world, and inspired the next generation of woman artists. Taking into account that it is Women’s History Month as well, Blouin Artinfo selects 13 trailblazing female artists and a feminist artist group who put women on the art world map.
Angelica Kauffman RA (1741 – 1807) and Mary Moser RA (1744-1819)
Both artists were the only two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London. Angelica Kauffman was a Neoclassical painter who also specialized in portraiture, landscape, and decorative art. She was commissioned by the Royal Academy to carry out four ceiling paintings at the Somerset House. Not only was Kauffman an accomplished artist, she had a soprano singing voice and was fluent in German, Italian, French, and English. Mary Moser is counted among the most influential women artists of 18th century Britain. From winning her first Society of Arts medal at the age of 14 to painting a commission for Queen Charlotte at the Frogmore House in Windsor, Berkshire, Moser’s work was widely recognized. After the artist’s demise in 1819, women were excluded from the academy for a stretch of 168 years until 1936 despite no explicit ban.
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938)
A French painter and artists’ model Suzanne Valadon was the first female painter allowed admission into to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Born into poverty the artist started her career with modeling and educated herself about art from reading books written by Toulouse-Lautrec and observing artists for whom she posed. She was self-taught who worked with vibrant colors and her oeuvre stands apart from trends set by academic art. Her depiction of the female body was greatly influenced by her years working as a model and understanding the male gaze.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
Considered to be an important woman artist of the modern age, Käthe Kollwitz developed her art almost autonomously. Her works reflect poverty, hunger, and how the war affected the working class. The artist portrayed these elements through her famous artworks such as “The Weavers” and “The Peasant War.” Throughout her career, Kollwitz produced a total of 275 prints, in etching, woodcut, and lithography. The artist was the first woman to be elected as a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts and also has a museum dedicated to her works in Berlin, Germany.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
American painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt is considered to be an important female figure who was part of the Impressionism Movement. Even though women were not encouraged to pursue an active career, Cassatt went against this norm and enrolled herself at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia when she was just 15. Throughout her life, the artist remained an advocate of equal rights for both sexes. She also campaigned for the right to vote in the 1910s. Cassatt’s paintings bring forth the depiction of the woman in the 19th century from a female perspective. The artist influenced the beginning of the recreation of “New Woman” a feminist ideal that gathered momentum in the late 19th century. Her portrayal of women in her work carried a dignified weight and depth.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Known as the “Mother of American modernism,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe did not follow any artistic trends and remained true to her vision. Central to her oeuvre was the exploration of abstract forms in nature. Best known for creating enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes, O’Keeffe was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1966 and as a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is known for her independent outlook, as an inspiring female role model, and her innovative artworks. O’Keeffe’s painting “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” (1932) sold at Sotheby's for $44.4 million. It holds the record for being the most expensive painting by a female artist to be sold at an auction.
Lyubov Popova (1889-1924)
Russian avant-garde artist, painter, and designer Lyubov Popova was one of first the female figures in Cubo-Futurism. She was a notable female artist in 20th-century Russian art. Popova co-founded Russian Constructivism and was a major figure in the development of avant-garde Russian art before the Stalinist shutdown. The artist introduced her new style of concrete art at the Jack of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow in 1916. At just the age of 35, Popova succumbed to scarlet fever. A posthumous exhibition was held in her honor at the Stroganov Institute, Moscow. Her artworks are part of collections in leading museums such as MoMA and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
The name Frida Kahlo reminds us of artistically drawn unibrow and moustache. Her paintings consisted of a folk art style and were inspired by Mexico’s popular culture. Through her works, she confronted questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her seminal work “The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas)” (1939) was created after she divorced her husband muralist Diego Rivera. Kahlo was the first Mexican artist to be featured in the Louvre’s collection. The artist was a founding member of the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana, an institution that aims to spread Mexican culture in the country as well as overseas. She has been associated with LGBTQ and feminist movements and still inspires artists and women of today.
Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
Born to immigrant parents from Russia, Lee Krasner was an American abstract expressionist painter. She is considered to be the female pioneer of the movement. The artist’s oeuvre consists of painting, collage painting, charcoal drawing, and mosaics. Even though she was married to painter Jackson Pollock and there was this popular notion was that she stopped working to concentrate on the domestic front that was not so. Krasner continued making art and after her death, the Pollock–Krasner Foundation was established that supports struggling artists. The artist is considered to be a feminist role model. Krasner is among the few female artists to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.
Louise Bourgeois (1911- 2010)
Known for her use of highly personal visual language to create three-dimensional artworks, Louise Bourgeois’ work dealt with the concepts of sexuality, body, and domestic life and also the subconscious and death. For the artist, art was a healing process to the events that took place during her childhood. Not afraid of using the female form from a new perspective, her sculptures such as “Fillette” (1968) are a proof of that. Through her gatherings at her home in Chelsea, Bourgeois inspired numerous young artists to create feminist art. The artist became a member of the Fight Censorship Group and defended the use of sexual imagery in artworks. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art hosted her first retrospective.
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama is synonymous with polka dots and bright colors. The artist studied the traditional Japanese style of painting which is termed as Nihonga but became a known figure in the 1960s avant-garde art scene. Kusama is known to push the boundaries of art and primarily creates sculpture and installation. Her immersive and mesmerizing installations such as the “Mirror/Infinity rooms” create an illusion of an infinite space. The artist has been exhibited at the 33rd Venice Biennale. Kusama has influenced and motivated a generation of female artists and played a major role in establishing contemporary art in Japan. Kusama’s work, “White No. 28” (1960), sold for $6.2 million in 2014. Her works can be found in museum collections such as the MoMA in New York, the LACMA, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, among others.
Marina Abramović (b. 1946)
The artist pioneered the use of the body in art. She is a Serbian performance artist, who explores the concepts of confrontation of pain, blood, and limits of the body. Abramović examines the relationship that exists between the performer and the audience. For the artist, the body is her subject, be it her collaborative work with German artist Ulay or her recreation of the works of five artists in the “Seven Easy Pieces” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her art has been shocking and at the same time challenging and moving in nature. She is the recipient of the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale and the New York Dance and Performance Awards in 2002, among others. Abramović has played a major role in influencing performance art through the years.
Shirin Neshat (b.1957)
Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat’s work focuses on Islam and the West, the concepts of femininity and masculinity, what is public and private, tradition and modernity, and bridging the gap between these elements. The artist works with film, video, and photography. Neshat’s powerful images explore femininity connected to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her homeland as can be seen in her works, the “Unveiling” (1993) and “Women of Allah” (1993–97) series. Her work examines social, political, and psychological dimensions that are part of women’s lives in modern-day Islamic societies. Neshat was awarded at the XLVIII Venice Biennale in 1999 and the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival in 2009.
Guerrilla Girls (Founded in 1985)
No list would be complete without mentioning the anonymous group of feminist activist artists Guerrilla Girls. Since it was formed 55 people have been part of this group. The group continuously challenges established notions of patriarchy. Their anonymity keeps the issues that they address in the spotlight. The group’s oeuvre consists of posters, performances, lectures, protests, installations, and limited edition prints. They have organized over 100 street projects, posters and stickers all across the globe, including New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Istanbul, London, Bilbao, Rotterdam, and Shanghai, among others. Their first work has now become an iconic image which raises the question: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
Click on the slideshow for a sneak peek at the artists’ works.