"I doubt if you know the effort it is to paint! The concentration it requires, to compose your picture, the difficulty of posing the models, of choosing the color scheme, of expressing the sentiment and telling your story!" -Mary Cassatt
One of the most widely read posts at 3PP is Rembrandt and the evolution of artists as self, which explores artists' ability to promote themselves in their work, either through the subject matter depicted, or directly putting themselves into the image. In revisiting this piece, I noticed that I had made very limited mention of female artists, only including Frida Kahlo at the end. Later, when preparing an interview with Alexandra Korey I got to delve a little further into famous female painters. I soon realised there was much to be explored in famous female artists of the past and present - and committed to showcasing their stories and work at 3PP.
There are of course art historians who have dedicated their lives to exploring and promoting feminist art history. The most famous of these is perhaps Linda Nochlin, who penned the remarkable "Why have there been no famous women artists" for ARTNews in 1971. This is very much a niche area in art history, and not without a deal of controversy and politics. 3PP is not about politics, but promoting an interest into some wonderful artists. This series of posts are to redress the imbalance of female artists presented at this site, and online in general.
Some of the upcoming posts that will be featured in this series will be from art historians who have specialised in studying women artists. I am particularly looking forward to finding out more about Renaissance female artists, such as Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola. The objective in starting this series is simple - to help myself and others learn more about a group of artists who commonly do not get as much exposure.
A photo of a young Mary Cassatt, digitally scrubbed up by yours truly
To start this series, I have chosen Mary Cassatt(1844-1926), an American impressionist painter. Mary Cassatt reportedly disliked being labelled as a 'woman artist' due to the great prejudices heaped on women artists by the art establishment of her era. In her travels to Europe, she had great difficulty entering into maintream artists' circles.
Whilst her gender excluded her from studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, she approached one of its professors, Jean-Léon Gérôme which resulted in her apprenticeship to the great painter of orientalist subjects. In the earlier part of her career Cassatt's exposure to the old masters and the history inspired style of Gérôme influenced her work. This is most clearly seen in the classically themed 'Bacchante(1872)', a depiction of a female follower of Bacchus. I like the notion that the cymbals held by this confident female figure announced Cassatt to the world with a melodious bang.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that Cassatt found greater acceptance with the radical movement of artists we know as the French Impressionists. Considered a fringe member of this group, many of Cassatt's works display impressionistic elements, some even being retouched by impressionist artists, as in the case of the background in 'Little Girl in a Blue Armchair(1878)', which Edgar Degas assisted with.
The most charming part of Cassatt's story was her profound dedication to her work. She famously stated that she was 'married to her painting', and despite prejudices against female painters still had the perseverance to realise her life's ambition of being an artist. This paved the way for the prominence of female artists in the 20th Century and to present day, where the work of artists such as Tracey Emin and Sophie Calle command a throng of attention worldwide.
To introduce you to this pioneering woman artist further, I invite you to watch this except from the remarkable art historian Tim Marlow, who presented a series of programs called Great Artists. It is interesting to note that Cassat is also the only female artist featured in this series. There is also a wonderful video posted by The Smithsonian at YouTube featuring Linda Nochlin's presentation of American Women Artists, with a considerable amount dedicated to Cassatt.