Forgotten Heroines: Reviving Women's History in Art

Forgotten Heroines: Reviving Women’s Art History- A Spotlight on Female Artists and Sculptors

The story of art is the story of humanity in all its diverse complexity. We gain a richer understanding of our cultural heritage by reviving women’s artistic history, primarily focusing on the forgotten female artists and sculptors from different eras. The overlooked heroines of art are no longer forgotten. Their masterpieces are now celebrated on the walls of museums, and their names are etched into the annals of history, a place they always deserved.

Rediscovering Forgotten Female Artists

The Save Venice Project and Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) are crucial in restoring women’s art history. They are uncovering overlooked female artists from Italy’s past and have restored over 2,000 pieces by forgotten female artists in Florence, revealing their vibrant colours and masterful techniques.

Women's Art History - forgotten women artists in Florence
English painter, Lola Costa

For centuries, the accomplishments of female artists have been minimised or erased. Their works have been wrongly attributed to male artists or left in storage, deteriorating and forgotten. Projects like Save Venice and AWA are rediscovering these forgotten heroines and giving them the recognition they deserve.

Restoring these works is a painstaking process. Many pieces require extensive cleaning and repair. As layers of dirt and yellowed varnish are removed, these artists’ vibrant colours and masterful techniques are revealed. Each restoration helps to reclaim and preserve an essential part of art history.

Historically, women faced immense barriers to becoming artists. They were denied access to training and commissions and discouraged from pursuing art as a vocation. Those who overcame these obstacles were frequently not taken seriously and struggled for recognition in their lifetimes. Their works were often attributed to male mentors or peers.

Women have faced discrimination and marginalisation in the art world for centuries. Their work is persistently undervalued and underrepresented in museums and galleries compared to their male counterparts. This results from systemic gender bias, not a reflection of talent or skill.

Studies show that work by female artists makes up just 3-5% of significant museum collections in the US and Europe. Pieces by women sell for a fraction of the price of comparable work by men – on average, 47.6% less. These statistics point to the art world’s preference for male artists.

In recent decades, there have been efforts to rediscover and reevaluate the works of female artists. Museums are working to diversify their collections, and art historians are rewriting narratives to be more inclusive.

However, gender disparity in the art world persists. Achieving equal representation will require acknowledging past discrimination, re-examining biases, and making a deliberate effort to value and promote art by women. We understand artistic achievement entirely by reviving women’s place in art history. Recognising forgotten heroines and the obstacles they overcame is a step toward building a fairer and more just art world.

Spotlight on Overlooked Female Painters

As you walk the halls of a museum, gazing at masterpiece after masterpiece, a realisation may dawn on you: Where are the women? For centuries, women have been largely absent from the artistic historical record. Their stories remain untold, their creations uncelebrated. But this is changing. Museums and curators are rediscovering forgotten heroines of art, unearthing their lost works, and restoring their rightful place in the canon.

As the art world expands its efforts to highlight overlooked female artists of the past, two Renaissance painters deserve recognition for their groundbreaking work.

New exhibits highlight female artistic pioneers who broke barriers in their time but were written out of history. Digital archives are making hundreds of women’s artworks viewable for the first time. Art historians are revising the male-centric narrative of art to incorporate forgotten heroines and give them the recognition they deserve.

Lyubov Popova

The Russian avant-garde artist Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) produced influential works across painting, graphic design, theatre set design, and textile design. Popova pioneered Cubo-Futurism, an avant-garde art movement that combined Italian Futurism’s emphasis on speed and dynamism with the geometric abstraction of Cubism.

Women´s Art History - overlooked female artists of the past
Projet d’affiche pour “Le cocu magnanime” de , 1922

Her abstract paintings featuring fragmented forms and dizzying compositions were radical departures from the artistic conventions of the time. Tragically, her promising career was cut short at the age of 35. The rediscovery of Popova’s diverse oeuvre has established her as a critical figure in the Russian avant-garde.

Caterina van Hemessen

The Flemish Renaissance painter Caterina van Hemessen (1528–1588) was a trailblazer as one of the first female artists to establish an independent studio. She came from an artistic family and likely trained with her father, the Mannerist painter Jan Sanders van Hemessen.

Van Hemessen is best known for her striking self-portraits, an art form nearly unprecedented for female artists of her time. Her self-portraits show how she saw herself as a professional artist, conveying a sense of ambition, skill, and self-possession. After centuries of obscurity, van Hemessen’s rediscovery highlights her significance as an early pioneering woman in a male-dominated field.

Art History - Catharina van Hemessen
van Hemessen, Catharina; Portrait of a Lady; The National Gallery, London

The recognition of visionaries like Popova and van Hemessen expands our understanding of art history and women’s achievements. Their stories inspire and remind us of the formidable talents of women that have too often been forgotten. By bringing these overlooked heroines of art to light, we gain a more complete picture of the tremendous contributions of women artists.

Celebrating Unsung Women Sculptors

Men have long dominated the field of sculpture, but many women have made significant contributions as sculptors throughout history. Unfortunately, their accomplishments have often been overlooked or diminished. Some female sculptors faced obstacles in gaining training and recognition due to restrictive gender roles and expectations. However, a few persevered and created works that have stood the test of time.

Two women who assisted prominent male sculptors were Evelyn Longman, who helped Daniel Chester French, and Frances Grimes, Mary Lawrence, and Helen Mears, who worked with Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Longman studied at the Art Students League in Paris, then became French’s assistant for ten years. She created sculptures for the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. The women working for Saint-Gaudens helped produce some of his most famous public monuments, though their specific contributions were rarely acknowledged.

Evelyn Longman - Female sculptors
Evelyn Longman – 1909 chapel doors US Naval Academy

Other female sculptors like Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Janet Scudder, and Abastenia St. Leger Eberle gained recognition for their creations, often focusing on themes related to women and children. Vonnoh was known for her depictions of motherhood and children. Scudder travelled to Paris to study sculpture, then gained recognition for her garden fountains and religious works. Eberle addressed social issues of her time through sculptures such as The White Slave.

Female sculptors faced discrimination and a lack of access to training and materials. However, these artists overcame immense challenges through perseverance and talent to become pioneers in their field. Their masterful and moving works deserve more recognition and study. Reviving knowledge of these forgotten heroines can help inspire future generations of women in sculpture.

Celebrating the overlooked accomplishments of women sculptors is vital to gaining a complete understanding of the development of Western art. Though they faced immense difficulties, these artists created works that spoke to the human experience in profoundly moving ways. Their stories serve as reminders of the resilience of the human spirit in overcoming injustice.

Bringing Awareness to Marginalised Women Photographers

Bringing awareness to marginalised women photographers is crucial in our journey to revive women’s history in art. Photographers like Zanele Muholi and Dayanita Singh have used their lenses to amplify voices in LGBTQ and lower caste communities, highlighting the challenges faced by female artists in diverse societies.

Women`s Art History - marginalised women photographers
Zanele Muholi – Sukile, Harbor Steps Apartments, Seattle, 2019

Marginalised women photographers portray women whose stories are rarely told. Photographers like Joanna Pinneo spent over a decade documenting the lives of young mothers in poverty, bringing awareness to their daily struggles. Meanwhile, indigenous photographers like Cara Romero photograph life in Chemehuevi and Quechuan communities, sharing frequently overlooked experiences.

Challenging Societal Norms

Women photographers also challenge gender stereotypes and societal norms. Photographers such as Zanele Muholi and Catherine Opie have created striking self-portraits that question traditional female beauty and identity concepts. Meanwhile, the raw and unflinching photographs of Nan Goldin provide an intimate glimpse into LGBTQ relationships and communities during the 1980s and 1990s in a groundbreaking way.

The photography of marginalised women has been instrumental in reviving women’s history in art. These photographers have made invaluable contributions by amplifying unheard voices, documenting vulnerable communities, and challenging societal norms. Greater recognition and support for their essential work is still needed to address the systemic marginalisation of the photographers and the communities they represent. Overall, marginalised women photographers deserve far more prominence and acclaim for their impact.

As you’ve seen, countless women throughout history have shaped the course of art yet remained unseen. Their stories highlight how society has long overlooked and undervalued women’s artistic contributions. By rediscovering these forgotten heroines and championing their works, we gain a fuller understanding of history and a more just appreciation of art.

Though the obstacles these women faced were immense, their perseverance in adversity is an inspiration. When we revive women’s art history, we empower current and future generations to value women’s voices. The time has come to bring these forgotten heroines out of the shadows and into the light they so richly deserve. Only then can we grasp the whole creative spirit of humanity.