I saw this tucked away on a shelf in the Museum’s library,and this evening have bought a copy from Bookfinder — woodcuts, lithographs, etchings and other prints created by Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant with various colour and black and white reproductions.
Dear friends and readers,
I visited the National Museum of Women in the Arts with my friend, Sophie, this past Wednesday, and as a result have decided on a new series for this blog: women artists. First what we saw, and then the project.
We went to their present exhibit called “Organic Matters;” it was made up of recent art by women, mostly landscapes, most installation art, collages, with a strong autobiographical perspective. Kato uses digital photography to create surreal environments in which a figure of herself reappears; looked at carefully you see frustration, indifference, people apart, people seeking something somewhere else. We saw a common theme among women novelists, artist, poets, the search for some kind of refuge in the natural world:
We enjoyed just as much some of the items in their small permanent collection, like the row of paintings by 18th century women painters, mostly of women, some of them portraits of real women, others mythological, partly because there was a healthy representation of women artists from the same school and era, like a row of French and English painters, most not masterpieces, but set amid one another, they sort of interact and you could see how the women painted within an analogous set of aesthetic criteria and how women wanted to be seen.
Adelaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), Augustin Pajou, sculptor (not there, but some of her work was)
There were moments of uplift among the collection of 19th and 20th century artists, and on the fourth floor, in the library, a small exhibit of Vanessa Bell’s cover illustrations and book art for her sister, Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press.
When we went for tea outside the museum, we talked of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is our favorite novel by her (for me, The Years; Sophie remembered Mrs Dalloway), and I told Sophie about the history of French translations of Woolf. I like best Woolf’s literary criticism and life-writing, at least as much as a couple of her novels (I love The Voyage Out). Sous la Sable, an unforgettable French film starring Charlotte Rampling is about a woman scholar who teaches Woolf in English in a French academy. Rampling as professor lectures on To The Lighthouse.
But as usual when I go to this museum, it saddens me. As my reader will see from my choice of images, even to try to discuss women’s art that is found there, one has to resort to other pictures to show something more adequate.
The museum is open for limited numbers of hours, its collection so small, much of the wall space more than half bare, and among the items some laughably poor stuff to represent this or that age or country or type. Every once in a long while the museum will host a remarkable exhibit of women’s art, and a catalogue from it ensues. They support lectures (sometimes on women artists), and over the years I’ve lived here (35 in Alexandria, Virginia) I’ve seen them have regular musical events, plays and other performances in their auditorium. It depends who is running the museum at the moment. But its online presence beyond its actual site shows it is known in the local area for using its building as a place for your wedding, fancy party or luncheon (try and google for images).
The explanation was given us at the opening of the 20th century by Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own: women have had nowhere near the time, encouragement, education — and money. Money matters. This museum doesn’t have enough. I subscribe to the Women’s Review of Books: it comes out every two months (not twice a month or every week like the LRB, NYRB, or TLS) and is 1/8th the size of the first two.
On my Women Writers Across the Ages @ Yahoo that week we had had quite a thread on the erasure of women artists in museum exhibits, to the point that only two women impressionists are ever cited as if Mary Cassett and Berthe Morisot were the only two ever to have painted. One women had put a URL to an indignant article by Griselda Pollock, which led to an outpouring of postings on various women artists and exhibits where women were left out, or permanent installations where women were left out except as muses to men. There were a large number of women impressionists, post-impressionists in several European countries, to name a few, Fanny Cherburg:
Fanny Churberg (1845-92), Winter Landscape (1880)
Marie Bashkirtseff, Gwen Johns, Anna Bilinska, Lila Perry, Paula Modershon-Becker.
There are a number of Pre-Raphaelite English women: the only ones usually cited are those sisters or mistresses of the men who painted, so to give credit, the museum has a wall-length mural by
Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912), Woodland Scene (1885) (not this one but her art is found in the museum)
A recent issue of the NYRB is a case in point; it is billed as about art and money in the 21st century, and while one of the important long reviews is by Ingrid Rowlandson (of the new Whitney and its exhibit from its years as a museum and years of American art across the century), there is but one woman artist mentioned. In an essay purporting to be equally about the Detroit Institute of Arts, her husband, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, most is about Rivera and the museum; Kahlo is treated as a “sacred object” of our era (no explanation), then we are told of her impressive looks; she gets a paragraph and one half about how she is ever autobiographical and a mention of an exhibit in NYC about her depiction of gardening. Her central feminist themes, themes about disability are never mentioned; that she’s a woman comes up only in how she is treated: her appearance, a painting of her in the midst of her husband’s work.
I could go on, but all this has been said before and too many times. So partly as a result of this visit, I’ve decided to try to do something in a small way constructive: make series of blogs on women artists. For a number of years on my WWTTA listserv I’d put a new picture up on the main site each week, accompanied by a short life and works. I can draw on these. I mean to move more or less chronologically, but only one or two per period coming up to today and then return to the chronology again. I’ll also discuss types of paintings women do.
One of the problems of such a project is the women’s names are often not known, nor are the pictures readily accessible, but I have in my library enough to be getting on with beyond what I’ve already written as postings to start:
Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves; Women’s Self-Portraits
Whitney Chadwick. Women, Art and Society (Thames and Hudson book)
—————-. Women Artists and the Surreal Movement.
Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party.
Deborah Cherry. Painting Women.
Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz. Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings
Elsa Honig Fine. Women and Art: A history of women painters and sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th century
Germaine Greer. The Obstacle Race
Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists, 1550-1950.
Nancy G. Heller. Women Artists: An Illustrated History.
—————, ed. Women Artists: Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (an exhibit put on by the museum (quite a number of relatively unknown artists or unknown paintings by familiar women Eleanor Munro. Originals: American Women Artists [20th century]. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Linda Nochlin. Women, Art and Power and other Essays.
Karen Petersen and J. J. Wilson. Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal from the early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century.
Claudio Strinati and Jordana Pomeroy. Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque (from an exhibit put on by the National Museum of Women in the Arts)
Jordi Vigue. Great Women Masters of Art.
Christiane Wiedemann, Patra Larass, Melanie Klier. 50 Women Artists You Should Know
There is also the Internet and what I have access to through my library memberships. But the real motive and source here is have so many books in my library, I might as well share their titles and some of their contents before I die, and the books are dispersed. It’s a bit ambitious, not easy to do so I’ll aim at one every week or so, or simply from time to time.
Emily Carr (1871-1945) — she is the sort of artist I want to cover: the shape of her career is different from that of men, but career she nonetheless had and is one of the great women Canadian artists and autobiographers.
My hope is people coming here will see pictures by women they’ve never seen before and fall in love with them.