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Women Artists


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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 list.

Sarah Peale (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.


Catherine 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.





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