I thought “There must be more stories where a woman’s artwork has been presented as a man’s,” after seeing Tim Burton’s film Bright Eyes, the story of Margaret Keane, whose paintings are among the best-known and loved popular images of the past 40-50 years. Many reviews of the film mock Margaret’s “Big Eyes” images, and the NY Times art critic (played by the terrifying Terence “Kneel Before Zod!” Stamp) echoes one of the easiest ways to stop a female artist – mock and denigrate her honest work. Sure, he was criticizing work he thought was painted by Frank Keane — but when it was Frank, it just gave Frank more publicity (“The snobs don’t like it – but regular people do!”) and encouragement since Frank was all on about money and fame.
Here is Judith Leyster, a Dutch Master (“Mistress”). Her paintings were sold to the public as by Frans Hals, the “lively” Dutch Master. She painted work “after the manner” of Hals.
Judith looks like someone I’d love to know.
Oh yeah, like this is by Frans Hals. It’s a completely different (better, in my opinion) hand and eye. Most notably, it uses negative space, and I think this is a woman’s eye. This is an amazing picture.
It really is by Judith Leyster. Much of her work was credited to Frans Hals and other Dutch Masters — some dealers even went so far as to obscure her signature image (a logo that was a play on her name) and put the other artist’s name over it, Frank Keane-style.
Thinking Judith had a pretty good life all-told. She married twice, and apparently her second marriage, to another painter, was happy. She died in 1660 at age 50 in Haarlem in the Netherlands.
This beautiful painting is by Marie-Denise Villers, and was originally shown and attributed to Jacques-Louis David, with whom she studied. The painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
It is thought now to be not only a painting by Marie-Denise Villers, but also a self-portrait.
It’s simple to see the similarities in style between this painting and David’s work.
David also painted the famous picture of Marat in his suicide bath, “one of the most famous images of the French Revolution.”
So, only 213 years later, do people look at Marie’s painting, and see what it really said and says. There are millions of words now-written about the “male gaze” (Oath of the Horatii is a fine depiction).
I like it better than Girl With the Pearl Earring – a picture about which an entire film has been made, an image which has now been shown to have been created in a process using optics – i.e. a Dutch Master version of a photograph, not a painting as it’s traditionally created.
Here is another painting by Marie-Denise,
Study of a Young Woman in Nature; Une etude de femme d’apres nature. I have my limitations in learning about this painting, because it is on Marie-Denise’s Italian Wikipedia page, not the page in English.
Look at the “big eyes!”
But there are some women who achieved success as themselves — even if women with a background in art and BA’s in studio art never heard of them before.
Before there was “Las Meninas,” (Philip IV of Spain and his queen and the Infanta), there was Philip II of Spain and his beautiful Queen Elisabeth of Valois (depicted at left) in a painting made during the 1550s.
And their court painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, whose long, notable career included informal studying with Michaelangelo and hundreds of accomplished paintings that smoke the pants off her contemporaries. Sofonisba lived to be 93 years old, and achieved extraordinary recognition and success during her lifetime.
According to an early art historian, “Anguissola has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavors at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, coloring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings.”
This most-fortunate of women received the following epitaph from her second husband, wealthy sea merchant Orazio Lomellini, “To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman.”
If you’re as familiar with Sargent’s painting as I am, you’d recognize that this portrait of Henry Sturgis Drinker (Beaux’s brother-in-law) gives him a run for his money — it’s very similar to the other informal portraits Sargent made of well-known men.
Cecilia Beaux is not as well-known today as some of her contemporaries in every major art collection such as Mary Cassatt. But Sargent also experienced denigration as a portrait painter of high skill during a time when gallery artists were going increasingly non-representational.
During her life (she lived to be 83 years old), she was well-recognized, received major commissions (though perhaps, not so “major” as Teddy Roosevelt’s White House portrait) and William Merritt Chase, who founded the school that is now known as Parsons School of Art and Design, said, “Miss Beaux is not only the greatest living woman painter, but the best that has ever lived. Miss Beaux has done away entirely with sex [gender] in art.”
According to her biography, “she thought it best not to marry,” and in this, is similar to other notable female creators during the same period, including Mary Cassatt and Julia Morgan (architect of Hearst Castle). They did call themselves “new women” and chose to pursue their vocations over family life.
Women, today, of course, experience success as fine artists and experience no issues regarding creative freedom and recognition whatsoever.
There are some female performance artists featured in ArtForum right now. This is coverage, not financial remuneration. The top 10 art auctions of 2014, according to Art News, were Giacometti, Barnett Newman, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Modigliani, Warhol (again), Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Manet, and Andy Warhol (again).
A Woman Cannot
So They Say
A woman cannot paint; she hasn’t the hand.
A woman cannot kill; she hasn’t the stomach.
A woman cannot see; she hasn’t the eye.
A woman cannot love; she hasn’t the heart.
So they say.
But I was born with the heart of a lion.
And this lion does hunt.
Like all good beasts of prey,
I take only what I need.
And I can paint, I have the hand.
I can kill, I have the stomach.
I can see, I have the eye.
I can love.
I have the heart. And oh, do I love.
Enough to paint, to kill, to see.
Oh and one more thing.
A woman cannot write; she hasn’t the voice.
Well so a lifetime taught.
Ever in the soft night,
Ever in the pale morning light.
This word, my voice — always and ever.
Like a lion’s heart, like Wilfred Owen.
Wilfred I would have been at your side.
Always they told us we could not go.
But the things you carried?
We carried them in our hearts, Wilfred.
You were our sons, our brothers, our lovers.
And we – we – remember you always and speak true.