Book Review: 50 Women Artists You Should Know by Christine Weidemann, Petra Larass and Melanie Klier

Updated on October 6, 2019
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Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet, and artist who lives on the Wirral peninsula in England.

5 stars for 50 Women Artists You Should Know

Whats it About?

Contained within this book are introductions to 50 artists whose work has been largely overlooked due to gender bias.

This book does not attempt to present a complete history of each artist's work. Instead it provides a clear overview of the creative contributions to the art world by women.

It begins with Catharina van Hemessen, who was born in Antwerp in 1528 and who was mentioned as a famous woman painter in a book about the Netherlands published in 1567. It ends with Tacita Dean, who was born in Canterbury, England, in 1965 and who is still creating art in the present day.

For each artist, there are brief biographical details and a small portrait image plus a suggested further reading list. Each artist also has at least one full-page quality reproduction of a typical example of their style of art.

About the Authors

Art historian Christine Weidemann is the author of Niki de Saint Phalle, 50 Contemporary Artists You Should Know, and A Year in Art: The Activity Book.

Petra Larass is an art historian and the senior curator of the Francke Foundation in Halle where she founded "Kroroseum", a children's creative center. She is the author of Kindsein Kein Kinderspiel: Das Jahrhundert Des Kindes (Childhood Is No Child's Play), and with Patricia Druck co-wrote Die Quelle Als Inspiration: Historisches Wissen in Der Zeitgenossischen Kunst (The Source Of Inspiration: Historical Knowledge in Contemporary Art).

Melanie Klier is the author of Künstlerhäuser, a book about the residential arts centre of that name in Worpswede, Germany.

None of the authors seem to have websites.

What's to Like?

For each artist included in this book, there are brief biographical details and a small portrait image plus a suggested further reading list.

Each artist also has at least one full-page quality reproduction of a typical example of their style of art.

This lively and concise book collates a diverse selection of some of the most influential women artists through history. While there were many names I was already familiar with, there were also some who were totally new to me.

Eminently readable, this serves as a great introduction to some fabulous art.

Art History - Where Are the Women?

Women Making Art

Even now, as we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, male artists are continue to be awarded precedence over women, including women whose skills far outstrip those of their male competitors. Fees for work by men tend to be much higher than for art made by women.

Public art galleries and museums own and exhibit a wildly disproportionate number of works by male artists, adding to the persistent misogynistic belief that men's work is "better".

Consider for a moment the fact that we use the term "women artists". When did you ever hear the term "men artists" used in a similarly separatist way?

The tradition of women creating fine art is not new. Three-quarters of hand prints on cave walls were made by women. Pottery has been made and decorated by women in many cultures throughout history. In busy studios during the famed Italian Renaissance, women were often hard at work alongside their families.

Forgotten or Ignored?

Louise Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun was by far the most successful portrait painter of the 18th Century, yet when the retrospective of her work opened at the Grand Palais in Paris, France in 2015, few people had even heard of her.

Only in October 2016 did Clara Peeters, a still life painter from the 17th century, become the first woman ever to have her work exhibited in the Prado in Madrid, Spain.

In 2019, a report by In Other Words & Artnet News found that just 2% of global art auction money was spent on art by women. Only 11% of art acquisitions for permanent collections were by women, and only 14% of exhibitions were by female artists, either solo or as a group.

So why is this? A lack of education, access to art institutions, prohibition of subject matter, social conventions and expectations, a lack of financial independence, perceived morality, etc., all had a huge impact on women's lives whether they wished to pursue and artistic life or not. 50 Women Artists You Should Know helps to unveil the lives of some of those remarkable women who determinedly created art despite the complex and overwhelming obstacles stacked against them.

Sad Story

Inevitably there are some tragedies. The saddest story in this book is that of Camille Claudel, born in 1864 in France, a sculptor who studied with, among others, Auguste Rodin and who became his co-worker and lover. Her work was censored by the press and French government.

Later, in 1913, she accused Rodin of plagiarism.

She spent the last 30 years of her life in mental institutions, banished there by her diplomat and poet bother Paul, who disapproved of her. Yet now she is often described as one of the most important female artists and sculptors in the 19th century.

A Short History of Women in Art

What's Not to Like?

In any book of this kind there are bound to be some artists whose work each reader isn't keen on. This subjective reaction is not important. The purpose of this book is to bring to people's attention a long tradition of diverse art made by women, and it achieves this admirably.

The biographies of each artist are quite brief but the book also offers a short further reading list for each.

I would have liked to have seen more cultural diversity, as this book draws its selection of artists mostly from white Europeans and Americans. But then this is a selection of only 50 artists.

I do have one suggestion, therefore. This book could easily have run to a much bigger project. Next time, how about making it 500 Women Artists You Should Know?

Sources

The biographical, bibliographical and historical information in this article came from:

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131008-women-handprints-oldest-neolithic-cave-art/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/sep/19/female-art-women-underrepresented-museums-auctions-study
  3. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20161019-the-great-women-artists-that-history-forgot?ocid=fbcul
  4. http://www.artnews.com/2015/05/30/why-have-there-been-no-great-women-artists/
  5. https://blog.artsper.com/en/a-closer-look/10-things-to-know-about-camille-claudel/
  6. http://www.salapanga.de/team/
  7. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Petra-Larass/s?rh=n%3A266239%2Cp_27%3APetra+Larass

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