JUST TWO WEEKS AGO, WE CELEBRATED INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY mainly through the social posting and sharing of quotations, dedications and images of both women who have influenced history, as well as women who have become influential to our own personal lives. Today, those social posts and shares are deep into our feeds and far out of our minds until next year, when the celebration is fed to us once again via the social posting and sharing of quotations, dedications, images, etc.
International Women's Day may be momentarily forgotten for now, but Women's History Month is still in fact on course, running all through March in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. As a last hoorah for highlighting the contributions of women in history and contemporary society, allow me to spotlight a series by artist Annie Kevans, which brings to the foreground, some fine, yet forgotten women in the history of art.
Kevans found that as early as the 16th century, many women already managed to surpass obstacles and have successful careers as artists. Their work is however sidelined in major exhibitions and their personal lives tend to receive prominence over their artistic achievements. Victorine Meurent for example had her works frequently selected for the Salon, even on the year in which Manet's work failed to be accepted. Still, she is known to many as a favorite model for Manet's paintings, as opposed to being an artist in her own right. Suzanne Valadon was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, yet her memory is never independent of her possible relationship with Edgar Degas, whose history on the other hand, makes no mention of her.
Marie Bracquemond was one of "les trois grand dames" of Impressionism, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was court painter to Marie Antoinette, Lavinia Fontana was a portraitist at the court of Pope Paul V in Rome, and Sonia Delaunay was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre. These women's accomplishments may sound modest against the more prominent men of their times, but one has to acknowledge their obstacles, and wonder how much greater their influence could have been, had their work been regarded with greater importance.
Kevans takes it somewhat personally. "Her project was partly inspired by the realisation that she, too, could be erased from our collective cultural archive." writes The Guardian. That her portraits are not all entirely based on real documentation says much too about the fading memory of these women artists, whose names fail to ring a bell today. What will be of their legacy tomorrow?
Women and the History of Art by Annie Kevans, www.anniekevans.com From top: Dorothea Tanning, Marie Bracquemond, Gabrielle Capet, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Giulia Lama, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rosalyn Drexler, Edmonia Lewis, Angelica Kauffmann, Sonia Delaunay.