From our AskART database of nearly twenty seven thousand American
female artists, we have identified one-hundred nine women as "notable" because
of high number of book references and/or auction sales showing special
marketplace strength. We find it particularly relevant that as a result of
their gender, many of these women likely had to conquer additional obstacles in
order to succeed. No doubt they all have stories to tell about struggling
to excel in what has up until recently been a man's world. As of September
2009, of the eighty-seven thousand American artists on the AskART directory,
less than one third are women.
A discussion follows of some of the unique women in this list of "notables," but
we would like to acknowledge that it is only a "once-over-lightly" commentary;
each of these women is worthy of many paragraphs. That is why she is on this
(1800-1885), a leading portrait, figure and still-life painter of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and St. Louis is
considered to be America's first truly professional female artist. She had a
career of nearly sixty years during which she supported herself and
successfully competed with male painters of that time, including John Wesley
Jarvis, Thomas Sully, and Jacob Eichholtz.
Of this selected list of female artists,
Margaretta Peale, was born earliest, in 1795. A talented
painter known for fruit still-life, she is regarded as one of the most skillful
artists of that subject during her time. Though she did experience the
protected domestic life that was typical of women of her era, she was privy to
an atypical, highly cultured family circumstance as the daughter of portraitist
James Peale. She painted as his studio assistant from 1828 to 1837. Unmarried,
she lived until the end of her life with her famous sister, the above-mentioned
portraitist Sarah Miriam Peale.
The youngest artist on this list is
Rachel Whiteread, born 1963. Known for her public
art projects, she completed a 24 by 33 foot memorial to Holocaust victims
titled "The Nameless Library" in Vienna, Austria. From England, she
studied at the Slade School of Art. Her use of a variety of materials
including plaster, polystyrene and steel and her suggestion but not delineation
of figures and objects reflect the “pushing of the boundaries” in mediums and
styles of contemporary artists.
Four women on this list were centenarians “plus”:
Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002) had the longest-career of any
American woman artist. Others especially long lived were:
Grandma Moses (1860-1961);
Helen Turner (1858-1958; and
Martha Walter (1875-1976).
One female artist for whom gender bias was a significant issue is
Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908), one of the most famous women sculptors of the 19th century. She dedicated
herself to this medium at a time when the physical demands of the process meant
it was considered a male domain. Hosmer's father supported her education
aggressively, and in the mid 19th-century, she managed to establish
a studio in Rome, Italy where she became a part of a circle of intellectuals
that included novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert and Elizabeth Browning.
Critcher (1868-1964) was also a pioneer in what was very much a
man's world---Taos, New Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s. She was the only
female elected to membership in the Taos Society of Artists, an organization
formed in 1915 by painters including Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest Blumenschein,
Bert Geer Phillips, and Victor Higgins. At that time, Taos was a frontier
art community where living conditions for "Anglos" seemed primitive. This
was especially true for women such as Critcher, who had led a relatively
refined existence as a portrait painter and Director of the Critcher School of
Painting in Washington DC.