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14 Famous Female Painters Every Art Lover Should Know

14 Famous Female Painters Every Art Lover Should Know


14 Famous Female Painters Every Art Lover Should Know

  

Famous Female Artists

The history of art is littered with the names of great men‚ÄĒLeonardo da Vinci, Vincent¬†Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, etc. But what about the women who have helped shape the world's visual history? As with many other fields, women were historically discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts, yet there are many incredible females who persevered. These¬†famous female artists¬†have more in common than their gender and career path‚ÄĒthey are all trailblazers in their own right, with many breaking barriers in their personal and public life.

Of course, these women would most likely be displeased to be included in a list of female painters, preferring to be valued as artists outside of their gender. Unfortunately, as women continue to fight for equality in all fields, these exceptional artists are often still mentioned in terms of their gender. Luckily, more than ever, these women of distinction are being held up against their male peers and recognized positively for their contributions to art history. Organizations like Advancing Women Artists work to ensure that the female talent of the past doesn't get left out of the history books.

A look at some of the great female artists of the past is also a timeline of art history. Women have been leading figures in every artistic movement from the Italian Renaissance to American Modernism and beyond. By weaving our way through art history‚ÄĒfrom a 16th-century court painter for King Philip II to the 20th-century icon that is¬†Frida Kahlo‚ÄĒlet's take a look at the strength, character, and talent of these exceptional women.

Table of Contents  
1¬†Sofonisba Anguissola (1532‚Äď1625)
2¬†Artemisia Gentileschi (1593‚Äď1653)
3¬†Judith Leyster (1609‚Äď1660)
4¬†Angelica Kauffman (1741‚Äď1807)
5¬†√Člisabeth Louise Vig√©e Le Brun (1755‚Äď1842)
6¬†Rosa Bonheur (1822‚Äď1899)
7¬†Berthe Morisot (1841‚Äď1895)
8¬†Mary Cassatt (1844‚Äď1926)
9¬†Hilma af Klint (1862‚Äď1944)
10¬†Georgia O'Keeffe (1887‚Äď1986)
11¬†Tamara de Lempicka (1898‚Äď1980)
12¬†Frida Kahlo (1907‚Äď1954)
13¬†Helen Frankenthaler (1928‚Äď2011)
14¬†June Leaf (1929‚ÄďPresent)

SOFONISBA ANGUISSOLA (1532‚Äď1625)

Sofonisba Anguissola - Two Sisters and a Brother of the Artist (oil on panel)

‚ÄúThree Children with a Dog‚ÄĚ by Sofonisba Anguissola. circa 1570-1590. (Photo:¬†Wikimedia, Public domain)

Full Name
Sofonisba Anguissola
Born
c. 1532 (Cremona, Italy)
Died
November 16, 1625 (Palermo, Italy)
Notable Artwork
Three Children with a Dog
Movement
Renaissance

Though, as a female artist, she was not allowed to study anatomy or practice drawing models due to its perceived vulgarity, she still managed to have a successful career. Much of her success was owed to her role as a painter in the court of King Philip II of Spain. Over the course of 14 years, she developed her skills for official court portraiture as well as more intimate portraits of nobility. Her paintings are known for capturing the spirit and vibrance of her sitters and can now be found in collections around the world.

Artemisia Gentileschi Female Painter

‚ÄúSelf-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting‚ÄĚ by Artemisia Gentileschi. 1638‚Äď39. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

Full Name
Artemisia Gentileschi
Born
July 8, 1593 (Rome, Italy)
Died
c.‚ÄČ1656 (Naples, Italy)
Notable Artwork
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Movement
Baroque

 

As the daughter of an accomplished painter, Artemisia Gentileschi was afforded access to the art world at a young age. Early on she was in her father's workshop mixing paints and he supported her career when he noted that she was exceptionally gifted. As a noted painter of the Italian Baroque period, Artemisia Gentileschi did not let her gender hold her back from her subject matter. She painted large-scale Biblical and mythological paintings, just like her male counterparts, and was the first woman accepted to the prestigious Fine Art Academy in Florence.

Her legacy is sometimes overshadowed by her biography, with her bloody depictions of Judith and Holofernes often being interpreted through the lens of her rape at the hands of a fellow artist. However, her talent is undeniable and she continues to be recognized for her realistic depiction of the female form, the depth of her colors, and her striking use of light and shadow.

JUDITH LEYSTER (1609‚Äď1660)

Judith Leyster - Famous Female Painter

‚ÄúThe Happy Couple‚ÄĚ by Judith Leyster. 1630. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

Full Name
Judith Jans Leyster
Born
Baptized July 28, 1609 (Haarlem, Netherlands)
Died
February 10, 1660 (Heemstede, Netherlands)
Notable Artwork
Self-Portrait, The Happy Couple
Movement
Baroque, Dutch Golden Age

 

Born in Haarlem, Judith Leyster was a leading artist during the Dutch Golden Age. Typical of Dutch artists during this period, Leyster specialized in genre paintings, still life, and portraits. The details behind her artistic training are unclear, but she was one of the first women admitted to the painter's guild in Haarlem. She later ran a successful workshop with several male apprentices and was known for the relaxed, informal nature of her portraits.

While she was quite successful during her lifetime, her reputation suffered after her death due to unfortunate circumstances. Her entire oeuvre was passed off as work either by her contemporary Frans Hals or by her husband. In many cases, her signature was covered by collectors looking to make a profit due to the high market value of Frans Hals' work. Only in the late 19th century were these errors discovered and scholars began to gain a renewed appreciation for Leyster's skill as an artist.

¬†ANGELICA KAUFFMAN (1741‚Äď1807)

Self-Portrait Painting by Angelica Kauffman

Angelica Kauffman, ‚ÄúSelf-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting,‚ÄĚ 1791 (Photo:¬†Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name
Angelica Kauffman
Born
October 30, 1741 (Graub√ľnden, Switzerland)
Died
November 5, 1807 (Rome, Italy)
Notable Artwork
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus (1774)
Movement
Neoclassical

 

After moving to London in 1766, Kauffman was one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts. Aside from her popular portraits of aristocratic sitters, the artist depicted many classical and allegorical scenes. She was a prominent figure among her contemporary Neoclassical painters in the late 18th century.

√ČLISABETH LOUISE VIG√ČE LE BRUN (1755‚Äď1842)

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun Famous Female Artist

‚ÄúSelf-Portrait in a Straw Hat‚ÄĚ by √Člisabeth Vig√©e Le Brun. 1782. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

Full Name
√Člisabeth Louise Vig√©e Le Brun
Born
April 16, 1755 (Paris, France)
Died
March 30, 1842 (Paris, France)
Notable Artwork
Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat
Movement
Rococo, Neoclassical

 

French portrait artist¬†√Člisabeth Vig√©e Le Brun¬†created an impressive body of work totaling nearly 1,000 portraits and¬†landscape paintings. As the daughter of a painter, she received early instruction from her father and was painting portraits professionally by the time she was a teenager. Her big career break came when she was named as Marie Antoinette's portrait painter and she was later granted entry to numerous art academies.

ROSA BONHEUR (1822‚Äď1899)

Famous Female Artists - Rosa Bonheur

‚ÄúThe Horse Fair‚ÄĚ by Rosa Bonheur. 1852‚Äď55. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

Full Name
Marie-Rosalie Bonheur
Born
March 16, 1822 (Bordeaux, France)
Died
May 25, 1899 (Thomery, France)
Notable Artwork
The Horse Fair
Movement
Realism

 

Bonheur is also celebrated for breaking gender stereotypes. From the mid-1850s onward she wore men's dress, even obtaining police authorization to do so. Though she was often criticized for wearing trousers and loose blouses, she continued to don them throughout her life, citing their practicality when working with animals. She was also an open lesbian, first living with partner Nathalie Micas for over 40 years and then, after Micas' death, forging a relationship with American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke. By living her life openly in an era when lesbianism was disparaged by the government, Bonheur staked her claim as a groundbreaking individual both in her career and her personal life.

BERTHE MORISOT (1841‚Äď1895)

Berthe Morisot - Famous Female Artists

‚ÄúLady at her Toilette‚ÄĚ by Berthe Morisot. 1875. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

 

Full Name
Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot
Born
January 14, 1841 (Bourges, France)
Died
March 2, 1895 (Paris, France)
Notable Artwork
Lady at Her Toilette
Movement
Impressionism

 

Considered one of the great female Impressionists,¬†Berthe Morisot¬†had art running through her veins. Born into an aristocratic French family, she was the great-niece of celebrated¬†Rococo¬†painter¬†Jean-Honor√© Fragonard. Initially, she exhibited her work at the respected Paris Salon before joining the first¬†Impressionist¬†exhibit with¬†Monet, C√©zanne, Renoir, and Degas. Morisot has a particularly close relationship with¬†√Čdouard Manet, who painted several portraits of her, and she eventually married his brother.

Her art often focused on domestic scenes, and she preferred working with pastels, watercolor, and charcoal. Working mainly in a small scale, her light and airy work was often criticized as being too ‚Äúfeminine.‚ÄĚ Morisot wrote about her struggles to be taken seriously as a female artist in her journal, stating ‚ÄúI don't think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that's all I would have asked for, for I know I'm worth as much as they.‚ÄĚ

MARY CASSATT (1844‚Äď1926)

Mary Cassatt Mother and Child

‚ÄúThe Child's Bath‚ÄĚ by Mary Cassatt. 1893. (Photo:¬†Wikipedia, Public domain)

Full Name
Mary Stevenson Cassatt
Born
May 22, 1844 (Allegheny City, PA, USA)
Died
June 14, 1926 (Le Mesnil-Theribus, France
Notable Artwork
The Child's Bath
Movement
Impressionism

 

American painter¬†Mary Cassatt¬†spent her adult life in France, where she became an integral part of the Impressionism movement. Cassatt was born into an affluent family who first protested against her desire to become an artist. She eventually left art school after being frustrated by the separate treatment that the female students received‚ÄĒthey couldn't use live models and were left drawing from casts.

Upon moving to Paris at age 22, Cassatt sought a private apprenticeship and spent her free time copying Old Master paintings in the Louvre. Cassatt's career was already taking off when she joined the Impressionists and forged a lifelong friendship with Degas. At the same time, she was outspoken in her dismay at the formal art system, which she felt required female artists to flirt or befriend male patrons in order to move ahead. She created her own career path with the Impressionists, mastering pastels to create soft, light work that often-highlighted women acting as caretakers. Throughout her life, Cassatt continued to support equality for women, even participating in an exhibition in support of women's suffrage.

HILMA AF KLINT (1862‚Äď1944)

Abstract Painting by Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint, ‚ÄúSvanen (The Swan),‚ÄĚ c. 1914 (Photo:¬†Wikimedia Commons, Public domai

Full Name
Hilma af Klint
Born
October 26, 1862 (Karlberg Palace, Sweden)
Died
October 21, 1944 (Danderyd, Sweden)
Notable Artwork
No. 7 Adulthood (1907)
Movement
Abstract

 

Although Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian are often regarded as the pioneers of European abstract art, it was actually Swedish artist Hilma af Klint who was the first trailblazer of the movement. The radical female painter began creating bold and colorful works in 1906 and continued working during the final years of her life. However, even Af Klint understood that the world wasn’t ready for her work. She rarely exhibited her paintings and asked that her large body of work not be shown for 20 years after her death. Ultimately, her groundbreaking artwork remained unseen until 1986.

Throughout her adult life, Af Klint was part of a religious movement where she practiced a kind of transcendental spiritualism. She believed spirits could communicate with the living and began participating in s√©ances. While making contact with the dead, she took detailed notes and practiced automatic drawing. During one s√©ance in 1906, the artist‚ÄĒwho was 43 years old at the time‚ÄĒclaimed she received a message from a higher being who requested a ‚Äúgreat commission.‚ÄĚ Af Klint maintained that she had been asked to make paintings on a transcendent plane, which would one day be hung in a circular temple. Over the next nine years, Af Klint was consumed by this mission. She completed¬†The Paintings for the Temple, a large series of 193 works that encompasses several smaller themes.

GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1887‚Äď1986)


Full Name
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe
Born
November 15, 1887 (Sun Prairie, WI, USA)
Died
March 6, 1986 (Santa Fe, NM, USA)
Notable Artwork
Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue
Movement
American Modernism

 

As an artist at the forefront of American Modernism,¬†Georgia O'Keeffe¬†is one of the most celebrated female artists in history. Her early drawings and paintings led to bold experiments in abstraction, with her focus on painting to express her feelings ushering in an era of ‚ÄúArt for Art's Sake.‚ÄĚ During her lifetime, her career was intertwined with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. While the renowned photographer espoused ideas that American art could equal that of Europe and that female painters could create art just as powerful as men, he also hindered the interpretation of her work.

Stieglitz viewed creativity as an expression of sexuality and these thoughts, coupled with his intimate portraits of O'Keeffe, pushed forward an idea that her close-up paintings of flowers were metaphors for female genitalia. It's a concept that the artist has always denied, though her work is undoubtedly sensual. O'Keeffe spent much of her career combatting her art's interpretation solely as a reflection of her gender. Throughout her life she refused to participate in all-female art exhibitions, wishing to be defined simply as an artist, free from gender. Many of her late works were inspired by her home and ranch in New Mexico. There, in the Southwest, O'Keeffe claimed to have found her ‚Äúspiritual home.‚ÄĚ

TAMARA DE LEMPICKA (1898‚Äď1980)

Tamara de Lempicka ‚Äď Autoportrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti), 1925

Full Name
Tamara Rosalia Gurwik-Górska
Born
May 16, 1898 (Warsaw, Poland)
Died
March 18, 1980 (Cuernavaca, Mexico)
Notable Artwork
Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti)
Movement
Art Deco

 

Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka is known for her highly stylized portraits and nudes that exemplify the Art Deco era. De Lempicka spent much of her career in France and the United States, where her work was favored by aristocrats. One of her most famous paintings, Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, exemplifies the cool and detached nature of De Lempicka's figures. In the work, which was created for the cover of a German fashion magazine, De Lempicka exudes independence and inaccessible beauty.

Her paintings often contained narratives of desire, seduction, and modern sensuality, making them revolutionary for their time. De Lempicka enjoyed success until the outbreak of World War II, but there was a resurgence of interest in her work as Art Deco became popular again in the 1960s. Her immediately recognizable style makes her a particular favorite among fans of Art Deco painters and today her work is more popular than ever, with Madonna being a known collector of her paintings.

 


Full Name
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón
Born
July 6, 1907 (Coyoac√°n, Mexico City, Mexico)
Died
July 13, 1954 (Coyoac√°n, Mexico City, Mexico)
Notable Artwork
The Two Fridas
Movement
Surrealism, Magic Realism

 

Currently, there's no other 20th-century female artist with a name as recognizable as Frida Kahlo. While the drama of her tragic accident as a young woman and her tumultuous relationship with her husband Diego Rivera have sometimes overshadowed her artistic abilities, there is no denying the power of her painting. She is particularly known for her self-portraits, which deal with themes of identity, suffering, and the human body.

 

HELEN FRANKENTHALER (1928‚Äď2011)

Full Name
Helen Frankenthaler
Born
December 12, 1928 (New York City, NY, USA)
Died
December 27, 2011 (Darien, CT, USA)
Notable Artwork
Mountains and Sea
Movement
Abstract Expressionism

 

Growing up in Manhattan, Helen Frankenthaler pursued painting studies at the Dalton School and Bennington College. She began her extensive exhibition career in 1952, with the display of her painting Mountains and Sea. Having studied under the artist Hans Hoffman, as a young artist she became an important figure in the abstract expressionism artistic movement. Her paintings featured colorful, organic shapes. In the early years of her career, these compositions tended to be centralized on the canvas. By the 1960s, Frankenthaler's works often encompassed the entire canvas. Her six-decades-worth of work displays a constant evolution in style.

Today, Frankenthaler is remembered as a key member of the abstract expressionists and pioneer of¬†color field painting‚ÄĒa style that features large swaths of color as the painting's ‚Äúsubject.‚ÄĚ To achieve the effect of a wash of brilliant color, Frankenthaler thinned her paints with turpentine before applying them to the unprimed canvas. The result of this ‚Äúsoak stain‚ÄĚ method was an almost watercolor-like appearance with color built-in organic layers. Hers and similar works were included in the famous 1964 exhibit curated by art critic Clement Greenberg, entitled¬†Post-Painterly Abstraction. Today, her abstract paintings can be found in most major American art museums.

JUNE LEAF (1929‚ÄďPRESENT)

Full Name
June Leaf
Born
1929 (Chicago, IL, USA)
Notable Artwork
The Top Maker
Movement
Abstract, Kinetic Art

 

Born and raised in Chicago,¬†June Leaf¬†briefly trained at the IIT Institute of Design before setting out to pursue her own independent learning in Paris at the tender age of 18. In 1954, she returned to Illinois to obtain her bachelor's and master's degrees in Art Education. However, in 1958 she returned to Paris with funding for her artwork from a Fulbright. Over the years, she developed an allegorical style across several mediums. Through pen and ink drawings, canvas paintings, and kinetic sculpture, Leaf's work embraces the abstract and unusual. Her work often¬†features the human body‚ÄĒoften incorporating her own imagined hands into the work.

Leaf and her husband‚ÄĒfilmmaker and photographer Robert Frank‚ÄĒsplit their time between a Bleeker Street apartment in New York and a fishing cottage in Nova Scotia. In 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective on her work entitled¬†June Leaf: Thought Is Infinite. Although Frank passed away in 2019, Leaf still creates. In a 2016 interview with¬†Women's Wear Daily, she described her work as a process of searching. She said, ‚ÄúMaybe I don‚Äôt want public acclaim. I want to survive with that integrity that is so precious to me. The fact that I could make that drawing [gesturing toward an easel] made me think ‚ÄėOh good, you‚Äôre still a scientist who can invent something that goes with your life.'

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