If you can’t or are struggling to do so, it’s because conventionally women have been dramatically underrepresented in museums, galleries, and auction houses.
According to a joint investigation by artnet News and In Other Words, just 11% of all acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions at 26 prominent U.S. museums over the past decade were of work by female artists.
In a 2019 analysis of the 3,050 galleries in the Artsy database, economist Claire McAndrew found a few startling figures:
- As much as 10% of galleries don’t have any women on their books at all, while only 8% represent more women than men.
- Almost half (48%) of the galleries represent 25% or fewer women.
- In a study of 820,000 exhibitions across the public and commercial sectors in 2018, only one third were by female artists.
To raise awareness about gender inequity in the art world and beyond, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) has been asking the question, “Can you name 5 women artists?,” since 2016 on social media each March during Women’s History Month using the hashtag #5WomenArtists
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are joining National Museum of Women in the Arts and museums across the country and globe in celebrating women in the arts by highlighting 5 Women Artists: Cecilia Beaux, Mickalene Thomas, Johanna Knowles Woodwell Hailman, Doris Lee, and Renée Stout.
The first woman artist we are recognizing is Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942). Beaux was born in Philadelphia on May 1, 1855, and had no formal art training outside the home until she was 16. She later studied with William Sartain in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) from 1876 to 1878 and furthered her art studies in France.
Beaux became a highly sought-after portraitist and rivaled fellow portraitist John Singer Sargent as a leading painter of high society portraits in New York in 1900, and she became the first full-time faculty member of PAFA where she taught from 1895 to 1916.
In 1899, William Merritt Chase proclaimed, “Miss Beaux is not only the greatest woman painter, but the best that has ever lived.” Although this was intended as a compliment, Beaux detested this remark because it pigeonholed her as a “woman painter.”
Beaux died at Green Alley on September 17, 1942, and although she had painted over 300 portraits during her career and had an international reputation, she was forgotten from some fifty years following her death and has only now been rediscovered and recognized as one of the country’s leading portraitists.
Credit Line: Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Mrs. John Wheeler Leavitt, Cecilia Kent Leavitt, 1885, oil on canvas, 45 1/2 in. x 34 in., In honor of Philip Drinker and Susan Aldrich Drinker as a gift from Mary Eliza Drinker Scudder and Thayer Scudder, 1996.10.
The second women artist we are featuring Women’s History Month is New York-based artist Mickalene Thomas. Thomas draws on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty, and power. She creates complex, mixed-media portraits, landscapes and interiors, which examine, extend and subvert how identity, gender, and sense of self are informed by how women are portrayed in art and pop culture.
In “Shug Kisses Celie,” Thomas photographed a still from the movie The Color Purple, a complicated tale of male dominance, female empowerment and the healing power of love, capturing the moment when Shug, a singer and dancer who befriends her lover’s young wife, Celie, awakens a sense of self in the young woman. Thomas then lithographed the photograph onto a grid of mirrored surfaces and left one small mirror free of images.
Thomas earned a B.F.A. in painting from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, in 2000 and her M.F.A. in painting from Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT in 2002. Her work is exhibited nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions. In 2008, she was honored with creating what is considered the first individual portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, “Michelle O,” which is a nod to Andy Warhol’s portrait of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onnassis.
Credit Line: Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971), Shug Kisses Celie, 2016, Silkscreen, ink, acrylic on acrylic mirror mounted on wood panel, Legacy gift by Judith Hansen O’Toole, Funding provided by the McKenna Foundation in honor of her 25 years as Director/CEO, T.2018.1
The third #5WomenArtists we are highlighting is Johanna Knowles Woodwell Hailman (1871-1958), who was known as Pittsburgh’s First Lady of Painting.
Hailman specialized in floral still life compositions and gardens, painted in a vibrant color palette; however, she also painted the smoky industrial environment in and around Pittsburgh. She was the daughter of well-known Scalp Level School landscape painter Joseph Woodwell (1843-1911) and began her training with him. Her formal art training was at the Pittsburgh School of Design for women.
She first exhibited in the 1895 exhibition that marked the opening of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and was included in the inaugural Carnegie International in 1896. In 1927, she was awarded a solo exhibition at the Carnegie Institute (now Carnegie Museum of Art), which included 112 paintings. She showed her work in exhibitions in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and other venues around the country, and continued showing in all but two of the Carnegie International exhibitions until 1955, when she participated in her final International at the age of 84.
Over the course of her lifetime, Hailman made a significant contribution to not only regional art, but also the city, leading a conservation effort for its gardens and parks.
Credit Line: Johanna Knowles Woodwell Hailman (1871 – 1958), Pittsburgh River Scene (detail), 1929, Gouache and Pastel on Paper, 26 in. x 34 1/2 in., Gift of Friends of Thomas Lynch Wentling in his memory with Partial Funding from the Women’s Committee and Museum Acquisition Funds, 1995.3.
Credit Line: Johanna Knowles Woodwell Hailman (1871 – 1958), My Garden(detail), 1915, Oil on Canvas, 26 x 34 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William S. Garrett, Jr., 2019.16.
The fourth women artist we are spotlighting during Women’s History Month is Doris Lee (1905-1983), who was one of the most successful artists of the Depression Era. During the 1930s and 1940s, she was one of the most recognized artists in the country and a leading figure in the Woodstock Artist’s Colony.
In 1935, her career was launched when she received the Logan Medal from the Art Institute of Chicago for her painting, Thanksgiving, which depicts a busy farm kitchen preparing for the holiday dinner.
She was concerned with life in rural America and with her simplified style and ideology, her work had much in common with American scene painting. She was also a very successful commercial artist, producing fabric and ceramic designs, prints, and award-winning illustrations for books and publications, like Life and Fortune.
Adapting aspects of the regionalist style, folk art, modernism and abstraction, Lee painted realistic subject matter in her own unique painting style, that is simultaneously primitive and modern. Her extensive body of work reveals a remarkable ability to combine tenets of abstraction with the appeal of the everyday and offers a coherent visual identity that successfully bridged various artistic “camps” that arose in the post-World War II era.
You can learn more about Doris Lee at The Westmoreland’s upcoming featured exhibition Simple Pleasures: The Art of Doris Lee.
Credit Line: Doris Emerick Lee (1905-1983), Oranges and Avocados, n.d., Oil on canvas board, 16 x 20 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Booth Jr. and Burrell Group Inc., 2008.10.
Credit Line: Doris Emerick Lee (1905 – 1983), Thanksgiving, 1935, Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 40 1/8 inches, Collection: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.
Rounding out our #5WomenArtsists is Washington, D.C., artist Renée Stout (b.1958), whose paintings and sculptures have earned her national acclaim. While growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, Stout became fascinated with the Central African minkisi figural containers she encountered at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum. Constructed of wood, fur, cloth, and other materials, the minkisi bundles held medicines and other concoctions and were considered powerful mystical receptacles.
Yet, during her art studies at Carnegie Mellon University, Stout’s paintings were realistic in the manner of Edward Hopper and Richard Estes. In 1980 Stout graduated from Carnegie Mellon and soon moved to Washington, D.C., where she started to explore the more mystical roots of her African heritage. She began developing a unique form of Kongo-inspired sculpture and an ongoing fictional narrative of the stay-at-home Dorothy and the African explorer Colonel Frank, which further tied her work firmly to American and African traditions.
The Colonel’s Cabinet is a narrative of exploration and memory that traces the fictitious life of one Colonel Frank. Like the gentleman travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who created “cabinets of curiosities” filled with artifacts of distant people and places, Colonel Frank collected small treasures to remind himself of where he had been and individuals he had met. An invented persona based on Stout’s father, who, she said, brought the world to her shy and introspective mother, the colonel also reflects Stout’s own search for a personal history.
Credit Line: Renée Stout (b.1958), The Colonel’s Cabinet, 1991-1994, Mixed media: carpet, chair, painting, and cabinet with found and handmade objects, Collection: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, 1994.45.1A-MMM