By Sarah Davis
(As featured in the upcoming “herstory” issue of wom*news, out this friday!)
This is a short, chronological review of selected female artist’s with various artistic styles. These artists, in my opinion, have shocked and stunned audiences with their powerful pieces of art by challenging ‘society’s norms’, either through their own perceptions of femininity, feminism, sexuality or gender roles throughout history. So, here are some of my favourites from Conceptualism all the way through the years to Expressionism in the Italian Baroque era:
Jenny Saville (b. 1970) Conceptualism
Jenny Saville’s paintings are almost always incredibly hard to look at. They are larger than life, raw and emotive pieces, usually of a feminine subject matter. Most of her work contains obese and sometimes faceless women or transgender people with vast bodies. Although these figures sometimes can become subjects of genderless forms. To me, she captures the differences between society’s perceptions of feminine beauty and how women truly feel about themselves or what they feel they appear to be in another’s eyes.
Dorothea Tanning (b. 1910 d. 2012) Surrealism
Dorothea Tanning is a surrealist artist whose work consists of furniture that transforms interestingly into female forms as well as her unique portraits inspired by surrealist ideas. I chose these two paintings because firstly Family Portrait is such an excellent portrayal of family life in the 1950s including gender and class roles in a family environment. The other art work interests me because of female form is rather different from the many female depictions in art, this particular form is slightly ethereal, almost androgynous.
Tamara de Lempicki (b.1898 d. 1980) Polish Art Deco
Tamara de Lempicki was a bisexual “glamour star” who led a very eccentric lifestyle. This is certainly reflected in her art work. She mostly depicts female forms in the typical 1920s style with a distinctive and bold artistic style that is incredibly cubism inspired. However the painting examples I’ve included were the most resonant in my opinion, her nude female forms are very powerful, sensual and realistically feminine.
Mary Cassatt (b. 1844 d. 1926) Impressionism
Mary Cassatt is an impressionist painter who was inspired by Monet’s impressionist painting and even married his brother. I really enjoy her work because she depicts a lot of women’s roles in society both as a mother and as a member of society during that very interesting era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her depictions of mother and child are very beautiful however and some are very intimate and loving.
Artemisia Gentileschi (b. 1593 d. 1656) Italian Baroque
Artemisia Gentileschi is one of my favourite artists. Not only because she could be argued as one of the earlier feminists but because her art work is intense and she offers no apology for what she creates in her paintings. Her figures are always powerfully portrayed. The character’s show no fear and are beautifully calm as they murder their male victims. Other art works by Gentileschi reveal a vulnerability that the artist portrays so effectively due to her own tragic experience.
Other favourite women artists:
Frida Kahlo (b. 1907 d. 1954) Surrealism
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” (Kahlo)
Julia Margaret Cameron (b. 1815 d. 1879) Photography
Louise Élisabeth Vigée – Le Brun (b. 1755 d. 1842) Neo Classicism
Marie Antoinette’s personal painter. The ‘Smile Scandal’ in which Le Brun painted herself showing teeth in an era when this was deemed scandalous to do so.
~ Sarah Davis
References (including citations for images)
Zappa, M. (2012) Grandma Stole My Closet. Retrieved July, 2012 from
Tales From The Ink. (2009) Retrieved July, 2012, fromhttp://talesfromtheink.blogspot.com.au/2009/05/dorothea-tanning-surrealist-art.html
Norris, F. (2012) Frey Norris Gallery Annex. Retrieved July, 2012, from
Maike. (2011) They Will Never. Retrieved July, 2012, from
Tamara de Lempicka The Complete Works. (2012) Retrieved July, 2012, from
Mary Cassatt The Complete Works. (2012) Retrieved July, 2012, from
Parker, C. (2011) The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi. Retrieved July, 2012, from
Art and the Bible. (2012) Retrieved July, 2012, from
Welcome to Frida Kahlo Website. (2012) Retrieved July, 2012, from
Greene, L. (n.d.) Images of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879). Retrieved July, 2012, from pinterest.com/clownloach64/images-of-julia-margaret-cameron-1815-1879/
Tafarella, S. (2010) Prometheus Unbound. Retrieved July, 2012, from