5 Women Who Revolutionized Art
By: Mies Allen
Men dominated the art world for centuries. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 87% of the collections in 18 major art museums in the USA have been produced by men. As a result, many of us are guilty of a double standard. Even the most unartistic among us can at least name a few of the masters, such as Michaelangelo and Da Vinci, and probably prolific modern and contemporary artists such as Monet, Picasso, and Banksy. Yet, female artists, many of whom are contemporaries of the aforementioned, still fly under the radar.
In an endeavor to introduce our readers to the works of female artists, we have compiled a list of five of the most influential female artists throughout history. These women revolutionized the art world, proving that women are deserving of a place in the male-dominated field of art.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)
A contemporary of Renaissance heavyweight Caravaggio, Artemisia was an outstanding painter of the Baroque period in Italian art. She produced professional paintings by the age of fifteen, often depicting mythological scenes in characteristically dark and deep color.
Artemisia is infamous for works that depict women committing violent acts against men—often featuring Roman characters such as Judith and Susanna who were wronged by men. Artemisia herself suffered a harrowing sexual assault, taking her abuser to court and winning her case despite the risk of being imprisoned herself had he been found innocent. Artemisia was a brilliant artist, but her resilience and defiance make her revolutionary.
Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862)
Lizzie is most commonly known as the model and muse for the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to whom she was married. Millais’ depiction of her as Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet made Lizzie famous, but she was an artist and a poet in her own right.
While Lizzie studied under the tutelage of her husband, her art shows an abandonment of the idealization of the female form that was favored by the Pre-Raphaelites. She also excelled technically and was adept in using charcoal, watercolor, and oil paint to express her artistic whim. Although Lizzie passed away young and extremely troubled, her talent as a model, poet and painter has left her with a legacy like no other woman of her time.
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
Morisot truly knew what it meant to be a woman in a man’s world—working alongside artists like Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro—she was the only woman in the original circle of Impressionists. Her art was often berated because of her gender, and Morisot herself stated, “I do not think any man would ever treat a woman as his equal, and it is all I ask because I know my worth.”
Morisot loved to paint other women, often exploring ways to show them immersed in private activities, free of the burden of the male gaze. She used feathery brushstrokes and a soft, pastel color palette to give her paintings an unapologetic sense of femininity.
Dora Maar (1907-1997)
Like Elizabeth Siddal, Maar was influenced and guided by a great male artist of his time but was a visceral and influential artist in her own right. Maar was the lover and model of Picasso, who helped her in her journey to become one of the greatest artists of the Surrealist movement.
Though she was a painter, Maar is known best for her photography, which she combined with collages to create mind-bending artworks that challenged artistic tradition and toyed with the limits of perspective. She also used photography to document society and the political works of Picasso. Abstract artists and photographers alike owe Maar a debt for her ability to push boundaries in art.
Sonia Boyce (B. 1962)
Boyce was born in Islington, London, and by the 1980s, she was a highly influential figure in the radical political art movement, The Black British Arts Movement. Boyce is acclaimed for her colorful, playful chalk and pastel drawings that comment on race and gender, often drawing from her own experiences.
Boyce is also a highly skilled photographer, documenting herself and others with expression and spontaneity. Boyce’s influence is evident through her selection as the first-ever Black woman artist by the British Council to represent the United Kingdom at the 2021 Venice Bienalle.