BBC - The Story of Women in Art
This is a three part series featuring Professor Amanda Vickery, Professor in Early Modern History at Queen Mary College, University of London.
Her programmes explore how there is an absence of female artists on the walls of art galleries and museums. She reveals the ways in society and culture demanded women behave in a certain way and hence confined and inhibited female creativity
She examines those artists whose reputations have faded into obscurity and comments on one of the reasons being the way their artwork is currently hidden from the public. I knew some but very definitely not all the artists featured in the programme.
All the episodes are available on BBC iPlayer
Episode 1 - Amanda Vickery tells the stories of the early female artists across Europe. This features:
- Properzia de' Rossi (c. 1490–1530) - an Italian female Renaissance sculptor and her works the Grassi Family Crest and Joseph and Potiphar's wife. She was the only female included in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. The suggestion that is that she is not better known because of her outstanding understanding of anatomy - she knew too much about how the male body worked at a time when this was not allowed.
|Self Portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola (age 22)|
- Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524–1588) a self-taught nun-artist—the first-known female painter of Florence, Italy and her absolutely enormous painting of The Last Supper (7 metres long)
- Sofonisba Anguissola (b. 1532 - 1625) - an artist at the court of King Phillip II of Spain. She was a remarkable draughtswoman when it came to drawing people and became a pioneer of the new genre - the conversation piece. She impressed both Michaelangelo in her youth and Van Dyck in her old age. Her most famous painting - featured in the programme - portrays her sisters playing chess - where the personalities of the three sisters all shine through. He new style of portraiture attracted new clients and got her an introduction to the Spanish Court - at the time of the great rules of Spanish Court Portraiture. Her earlier paintings then transformed into court portraiture painted according to the rules of the court and the time.
|Portrait of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess (1555) by Sofonisba Anguissola|
Oil on canvas, 72 x 97 cm
Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan
- Lavinia Fontana (1552 - 1614) - she was the first woman artist to work in the same way as men. She operated outside the restrictions of convent (Sister Plautilla Nelli) or court (Sofonisba Anguissola). She was a female portrait painter who produced 200-300 paintings in her lifetime and was also pregnant 11 times. She became the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. You can see some of her artwork here
|Self Portrait - by Lavinia Fontana|
- Artemesia Gentileschi (1593 - ) She had supreme belief in her own talent and skill and tackled the epic from the outset - for example Susanna and the Elders. Her depiction of the story brings a female perspective and also demonstrates amazing skill in painting at the age of 17. Violence against men features in her painting of Judith and her maidservant - and the assassination of Holofernes (whose head is in the basket.) This is a website about Artemesia
|Judith and her maidservant by Artemisia Gentileschi|
- The Dutch Republic in the 17th century also had female artists. Art in the Netherlands was on a more domestic scale. There was an obsessive preoccupation with the home. A new genre - the still life - was an area where women artists such as Clara Peeters, Joanna Koerten (a paper cutter who outsold Rembrandt) and Judith Leyster could excel. Leyster's painting The Proposition is discussed in the programme. I was particularly pleased to see that Maria Sybilla Merian is also highlighted by the programme. She invented the concept of painting the life cycle of insects with their host plants, revolutionised scientific study and trekked to the tropics to paint her notions of how nature should be represented.
Episode 3 - an illustration of how creative opportunities for women exploded in the 20th century. She travels from London and Paris to the remote Swedish countryside and the bleak desert landscape of New Mexico. The programme features Georgia O'Keeffe.
You can view clips from the series online
I very much like the enthusiasm and historical knowledge which Amanda Vickery brings to bear on her topic. She's a historian rather than an art critic but adds value because of that.
I also love the detective story element - she unpicks the stories behind the paintings, she shows us the coded messages revealed by the paintings for those 'in the know'.
I'm certainly going to be following this series through to the end - if I don't get there a bit sooner. The BBC have taken the unusual step of making the programmes available on iPlayer prior to broadcast - so you can access them all now!
Amanda Vickery continues her theme in an article on the Guardian which is well worth a read
- Bring female artists out of storage - This is the article written to accompany the series and seeks to explain why there so few paintings by women in public galleries. It's a fascinating article about how the artworks of women artists are hidden from view by curiously uninquisitive museums.
- At the same time there's a second article by another academic. In Here I stand, naked. Why should you think of sex?, Cambridge University don Victoria Bateman (she's an Economics Fellow at Gonville and Caius College) writes about a painting in the current exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. In the article she states she wants to raise questions about the depiction of women and challenge the association between the body and sex. The Cambridge news covered it as Why Cambridge University don Dr Victoria Bateman dared to bare all in nude portrait on display at Mall Galleries in London
The following focus on women artists
- The National Museum of Women in the Arts
- The Advancing Women's Artists Foundation
- Wikipedia - Women Artists
The programme has prompted me to update my website All About Women Artists!
Makingamark on women and artI've written a few posts in the past about women and art
- Why women succeed at representing artists 12 Oct 2006 Called "Space Women", it's about why women are successful at running galleries and dealing in the contemporary art world.
- 500 years of female portraits in western art 31 May 2007
- Three women artists win Threadneedle ... 16 May 2011 No - these were female professional artists in mid career between the ages of 35 and 50 for whom the Threadneedle Prize was an important stage in the development of both their art and their career.
- Shortlist for Threadneedle Prize 2011 dominated by women ... 08 Sep 2011