Sometimes it seems like most of the historical artists we hear about are men. This is tragic. Until just a few decades ago, women in the arts were not celebrated, and neither were their legacies documented – especially women who created feminist art. They were the utter outcasts of the art world. But were they ever gifted. How about historical feminist artists?
Do you know of any historical female artists who made feminist art? (Some people aren’t familiar with even one historical female artist, period!) If not, read on to learn about some women who have been shaking up the world of art for the past several hundred years.
4 Historical Feminist Artists You Should Know About
- Elisabetta Sirani – Elisabetta Sirani was an Italian painter who made her mark during the Baroque era. She painted over 200 creations during her short life (she died at age 27). Why was she a feminist? Well, she managed her family’s workshop, was independent by age 19, started an art academy for women, and was the sole financial provider for her family after her father became ill with gout. All of her earnings came from her art.
- Judith Leyster – Like Sirani, Judith Leyster was a Baroque painter. However, she was from the Netherlands. In 1633, at age 22, she joined the Haarlem Painter’s Guild of St. Luke. Leyster was a working woman who had her own workshop, taught art lessons, and raised a family. Her name became obsolete shortly after her death in 1660, but her works were rediscovered in 1890. Ever since then she has been receiving the accolades she deserves.
- Edmonia Lewis – Edmonia Lewis was an Afro-Haitan/African-American neoclassical sculptor of the mid-1800s. Lewis studied art at Oberlin college. Not surprisingly, she was discriminated against through the course of her education. Priscilla Frank, writer for the Huffington Post, wrote that Lewis was “beaten and accused of poisoning fellow classmates. After graduating, she moved to Boston to pursue sculpture, namely recreating abolitionists and Civil War heroes. She eventually spent most of her artistic career living in Rome, where she created painstakingly beautiful marble sculptures in neoclassical tradition. She’s best known for her 3,015-pound marble sculpture, ‘The Death of Cleopatra,’ and we can see why. The behemoth form has all the drama and softness of a Michelangelo sculpture, as well as a truly awesome headpiece.”
- Frida Kahlo – Of all the artists mentioned here, Frida Kahlo is by far the most famous. A feminist icon, Kahlo was a Mexican self-portrait artist. She was born in 1907 in Mexico City, and married communist artist Diego Rivera in 1929. Frida didn’t begin painting until after she was in a bus accident that significantly injured her. She died in 1954, by which time she had made a huge impact on the art community that continues to echo today. If you’re not familiar with Kahlo’s story, read it here.
These four women were, to say the least, brave. They endured persecution for simply being themselves. Today, female artists (particularly those who label themselves as feminist) have it better, but they still encounter injustices.
Do you want to foster gender equality in the art world? Then take the time to learn about female artists, both current and historical, and share their stories with your children, on social media, and in conversation.
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