My mom asked me, why am I writing this article about female artists?  I was working late at night after my regular job in covid isolation.  She was an architect, also not specifically a female job occupation, so the question surprised me. Was it more important than me having a rest? Do artworks have to do anything with gender at the end of the day? I felt I have to pay my respect for women working in a male predominant area, as I do as well.

Does art have gender?

I recall a collective exhibition opening where I liked some pictures a lot. When the time for the artist to speak came, I was surprised to see a woman. I felt the art was so masculine. Since then I bought some pictures of this artist as well. So maybe there is a feeling behind the art and it has nothing to do with the gender of the creator.

Our long list

The topic is popular, and there are plenty of top lists. Nevertheless, I still decided to share some of the big names in female visual arts, as repetition is the mother of knowledge. Our is a long list, as we tried to cover an international collection. We are brief and offer further read for the ones interested. It shows that France and today the USA are places that offer great development opportunities. Also, some periods were very productive from this point of view. We stop at the 70-is, as we believe the time has to show, who will make it to the final Hall of Female Artistic Fame.

Character and talent count

Besides talent, the painters we emphasize had a strong will to express their thoughts, ideas, and to do what they liked to do regardless of social acceptance. We all needed these first breezes of change to get equal rights across all areas.

In the beginning, predominantly women from wealthy families could learn drawing and painting. Nevertheless, exactly those same women were expected to marry and forget professional challenges. Others had even no option to explore creativity outside of folklore type of arts like pottery, tapestry. But slowly times changed. Some ladies were allowed to work in the shadow of male artists, or guided by their father artists. They made it to the house of fame. The 20th-century brought bigger changes and surely but slowly as female created artworks were added to museum collections around the world, including those of NYC institutions such as The MetMoMA, and the Guggenheim.

New times

I have been hearing from female artists we work with that still some galleries say male artists score better sales. Nevertheless in 2021 according to data by Artsy in auctions and on the secondary market, a lot of female newcomers made headlines. Last year 19 living artists achieved new auction records of over $1 million for the first time. The Artsy list below showcases works from this group. Luckily we see plenty of female artists on it, like Avery Singer, scoring $4,5M.

 Source: Artsy https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-9-key-insights-auction-market-2021

The data does not include NFTs.

The HINSA. List

I am afraid, besides Freda Khalo, maybe if you are not a real art fan many names will be new. These ladies though have more in common than their gender and career path. They stood for their right of expression, breaking barriers in their personal and public life. Check our short reflection of women, who paved the way for success. We made the list in chronological principle, as time played a role, and you can click for more info on the names.

  •  SOFONISBA ANGUISSOLA (1532–1625) Italian
    • Born into a relatively poor, but noble family, her father enabled her and her sisters to get proper education that incorporated fine art. She had the opportunity to learn from respected local painters. Anguissola’s talent was even picked by Michelangelo. She carried on an informal mentorship through the exchange of drawings. Later she earned a role as a painter in the court of King Philip II of Spain, where she worked for 14 years. She developed her skills for official court portraiture for the nobles.
  • ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI   (1593–1656) Italian
    • She was the daughter of an accomplished painter. This allowed her to have access to the art world early on. She helped in her father’s workshop mixing paints. Then he discovered her gift and supported her career. Artemisia did not let her gender hold her back when she chose her motives. She painted large-scale classical and mythological scenes. She was also the first woman accepted to the prestigious Fine Art Academy in Florence.

  • JUDITH LEYSTER (1609–1660) Dutch
    • Born in Haarlem, Judith earned a leading role during the Dutch Golden Age. Leyster specialized in the typical for the time dutch genre paintings, still life, and portraits. She became one of the first women admitted to the painter’s guild in Haarlem.
  • ÉLISABETH VIGÉE LE BRUN (1755–1842) French
    • Élisabeth was a self-thought artist, who had to fight many obstacles to reach her goal. She was working during some of the most turbulent times in European history. Marie Antoinette helped her through to be admitted into the French Academy when she was only 28 as one of only four female members. Vigée Le Brun was celebrated for her sympathetic portraits of aristocratic women. They had a more natural tone than the works of her contemporaries.
  • ROSA BONHEUR (1822–1899) French
    • Rosa’s father was a painter, as in many of the cases before. She is considered one of the most famous female artists of the 19th century. Rosa dared to paint large-format pictures that featured animals. The artist exhibited often at the acclaimed Paris salon. She managed to be successful also abroad in both the United States and Britain.
  • BERTHE MORISOT (1841–1895) French
    • She was also born into an aristocratic French family. She got in touch with art being a great-niece of celebrated Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Her works made brought her recognition as a great female Impressionist. She exhibited her works at the respected Paris Salon then joined the first Impressionist exhibit with Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, and Degas.
  • MARY CASSATT (1844–1926) American
    • The only American female artist officially associated with Impressionism. Besides she helped introduce European art to major collectors in the United States as an art advisor.
  • TAMARA DE LEMPICKA (1898–1980) Polish
    • This Polish artist was maybe the first female artist celebrity ever. Her style is truly recognizable and unique. The highly stylized portraits, strong colors, and nudes exemplify the Art Deco De Lempicka spent much of her career in France and the United States, where her work was favored by aristocrats.
Tamara Selfportait (www.delempicka.org)
  • HILMA af KLINT (1862-1944) Swedish
    • During this time, spiritualism and Theosophy gained momentum. People, including af Klint, looked for a way to incorporate religion with recent scientific advancements. Af Klint’s works are so extremely modern. She got inspired to create a major group of nonfigurative, nonobjective works called The Paintings for the Temple. The 193 paintings were created between 1906 and 1915. She explored a dualistic perception of creation, evolution, and the universe.
  • SONIA DELAUNAY (1885-1979) Ukrainian
    • She was born in a Jewish family in Russia, then was adopted by her wealthy uncle allowing her to explore Europe and study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe and  Académie de La Palette in Montparnasse. She spent her life in Paris and became an acclaimed Ukrainian abstract Avant-gardist. Sonia moved between art and design, creating a new art of contrasting colors, geometrical shapes, and bright light on everyday objects, books, or clothing. Maybe she could have started our HINSA. a century ago.
  • HANNAH HÖCH (1889–1978) German
    • She was a German Dada artist. She was the originator of the photomontage style, so well spread today. Hannah created the concept of the “New Woman“: an energetic, professional, genderless woman, who is ready to take her place as a man’s equal.

        HannaHöch Staatlische Museen Berlin
  • NATALIA GONCHAROVA (1881-1962) Russian-French
    • Born in Russia, she was an Avant-guard artist, costume designer, set designer. writer, illustrator. in 1924 she moved to France. She took an active part in various avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. She combined modernism with elements of traditional Russian folk art and Paul Gauguin’s ornamental treatment of figure groups, icon painting, oriental art, and Cubism.
  • AUGUSTA SAVAGE (1892-1962) American
    • Augusta is one of the first well-known Afro-American sculptors. Besides being an essential part of the Harlem Renaissance. she was also an influential teacher and activist. She advocated for equal rights for African-Americans in the arts – so popular today. In 1931 she launched her Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, which became the Harlem Community Art Center, 1932.
  • FRIDA  KAHLO (1907–1954) Mexican
    • She was born to a German father with apparently Hungarian roots and a mestiza Although she was disabled by polio as a child, Kahlo had been a promising student until she suffered a bus accident at the age of 18, which caused her lifelong pain and medical problems, but turned her into an authentic unique artist. She is maybe the most famous female artist due to her constant remaking and layering of her own identity. Frida mixed the exploration of her soul creating also identity political statements. This lady continues to inspire artists today.

        • Frida Kahlo, Gianni Dalgi Orti
        REXShutterstock
  • LEONORA CARRINGTON (1917-2011) British-Mexican 
    • An artist and novelist knew for her surrealist work, Leonora Carrington was born in the United Kingdom and studied painting at the Chelsea School of Art before transferring to the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts in London in 1936. She was inspired by the work of German painter Max Ernst, whom she met and was involved with romantically. When during WWII Ernst was arrested by local authorities and forced to flee persecution. Peggy Guggenheim helped him and he later married her. Carrington was hospitalized with a mental breakdown and treated with powerful drugs as a result of her loss. Again art meant therapy for her and helped her to prevail and created very special artworks.
  • ELAINE STURTEVANT (1924-2014) American
    • She got real recognition for her carefully inexact repetitions of other artists’ works. She questioned so in a creative way the hierarchy of gender, originality, and authorship, as well as the structures of art and culture. Warhol, one of her favorite pop-art motives, even acquiesced to let Sturtevant use his screen maker to produce the same Marilyn screen that he used in his work.
  • GEORGIA O’KEEFE (1887–1986) American
    • In 1915 was one of the very first American artists to produce a purely abstract work of art. This was the time of the dominant movement of American realism. In Music, Pink and Blue from 1918, O’Keefe abstracts a floral subject with extreme cropping, producing an archway of colorful petals that hum with musical energy suggested by the title. The theories and work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky partly inspired O’Keeffe to explore “the idea that music could be translated into something for the eye,” to achieve pure expression free of other external references. What a powerful co-creation attempt, which today goes hand in hand.
      Georgia O’keefe-gettyimages
  • LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1911–2010) French-American
    • Born in Paris to parents who ran a tapestry restoration business. She grew up helping them in the workshop, filling in missing parts of the designs depicted on the tapestries. She studied mathematics and geometry at the Sorbonne, but then she returned to art, practicing printmaking, painting, and large-scale sculpting throughout her long and varied career.
  • AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004) Canadian
    • Agnes is associated with the minimalist movement. She is through a league of her own, being difficult to categorize. She refers to herself as an Abstract Expressionist. Being very private and spiritual, Martin explained that visualized her paintings fully formed, the size of postage stamps, which she would translate onto large-scale canvases.
  • ETEL ADNAN (1925 -2021) Lebanese
    • The Lebanese painter, essayist, and poet was born in a mixed family of many nationalities and social backgrounds.  She grew up speaking Greek and Turkish in a primarily Arabic-speaking society, but she was educated at French convent schools: So French became the language in which her early work was first written.[9] She also studied English in her youth, and most of her later work was first written in this language In 2003, she was named “the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today”. In her visual art, she shows philosophical abstraction in blocks of paint.
  • BETEYE SAAR (1926-) American
    • The afro-American visual storyteller and printmaker visited in 1967, an exhibition by found objects sculptor Joseph Cornell that radically impacted her artistic trajectory. She began lining assemblage boxes with her prints and drawings. She filled them with found objects, creating pieces that addressed race and current events. During the 1970s, Saar was a member of the Black Arts Movement, composed of poets, writers, performers, and artists who merged activism and art to confront white power structures and give voice to the Black experience
  • HELEN FRANKENTHALER  (1928-2011) American
    • First and foremost a colorist, Frankenthaler poured cans of paint onto raw canvas, allowing the material to soak into the support, forming amorphous shapes. She was thus a pioneer of color field painting—a style that features large swaths of color as the painting’s “subject.” As a woman of Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler broke through the masculine-dominated movement and let her unique artistic voice be heard.
  • JOAN MITCHELL (1925 -1992) American
    • Along with Frankenthaler, this leading American Abstract Expressionist gained critical and public acclaim as one of the few females in the field. Her paintings are intense expansive and gestural. Sometimes maybe even be violent. She loved painting landscapes. Her style consisted of oppositions: light versus dark, grid versus chaos, consistency versus limpidity. At Christie’s New York in 2014, Mitchell’s untitled 1960 abstract painting, sold for $11.9 million, established a new record for an artwork by any female artist at auction.
  • YAYOI KUSAMA (1929-) Japanese
    • The queen of the polka dot, Yayoi Kusama was a significant force of the avant-garde art scene in the 1960s. She is famous for her sculptures, installations. The Japanese artist pushes the boundaries of art making. Kusama moved into fashion through her recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Her show in Tate Modern is sold out already showing that a successful artist has no gender nor age, but just unique memorable creative style which tells us a story.
  • JUNE LEAF (1929 -) American
    • Born and raised in Chicago, June Leafbriefly trained at the IIT Institute of Design before setting out to pursue her own independent learning in art in Paris. She developed an allegorical style across several mediums. Through pen and ink drawings, canvas paintings, and kinetic sculpture, her art work embraces the abstract and unusual.
  • BRIDGET RILEY (1931-) English
    • Bridget Riley became the star of Op Art in 1965 after her inclusion in the 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye” at The Museum of Modern Art. She is exploring what she terms the “formal structures of seeing”. Her black and white period with geometric formal repertory is her most famous phase. This made her be the first woman painter ever to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1968.
  • PAULA REGO (1935-) Portugese-British
    • Her art has challenged the audience for decades. She is Dame and the the only woman in The London Group. Paula’s refined paintings and prints are often based on children’s folktales. Rego’s style has evolved from semi-abstract in the 1960s towards representational. She moved from oil paint and collage to pastels. Here work reflects feminism, a world of pain but also a ferocious satire.
  • VIJA CLEMINS (1938- ) Latvian-American
    • Born in Riga, Latvia, then after WWII her family moved to the USA in 48, where she got her artistic education. In 1965, she refused to follow the predominant Formalism and started to create illusionistic and magical paintings and drawings of ocean waves, clouds, night skies, the moon’s surface. They were so realistic that could have been mistaken for photographs. Her documentary technique called “redescription”, rendered in graphite, charcoal, or oil paint has always stood outside traditional stylistic currents.
  • JUDY CHICAGO (1939 – ) American
    • During the 1970s, Chicago founded the first feminist art program in the United States at California State University Fresno (formerly Fresno State College) and acted as a catalyst for feminist art and art education. Famous for her installations, she went back to late 18th-century Paris for her work The Dinner Party. From 1974 to 1979, Chicago produced an iconic installation commemorating 1,038 women in history, with embroidered entry banners, an engraved floor, and a massive triangular banquet table of place settings for 39 women, with guests ranging from the Primordial Goddess to Georgia O’Keeffe. Currently housed in the Sackler Center at the Brooklyn Museum, the installation is a centerpiece of feminist art. This has inspired projects, like the „Guess, who is coming to Dinner too?” (2017-2021) by Patricia Koersenhaut, presented at the Haarlem’s Frans Halls Museum in NL.
  • MARINA ABRAMOVIć  (1946- ) Serbian
    • Marina is the self-proclaimed grandmother of performance art. She was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), to strict parents with close ties to the country’s Communist regime. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade before completing her master’s at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. Then She began exploring performance art in the ’70s. She always is the medium to more closely connect with her audience, turning art into a co-creative experience, where viewer and artist interact.  In 2007, she founded the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), a non-profit foundation for performance art.
  • ADRIAN PIPER (1948- ) American
    • A conceptual and performance artist, Piper is addressing hot issues associated with gender and race. As a light-skinned Black female artist, her confrontational work remains extremely prescient and significant today, pushing us to question societal hierarchy and the perception of identity.
  • MARILYN MINTER (1948- ) American
    • Marilyn Minter’s photorealistic work addresses contemporary beauty ideals, sexuality, and the human body within the style of glossy fashion imagery. She started capturing scenes associated with feminine domesticity like the kitchen floor and various food products. In the ’80s, she focused her lens on more sensual subjects, namely the female body and pornography. Her sexually explicit work received widespread backlash, which compelled Minter to explore why passion, desire, and intimacy were—and are—shrouded in public discomfort.
  • MARLENE DUMAS (1953- ) South-African
    • Born in Cape Town, she started painting in 1973 trying to express political identity concerns. Being a “White-African” works with oil on canvas and ink on paper to trace emotionally intense and dramatic portraits of human faces, nude figures, groups of people.
  • CINDY SHERMAN (1954- ) American
    • An important artist of the Pictures Generation, a group of American artists in the early ’70s, is known for their analysis of media culture. Cindy creates often photographic self-portraits that critique gender and identity.
  • SHIRIN NESHAT (1957- ) Iranian
    • Born in Qazvin, Iran, Shirin Neshat moved to the United States in 1974 to study at the University of California at Berkeley, earning a BA and MA in fine arts in 1983. She then moved to New York City and worked at the Storefront for Art and Architecture for 10 years. After returning to Iran in 1993, 14 years after the Islamic Revolution, she began to again create art. Neshat’s projects often explore various oppositions, from Islam and the West to male and female. Today she is one of the most famous Middle East artists.
  • BEATRIZ MILHAZES (1960-) Brazilian
    • As one of the most original voices in contemporary Brazilian art, Beatriz is also one of the top-selling female artists alive. She creates vibrant, colorful, kaleidoscopic large-scale paintings. Beatriz combines Brazilian imaginary with modernist European design elements.
  • GHADA AMER (1963- ) Egyptian
    • Her family emigrated to Paris, when she was11, where she was educated in art. She paints pictures with needle and thread instead of brush and paint. Amer’s work questions gender and sexuality issues, our ordinary and rigid boundaries between male and female, and how Western view tends to transform women into stereotyped objects. She works in New York but is of the top-selling artists of the Middle East.
  • ELLEN GALLAGHER (1965- ) American
    • In 1995, the black painter abstract painter, and multimedia artist creating minimalist work was invited to show at the Whitney Biennial in New York, because of her aesthetic technique. Her parody of American minstrels from the 19th century translated into a series of small pictographs on large paper and canvas surfaces – caught the attention of the American art scene, such as Kiki Smith and Nan Goldin. She was strongly influenced by Agnes Martin.
  • CAI JIN (1965- ) Chinese
    • In the 1990s, the chinese painter Cai Jin was one of the most famous and important women artists in China. She started taking part in the country’s Avant-Garde movement. Influenced by Van Gogh and other Impressionists, Cai Jin is best known for her long series of lyrical Banana paintings. The studies of a dying tropical plant that obsessed her for many years have begun to dialogue with abstract paintings, creating cloud-filled skies and submarine landscapes.
  • JULIE MEHRETU (1970- ) Ethiopian
    • She is well-known for her multilayered and thick acrylic paintings with mark-making (using pencil, pen, ink) on monumental canvases. Her area of interest is predominantly architecture and the densely populated cities of the 21st Century. She calls her rich and highly worked canvases “story maps of no location”.
  • MICKALENE THOMAS (1971- ) American
    • The African-American visual artist is best known for her collage-like paintings. They are vibrant portraits and detailed interiors that address themes including sexuality, race, beauty, and gender, and examine how the representation of women in popular culture informs our definition of femininity.
  • DEL KATHRYN BARTON (1972- ) Australian
    • She is best known for her psychedelic fantasy works, which are an art world sensation. Her decorative, highly detailed paintings are a combination of traditional painting techniques with contemporary design and illustrative styles and animation. Del Kathryn Barton has the power to articulate the fantasy and imaginative plot of her childhood without artistic precedents.

The list will grow over time, as we see also 18 years old reach the fame ladder via NFT and digital artworks. And if you want to follow the recent developments you can follow what Christie’s things about, whom to pay attention to these days.

Further reads:

http://advancingwomenartists.org/ Non-profit, who just was closed but keeps the talent of the past remembered

https://mymodernmet.com/famous-female-painters-art-history/

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/art-famous-women-artists

https://youtu.be/n-lTfj7uqNs

https://www.kooness.com/posts/magazine/25-most-iconic-female-painters

https://thebluereview.net/20-most-important-female-artists-of-2020-7852e745c03e

By Anna Najdenova

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