Tag Archives: Women in Art




(1887 – 1986)



When Georgia O’Keeffe died at the age of 98, she owned more than half of her own work. Welcome to the land of sun bleached bones and close ups of sensual flowers.

“I hate flowers. I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”

Her life was long and complicated (but apparently she had a sense of humor).



Her work was shown in New York by Alfred Steiglitz at the Gallery 291 for the first time in 1916. He sent his friend Paul Strand to Texas to persuade her to move to New York and paint full time. He continued to exhibt her work annually until his death in 1946, giving her her first solo show in 1917 (at the age of 20).



Shortly after moving to New York, Steiglitz and O’Keeffe began living together. He left his wife of 25 years (he being 23 years older than her).  They married shortly after his divorce was final.  By the time Steiglitz retired from photography in 1937, he had taken an estimated 500 portraits of her.



She had her first retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927 at the age of 30.

o-RED-900 copy


In 1946, she was the first woman to have a retrospective at the  Museum of Modern Art .

When Steiglitz died in 1946, she left New York forever in 1949, relocating to New Mexico.


She had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1970.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the National Medal of Arts in 1985.




In 1996, the United States Postal Service issued a 32 cent stamp honoring her.




In 2015, a 1932 painting sold for $44,405,000, more than THREE TIMES the price ever sold for a female artist.





Georgia Okeeffe by Alfred Steiglitz

In this photo provided by Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe archive, Portrait with Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz by automobile at Lake George, N.Y.  National Gallery of Art photography curator Sarah Greenough leafed through 25,000 pieces of paper exchanged by Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz to produce My Faraway One: The Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume I, 1915-1933,  an 800-page tome as big as the Chicago phone book. Despite its girth, the book represents just one-tenth of their correspondence during this period.  (AP Photo/Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe archive, Albuquerque Journal)  NO SALES

“I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”

Oh, and let’s not forget in 2006 a fossil found in New Mexico was named after her. Effigia Okeeffeae, or O’Keeffe’s Ghost.

If you want to know more – visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

There are several good biographies about her, even a Lifetime movie was produced, starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons – the movie is available on Netflix.

What are your favorite images by her?




Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.”

So said Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) an artist as known for her monochromatic abstract sculptures as her flamboyant appearance.

Born in Kiev, Russia, Louise was born Leah Berliawsky. Even though her father had a successful lumber business, he left for the United States in 1902 when Tsarist Russia started making it difficult for the Jews. Little Leah was so traumatized by her father leaving, she stopped speaking for six months.

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson

In 1920, disgruntled with life in a small town, she changed her name to Louise and married Charles Nevelson who was from a wealthy ship-owning family. In 1922, she gave birth to her only child, Myron (known as Mike), who also  became a sculptor. Louise didn’t like the upper-middle class lifestyle and after 11 years of marriage, she took her son to live with her parents in Maine.

In 1932 Louise travelled to Germany to study with Hans Hoffman, and stayed until the Nazis forced the school to close. Following Hoffman to New York and she  began taking classes at the Art Student League, alongside abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock.  She preferred not to align herself to any art movement and worked hard to establish herself in a male dominated world – she did not want to be known as a “woman artist”.

“Women at that time were supposed to look pretty and throw little handkerchiefs around…well I couldn’t play that role.”

She began experimenting with different styles and materials frequently utilizing wood and junk she found on the streets of New York. While gaining a reputation for her art, she began cultivating a personal lifestyle that included heavy face makeup, dramatic clothing, colorful scarves and false eyelashes. She was friends with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, who wrote a play about her in 2002 – Occupant (Anne Bancroft played her initially – later Mercedes Ruehl) which is a two-act play featuring Nevelson answering questions after her death to an un-named interviewer.

Mercedes Ruehl at Louis Nevelson in Occupant

Mercedes Ruehl at Louis Nevelson in Occupant

She was photographed for the cover of Life magazine as early at 1958. About that time, her works were featured in the Museum of Modern Art. But, even with all this publicity, she did not depend on a steady income from art until she was in her 60’s.


Louise Nevelson Plaza in Lower Manhatten



Louise Nevelson Stamps

Along the way, Louise  briefly worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera, she  received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1988 amd was the subject of a set of commemorative stamps issued in 2000.

For most of her life, she lived simply, not wanting material possessions. She worked into her 80’s  just completing a 35-foot black sculpture for the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland when she died of natural causes on April 17, 1988.



Royal Tide, wood and gold Spray Paint


Dawn’s Wedding Chappel II, Whitney Museum


Sky Cathedral


Louise Nevelson with her art


Louise Nevelson


“Only a few basic forms unify the art of all periods, the rest are variations.”

When you are centered, people can’t control you because they are your reflection. By the same token, you are their reflection.”

“Black creates harmony and doesn’t intrude on the emotions.”

“But when I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an an acceptance…Black is the most aristocratic color of all…You can be quiet and it contains the whole thing. “

“Everytime I put on clothes, I am creating a picture.”

“When I look at the city from my point of view, I see New York City as a great big sculpture.”

Louis Nevelson, larger than life!



The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself”


Agnes Martin was born in 1912,  the same year as Jackson PollockThis was the year Arizona became the 48th state, the Titanic sunk, and Fenway Park opened in Boston.

Born in Saskatchewan, growing up in Vancouver, she moved to the US in 1931,  became an American citizen in 1940 and earned her B.A. in 1942 from Teachers College, Columbia University. She briefly taught art at the University of New Mexico. While there, she participated in a painting program in Taos eventually opening a studio there (which she lived in).

About this time, the legendary Betty Parson’s came into the picture. She offered her a solo show in New York but only if she moved back to New York!  With the help of artist Ellsworth Kelly, she found a loft at Coentis Slip located in the financial district of Lower Manhatten.  What a magical place this probably was –  with Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns,  and others taking up residence here.

After her promised solo show at the Parson’s Gallery, Martin seemed to find her own voice.   The London Times stated her method included:

“a square format; canvas primed with two layers of gesso; hand-drawn pencil lines; thin layers of paint, first in oils, then in acrylic which she preferred because it was much quicker to dry.”


Agnes Martin



Settling into this method, her work became critically acclaimed and also was much sought after. But, she found the New York art world  too much to handle. Since Coentis Slip was to be demolished in 1967,  Agnes Martin decided to leave the art world. She gave away most everything (including art supplies) and traveled the United States and Canada.  She did not paint for SEVEN YEARS!

Lucky for us, she began painting again in 1974. Her paintings became smaller so she could move them herself. Larger paintings would have required an assistant, something she did not want.



Agnes Martin



Let’s take a step back back to her undergraduate years at Columbia University.  She began going to lectures by Zen Buddhist scholars. What she learned at this time was reflected in her lifestyle for the remainder of the her life. She prefered to live a simple, quiet and somewhat singular life.  This is reflected in her own words:

“I often paint tranquility. If you stop thinking and rest, then a little happiness comes into your mind. At perfect rest you are comfortable.”

Often referred to as a minimalist by others, she described herself as an abstract expressionist.  In her work, she placed emphasis on the line, the grid and extremely subtle colors. They were drawn freehand and the flaws remain (she didn’t even use a ruler!).

“When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then a grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.”

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin


Agnes Martin

About this time, Martin began trying to locate her earlier work, wanting to destroy them all – in fact she wanted to burn them!  Karen Yank, a sculptor and former student, told her it was okay to have a few of the earlier works out in the world, it would give young artists that are struggling some hope.


Agnes Martin


Some of her awards include:

  • Named one of the “100 Women of Achievement by Harper’s Bazaar in 1967
  • Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Awarded the National Medal of Arts from the NEA
  • Awarded the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale

She died in her home in Taos at the age of 92.

“there are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know – – exactly what you want…Doing what you were born to do…That’s the way to be happy.”

“I’m an empty mind. When something comes into it, you can see it.”

“the best things in life happen to you when you’re alone”

“Art is responded to with emotion…and the best art is music – – that’s the highest form of art. It’s completely abstract, and we make about eight times as much response to music than any of the other arts.”

“Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings”

Of Rothko, he has:

“reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth.”

Next up – the letter “N”!








Something I am enjoying about researching this series is discovering artists I was not aware of, but I should have been. Edmonia Lewis is one of these.


UnknownThere isn’t much known about her early life – she was born around 1845 in upstate New York. Her father was African American or Haitian and her mother was part American Indian, possibly Chippewa.  Her parents died when she was nine years old, and at that time her aunts adopted her and her brother. She helped her aunts sell baskets, moccasins, blouses and the like to tourists visiting Niagara Falls. At this time, she went by her Native American name Wildfire (her brother was Sunshine).  Her brother was much older and left for California in 1852, but he sent money back for her care. In 1856 she enrolled in the New York Central College, which was a Baptist abolitionist school. Later, with the help of her brother and abolitionists, she went to Oberlin College when she was 15 and changed her name to Mary Edmonia Lewis. Interestingly, at this time Oberlin College was one of the first higher learning institution in the U.S. to admit both women and people of different ethnicities. This is where she discovered art! She was there from 1859-1863.

At this point, she moved to Boston and studied with the neoclassical sculptor Edward Bracket – a moderately successful sculptor that specialized in marble portrait busts. However, his clients were some of the leading abolitionists of the day, Longfellow and John Brown among them. It was at this time she made her first sale – a sculpture of women’s hands she sold for $8. 

She met Union Colonel Robert Shaw, the commander of an African American regiment from Massachusetts. She created a bust of his likeness and the Shaw family purchased it. Always resourceful, she made plaster cast reproduction of it and sold 100 at $15 apiece.

Bust of Robert Shaw

Bust of Robert Shaw

She was inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha and made several pieces based on its leading characters, off which he drew from Native American legend.

Marriage of Hiawatha

Marriage of Hiawatha


Because of the popularity of her works, she was able to afford a trip to Rome in 1866.  On her passport it was written:

M. Edmonia Lewis is a Black girl sent by subscription to Italy having displayed great talents as a sculptor.”

She spent most of the rest of her life in Rome – working in marble, but focusing on themes and images relating to Black and American Indian people. Working in Rome inspired and influenced her work which continued in the classical style.  For instance, instead of clothing her subjects in modern day clothing, she put them in drapes and capes.

She was part of a circle of expatriate artists among them Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe – all of whom were living in Rome at the time. 

Her work sold for huge commissions – it was reported in 1873 in the New Orleans Picayune she had accepted two $50,000 commissions. Her studio actually became a tourist destination in Rome!

She participated in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and created the 3000+ pound marble sculpture The Death of Cleopatra, showing the queen in the throes of death.


The sculpture was very popular in the exposition,  but interestingly it disappeared. After being placed in storage.  It was found in a race track in Illinois during World War II atop the grave of a horse named Cleopatra. The grounds ultimately became a shopping mall and the sculpture was moved to a work yard. At some point, a group of well-meaning Boy Scouts actually painted over it. It was eventually given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1994 and restored.

She was so popular, former US President USS Grant commissioned her to do his portrait in 1877.

As the neoclassical style diminished in style, so did Lewis’s popularity. She began creating altarpieces for Roman Catholic patrons. She eventually moved to London and not much is known about her later years. It was often thought she died in Rome, but it has been speculated she was buried in San Francisco. But it appears she may have died in near London in 1907 of Bright’s disease. 

Even though there are some holes in her history, it is still fascinating! Her life is still being researched and her work is gaining in popularity again. 

Bust of Lincoln

Bust of Lincoln

Forever Free, the Emancipation of the Civil War

Forever Free, the Emancipation of the Civil War

Indian Combat

Indian Combat





Self portrait with letter 1907

Self portrait with letter 1907


Gwen John (1876 – 1939) was a Welsh painter who spent most of her life in France. One of four children, her mother was an amateur watercolourist who encouraged her children’s interest in art and literature.

Interestingly, her brother Augustus John was one of the most celebrated painters during this time. Prophetically he said:

“Fifty years after my death, I shall be remembered as Gwen John’s brother.”

She studied at the Slade School of Art, which was the only art school in the United Kingdom that allowed female students. In 1898 she visited Paris for the first time and studied under James McNeill Whistler. She returned to London in 1899 and exhibited her work for the first time, while living in such dour circumstances she actually lived as a squatter.

She returned to France in 1903 with Dorelia McNeill (who would marry her brother) and decided to walk to Rome and create art along the way – what a bohemian! They made it to Toulouse and then went to Paris. There she started modeling – mostly for women artists. But, she modeled for Rodin and began a relationship that would last ten years.


Gwen John as Eve by Rodin

During this time, she met Matisse, Picasso, Brancusi, and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (who was secretary for Rodin at this time – which is another interesting story!)

Gwen tended to work alone and moved to Meudon, outside of Paris, where she remained the rest of her life. When her affair with Rodin ended, she converted to Catholicism – and referred to herself in journals as “God’s little artist”. She lived alone with her cats and was known to live off fruit and nuts in order to buy art supplies and treats for her cats.

In 1910, John Quinn, an American art collector, became a her patron in 1910 and this continued until his death in 1924. The enabled her to stop modeling and devote to her art.  She painted primarily women, her cats and corners of rooms.



Gwen John as Eve by Rodin


Her small atmospheric paintings seem very quiet to me (unlike her celebrated brother’s more vivid work – see below). She painted using thin layers in the style of the old masters. Her legacy is fairly small, there are only 158 known oil paintings, which are rarely larger than 24 inches in either direction.

“I think a picture ought to be done in one sitting or at most two. For that one must paint a lot of canvases probably and waste them.”

Painting by Augustus John

Painting by Augustus John

However, there are thousands of her drawings left.

She has been the subject of several books, including Gwen John, A Painters Life by Sue Roe (which I am currently reading)  a fictional mystery, The Gwen John Sculpture by John Malcolm, a play Still Lives by Candida Cave (about Gwen, Ida (Augustus’s wife) and Dorelia (Augustus’s mistress). AND, she was the subject of a series of poems by British poet Elizabeth Burns, The Blue Flower: Poems from the Life and Art of Gwen John.

Reading about Gwen John, her relationship to Rodin, her brother Augustus, her friendship of Rilke has opened up a whole new world of people to explore!



Artemesia Gentileschi  (1593 – 1652/53)

This is my 7th installment in my weekly Women in Art series.

Why do we need to set the record straight? Artemesia fell into obscurity after her death, even though she was one of the first female artists to paint more than the traditional portraits – she actually painted major historical and religious scenarios. The Medici family collected her work.  Michelangelo Buonnarti the Younger (the more famous Michelangelo’s nephew) helped her start her career in Florence. She was friends with Galileo. But, after her death, many of her paintings were thought to have been done by her father, Orazio Gentleschi,  from whom she received early training.

Her technical abilities were beyond reproach. The following painting was done when she was but 16 or 17 years of age.

Madonna and Child 1609

Madonna and Child 1609


When she was not allowed to study in the art academies of the time her father arranged for a friend of his, Agostino Tassi, to teach her. In 1612 her father brought charges of rape against Tassi that resulted in a seven month trial. During the trial it was found that Tazzi planned on murdering his wife, planned to steal some of Orazio’s painting and was having sex with his sister-in-law. Can you believe that? He was sentenced to either a year in prison or banishment – neither of which was carried out. 

After the trial, Artemisia’s father married her off and she moved to Florence. In Florence, she was the first woman accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.

Susanna and the Elders 1610

Susanna and the Elders 1610


This is a painting that was attributed to her father for awhile – but it is the first known signed painting by Artemisia. The story is of a virtuous Susanna being sexually harrassed by the elders in the community. Most male painters approached this with a flirtatious and coy Susanna. But, you can see Artemisia shows her scared, upset and vulnerable. Was she our first feminist painter?

Judith Slaying Holofernes 1612-1613

Judith Slaying Holofernes 1612-1613

This painting was possibly inspired by an earlier painting by Caravaggio. But Artemisia’s depiction is must more bloodier and graphic. (see Caravaggio’s below – not nearly as bloody)


Caravaggio's Judith Slaying Holofernes  1598

Caravaggio’s Judith Slaying Holofernes 1598

To read the story of Judith Slaying Holofernes – click here

Judith and her Maidservant 1613-14

Judith and her Maidservant 1613-14

This is a scene after Holofernes is beheaded and they are attempting escape. One interesting thing that is very hard to see online – Judith has an ornament in her hair that is a picture of a man with a lance – was it possibly David, who decapitated Goliath? Scholars believe it is a homage to Michelangelo’s statue of David.


This is considered a self-portrait. In fact, alot of her paintings were self-portraits.

There is must more to know about her life – she even joined her father in London in 1638 into the court of Charles I.

For more information about her life – here are some more references:

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Artemisia – movie from 1997