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Could You Name 5 Female artists? Why the Month of Females in art is so important

Posted by Camille Cazin on

Why is it more difficult to remember he names of Female artists ?:  Simply because we never see them, that’s all! Female artists are, stil today, under represented in mueums and all forms of public art. There are main reasons for this : they are simply not present in the Art History and they are very much under represented in comtenporary collections.

 « Could you name 5 female artists in less than 1 minute? »

March was the month of Females in Art. Being asked about why is it so important, reminded me about a simple test I had when one would ask me why we created Fatale Art, an Art Gallery exclusively presenting Female artists.  

Simple test indeed: Could you name 5 female artists in less than 1 minute? You can’t?  Well, it’s normal, and even as feminist gallery owner, the test is much easier to complete when I’m being asked about 5 famous male artists. This is simply why the month of Females in Art is so important!

Forgotten by art history during ages.  

« Hide this penis that I cannot see ! » 

Until the end of the 19th century, Female artists ware pretty rare, for a simple reason : they did not have access to art classes. During centuries, History paint (portraits of notables, scenes celebrating kings and emperors) was sitting at the top of the hierarchy of art. The ability to properly represent human body was thus essential to execute this type of paintings. However, women were not allowed to assist to drawing classes, their models being naked men. 

 « As women did not have access to these anatomy classes for decency reasons, they of course could not be recognized as History painters, hence they could not reach the highest recognition level,” as explained Nathalie Bondil, while interviewed by Catherine Richer, Cultural columnist for 15-18.

 « Pretend being a male to exist »  

Jean-François Bélisle, General director of Joliette Art Museum, also mentions another factor explaining the low number of Historical Artwork made by female artists. Female artists used masculine pseudonyms or signed their artwork with their husband names, so that the artwork would be accepted and recognized. This was common practice in the art community, and numerous female writers used this stratagem to be published. 

Several pieces of artwork, paintings or sculptures that have been attributed to male artists might have been, in truth, produced by female artists. However, It is difficult, if not impossible, to identify a posteriori the gender of the artist. 

Even when Female artists are Recognized and talented, they often are living under the shadow of an artist spouse himself. Below are a few exemples across ages :

  • Camille Claudel’s influence in the artwork entitled « la porte des Enfers » the masterpiece consecrating Auguste Rodin as a master sculptor (1890 – 1910).
  • Joan Mitchell & Jean-Paul Riopelle couple, whose collaboration is rich. The Contribution of Mitchell in the work of Riopelle (1920 – 1990) as long be ignored 
  • Artwork by Christo and Jeanne-Claude which in majority have been attributed to Christo this name being more « bankable ». (1960 – )

NB :  Interesting to notice than if some Male artists benefitted from this to take ownership of the Work of their Spouses (e.g. Margaret Keane, « Big Eye Artist », whose Husband usurped her talent), often Journalists fail to highlight the contribution of the female in couples of artists. 

 Want to know more about forgotten females in art History?

Below are a few blogs and Instagram accounts of interest:

  • @merelachaise account depicting portraits of female artists (femmes Badass) buried in Père-Lachaise Cemetery
  • Podcast and Instagram account : @femmesdart_ highlighting females in artistic community
  • @womeninarthistory account describing the work of Female artists from various horizons. 

Some museums Looking for Gender equity . 

Some very Nice Initiatives 

If you are interested in the Art World, you could not miss the initiative by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) at the end of 2019, which drove the art community frenzy. The museum committed to acquire exclusively artwork from female artists in 2020. 

Its director explained that Out of over 95 000 artwork present in the collection of the museum, only 4% were made by women. Hence, BMA will devote approximately $2,5 MM to acquire pieces by female artists. Several galleries will also be reorganized to better highlight and expose the Women’s work, and they will organize about twenty exhibitions devoted to female artists. 

In Quebec, Two great exhibitions, have taken place over the last recent months at the MAC , one for local artist  Rebecca Belmore and the other one for the painter Janet Werner.

Beyond constantly considering representation of female artists , when organizing collective exhibitions or other projects, the MAC decided to rewrite the acquisition policy so that their intent to make female artists more visibles remain in place, even when the Management team changes. 

Some remaining Roadblocks to overcome  

It happens that attempts by museums to feminize their collections faces budgetary constraints. Yes indeed, being capable of representing more female artists requires having the resources to acquire their work. Only museums with high resources and funds can afford ambitious objectives regarding parity. 

One should understand that resources of many museums depend on donations by sponsors to build and populate their collections. Some museums can rely on some philanthropist circles focusing on acquisition of artwork created by female artists. 

MBAM could buy a paint from the expressionist American artist Elaine de Kooning, who lived during the last century, thanks to a philanthropist donation of half a million dollars. 

Conclusion: Look into the future with optimism 

Preconceived ideas and paradigms have long life, and a lot of work is still needed to change perceptions in our society. Initiatives such as «  the month of women  in Art » will be required to move mentalities sustainably, but it is really enjoyable to see articitic projects integrating parity more and more in thier thought processes.



 Want to know more about forgotten female artists in contemporary art History?

Below are a few blogs and Instagram accounts of interest:

  • @women.in.contemporary.art account highlights fantastic women
  • @all.she.makes account focuses on improving Female artists visibility across the world
  • @artgirlrising account fights against under representation of female artists in museum and galleries (on top of this, you can buy one of their nice T-shirts!

Source :
art history feminist art

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