5 Notable Women in Art History

Women have been and continue to be an integral part of the art institution as creators, innovators and collectors. In honour of Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a list of 5 notable women whose legacies have helped shape the art industry. Don’t forget to check out this week’s curation, The World by Women, to see landscapes through the female gaze. 

1. Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was the most accomplished female artist of the seventeenth century. Born in Italy, she became a professional artist at a mere 15 years old. Artemisia was the first female to join Accademia di Arte del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing) in Florence. This was a monumental feat, as art studies were previously inaccessible to women. Her early baroque-style paintings feature empowered female protagonists. Artemisia’s artworks were self-representative and a form of retribution for the repression, injustice, and rape she endured throughout her life. Centuries after her death, Artemisia is a celebrated feminist who helped pave the way for women in art.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

2. Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim is a famous art collector, philanthropist and supporter of twentieth-century art. She owned and managed the Art of This Century gallery in Manhattan, New York. She is the fairy godmother of the Modern art movement. Peggy helped discover and foster the careers of several critically-acclaimed painters. From 1942 to 1947, she organised ground-breaking group exhibitions dedicated to female artists. During this time, Peggy also hosted many solo exhibitions of female artists. Peggy gifted multiple artworks to museum directors located across the world. This was an attempt to encourage others to acquire and exhibit twentieth-century art.

Peggy Guggenheim arranging Alexander Calder’s Arc of Petals.

Peggy Guggenheim, photographed as she arranged Alexander Calder’s Arc of Petals.

3. Janet Sobel

Many attribute the abstract “drip” technique to Jackson Pollock, but this technique can be traced back to 1938 in artworks by Janet Sobel. The 45-year-old Ukrainian-born grandmother had no artistic training when she began experimenting with her son’s painting supplies. This freedom of expression resulted in her unconventional, creative process. Janet painted using everyday materials, such as a vacuum and an eye dropper. People were impressed by Sobel’s innovative practice and non-representative paintings. She quickly rose in notability in the New York art scene. Peggy Guggenheim offered Sobel a solo exhibition that would capture Pollock’s attention and inspire his work. Sadly, Sobel developed an allergy to paint, forcing her to abandon the practice entirely.

Janet Sobel is pictured laying on the floor of her studio.

Janet Sobel is lying on the floor of her studio.

4. Frida Kahlo

This list wouldn’t be complete without Frida Kahlo. Frida is famous for her controversial self-portraits that blend surrealism with traditional Mexican imagery. Her colourful portraits explore confronting topics that allude to her tumultuous life. They include symbolic depictions of self-identity, miscarriage, heartbreak, the female form, and emotional and physical pain. Today, Frida is admired by many for her unapologetic persona. She fought ruthlessly for her convictions in the name of social justice. Her famous unibrow, for example, represents her rejection of beauty stereotypes. A bisexual woman of colour with disabilities, Frida has become a symbol of a woman’s strength in the face of adversity. In this curation, you can find artworks that pay homage to Frida (and many other great artists). 

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo, one of the notable women in art.

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo.

5. Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe is referred to as the “Mother of American modernism.” She painted enlarged flowers commonly misinterpreted as thinly veiled renderings of vaginas. O’Keeffe’s creative intent was to bridge the gap between abstraction and representation. “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me—shapes and ideas near to me—so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew to strip away what I had been taught,” O’Keeffe once said. O’Keeffe painted and photographed magnificent flowers, animal skulls, landscapes, and skyscrapers. She lived and worked in the United States and New Mexico until her death.

Georgia O’Keeffe was Alfred Stieglitz muse. He photographed her throughout their turbulent marriage.

We hope you enjoyed learning about these notable women in art. View this week’s curation, The World by Women, to see landscapes made by female Bluethumb artists that express the all-powerful female gaze. Please tell us about the women that have inspired your art in the comments below 🤩

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