‘Art has no gender’ – and yet most of the art we know was created by men.
Female painters are being overlooked and undervalued for generations by the art world.
Art history has repeatedly forgotten about its women artists and has failed to give them recognition for their contribution to the art realm.
Today, I bring you the list of women painters that shouldn’t have been mentioned by their gender but by their name, artworks, and lastly, as great painters.
Unfortunately, as women still fight for representation across all fields, the art industry is no different.
Female painters–not merely a subject/model for art, but the creative force behind the artwork.
Here is a list of great painters who have inspired and influenced the history of art around the world.
Please Note: The Above Names Are in No Particular Order.
1. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)
“The passion for painting was innate in me. This passion has never failed, perhaps because it has always increased with time; even today, I experience all its charm, and I hope that this divine passion ends only with my life.”Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Vigée Le Brun–a wife, a mother, and a successful eighteenth-century women painter.
She painted around 660 portraits and 220 landscapes in her long career–which started with the intervention of the young Queen Marie Antoinette.
Elisabeth was witness to the violence and chaos of the French Revolution; which forced her to flee Paris.
She traveled across Europe, letting her career span the reign of Louis XV to that of Louis-Philippe.
Her painting style resonates with the theatrical Rococo style and more restrained neoclassical period.
Known as one of history’s greatest female painters, today her famous works hang in the following museums:
The London’s National Gallery, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hermitage Museum.
2. Sofonisba Anguissola (1535–1625)
“Life is full of surprises; I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes”.Sofonisba Anguissola
One of the most accomplished female painters of the 15th century, known for her Italian Renaissance style portraits largely commissioned by royals and nobles.
Sofonisba was the first woman to receive formal artistic training, who soon made a name for herself.
Her talent led her to the Spanish court to serve as a court painter and to tutor the queen.
Anguissola was the ‘unofficial’ court portrait painter — which meant she never signed her portrait paintings.
The court had appointed an official painter— Alonso Sánchez Coello, who mostly served her as an assistant.
In the 17th century, A fire broke out in the Spanish court which destroyed most of Sofonisba Anguissola’s works.
When the remaining paintings of her were found unsigned, the consultant suggested the paintings were painted by then officially appointed court painter.
The historians attributed almost all Sofonisba Anguissola’s court portraits to Coello.
This mistake lasted for three centuries.
3. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)
“As long as I live, I will have control over my being”Artemisia Gentileschi
Considered amongst the most famous women artists of the 17th-century, also known as the women who took revenge in oil.
Inspired by Caravaggio, her baroque paintings are some of the most dramatic and dynamic artworks produced in that period.
Her father trained her at an early age, who was an accomplished painter which also granted her access to the art world at a young age.
Gentileschi’s striking use of light and shadow brings the depth for colors in her paintings that she often used to depict a realistic female form.
Her surviving artworks depict personal and unique perspectives on the male-dominated nature of society and have women placed in focus.
She is probably one of the first female painters to do that.
Experiencing sexual assault as a teenager, many of her works permeate the themes of abuse of authority, rape, and violence.
4. Caterina Van Hemessen (1528–1587)
Catherina is Recognized for her small-scale portraits of women and self-portraits.
She is the only known 15th century Flemish Renaissance female painter.
Trained by her father, Caterina’s self-portrait is likely the first painting of an artist depicting themselves on the easel.
This style of self-portraits can be seen by prominent artists such as Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Francisco Goya, Paul Gauguin, and many more.
To phantom that this tradition was started with a corseted 20-year-old young woman, whose contribution to the art world has gone unappreciated for nearly half a millennium.
In Caterina van Hemessen’s transfixing masterpiece, she isn’t just posing; she has painted herself painting this very artwork that we see before us.
Her paintings often have a depth and complexity that distinguishes her work from the rest, making her a pioneer in the history of image-making.
5. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803)
A prominent figure in Marie-Gabrielle Capet’s career and life, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was not only a remarkable portraitist but also a well-known teacher to her pupils.
She was amongst the first female painters to be granted membership at the French Royal Academy.
Labille-Guiard was an ambitious artist who worked for many aristocratic patrons.
She was also one of the first women to receive permission to set up a studio at the Louvre when men dominated the art institutions and salons.
A lifelong champion of women’s rights, she worked with the Academy to reform its policies to facilitate women in having the same opportunities as men to become painters.
Adélaïde, like many other talented women, also suffered from false rumors and allegations about her character and work.
Often mocked by critics who questioned her ability to paint such brilliant art pieces by declaring that her male counterparts polished her artworks.
Her paintings hang at several important museums across Europe and America today.
6. Marie-Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818)
A French neoclassic painter who came from a modest background, Marie-Gabrielle was known for her miniature portraits.
Over her long career, Capet also worked with pastels and oil paintings, which were acclaimed for their skillful draftsmanship and use of color.
Capet’s initial training remains unknown however, she became the student of the famous French painter Adelaide Labille-Guiard in Paris.
While Labille-Guiard was more than a mentor to her, she was a mother figure; with whom Capet stayed till the end of her life.
It is clear with the relations formed through her career and the amity and training she received from Labille-Guiard were invaluable to the person and artist that Capet became.
Capet played a more active role in her time as an artist than she has been credited through history.
7. Clara Peeters (1607–1621)
Clara Peeters is one of the few known Flemish female painters from the 17th century.
She is renowned for her small-scale and highly detailed still-life paintings – depicting food and beverages.
Her painting often suggested the presence of humans through cut fruits or partially eaten food.
Clara has also made self-portraits on objects with reflective surfaces within her paintings.
Although very little is known about her early life, her initial paintings are dated from her teenage years.
Her artworks are known for their aesthetically pleasing arrangement of materials, the low angle of perspective, and her skill to delineate the textures of the varied objects she painted.
8. Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
“My whole life has been devoted to improving my work and keeping alive the Creator’s spark in my soul. Each of us has a spark, and we’ve all got to account for what we do with it.”Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur is perhaps one of the most famous women painters from the 19th century.
She studies under her father who was a struggling art teacher.
Rosa was a realist painter who shattered female conventions and created a name in a man’s world.
She painted animals in striking lifelike details, as big and wild as she wanted and as natural as nature made them.
Royals, state leaders, and celebrities sought after Rosa Bonheur; her art bought her immense fame and fortune during her lifetime.
This rich and passionate female painter, who lived in a misogynistic century, had brilliant success without the help of a man.
Without having been ‘the muse of…’, ‘the wife of…’.
9. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
“I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up”.Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was an integral part of the Impressionist group in France, where she spent most of her adult life learning and painting.
Her body of work includes beautiful portrayals of women, children, domestic life, painted in pastels that she mastered to create soft, light work patterns along with printmaking.
Her works often represented the intimacy of family and domestic life.
She befriended Edgar Degas who helped her master her techniques and presented alongside her.
Mary wasn’t just a painter but also an excellent adviser who helped introduce European art to many public and private collectors in the United States.
Today, her paintings are not only highly valuable but also hang in private collections and great museums around the world.
Mary Cassatt’s works have continued to inspire artists who came after her.
Gustave Geffroy; a French journalist, art critic, and historian, remarked her one of three great female painters of impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.
10. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do”.Georgia O’Keeffe
Known as the “Mother of American modernism”, this 20th-century artist is one of the most celebrated women painters in history.
She was the first American to produce a purely abstract painting in a time where American realism was at its peak.
Inspired by an artist and designer–Arthur Wesley Dow, who emphasized the importance of composition–which signifies the arrangement of shapes and colors.
His ideas led her to explore and develop her style – a combination of abstract and realistic.
This female painter is known for her unique way of painting nature by simplifying its shapes and forms.
O’Keeffe soon gained respect in New York’s art world and came to be known as a pioneer.
11. Tamara De Lempicka (1898–1980)
“I live life in the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don’t apply to those who live on the fringe.”.Tamara De Lempicka
This polish artist is known for displaying narratives of desire, seduction, and modern sensuality in her painting portraits.
Lempicka is recognized as the epitome of the art deco style; a style that shows a simple, clean design embellished with geometric or stylized from florals, animals, and sunrays.
she was popular among the French nobles for the distinctive portraiture of French aristocrats made with clear, lustrous colors that give a sense of inaccessible beauty to the image.
One of her most famous paintings includes a Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti. This iconic portrait embodies an imperturbable, independent woman.
A German fashion magazine commissioned this painting, which now hangs in a private collection.
Today, this famous woman painter paintings hang at various notable museums including:
The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes in France, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
12. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
“Pain, pleasure, and death are no more than a process for existence. The revolutionary struggle in this process is a doorway open to intelligence.”Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo – a name you couldn’t have missed! She is one of the most famous female painters 20th century.
Her work doesn’t fail to showcase her Mexican culture or her provoking ideas about gender, class, and race.
She was her own muse, known for depicting her unflinching emotions to the viewers.
Frida represented elements of life with extremely personal and fierce paintings by constantly remaking and layering her own identity.
She makes her audience feel the pain and passion with her bold, vibrant colors; conveying her tragedies.
Compelling her audience to witness her vulnerabilities–her love, betrayal, miscarriage, or health issue; makes her work boldly confrontational.
She died at the young age of 47 and got famous posthumous.
She is today a sensation among the youth and is an icon for feminism and LGBTQI.
Today, she continues to inspire all kinds of artists across the world.
Frida Kahlo famous paintings hang at multiple museums–Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, etc.
13. Judith Leyster (1609–1660)
One of the most recognized female figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Leysteris is known for both her portraiture and genre painting.
Leyster had a successful career during her lifetime. She was the first woman painter to be a part of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke union.
Like many talented female painters, Leyster’s work was also posthumously attributed to men and in her case, it was Frans Hals and her husband, Jan Miense Molenaer.
Her works remained misattributed to men for nearly 200 years.
Her painting style was very similar to Hals, with her light brush strokes, casual poses, and momentary quality–all reflecting innovations introduced by Frans Hals in the 1620s.
Some of her paintings have a sense of “Baroque Closeness”, especially in her self-portrait, the painting creates the illusion that they are coming out of the painting, invading the viewer’s space.
She has used her self-portraits as an opportunity to advertise her abilities.
14. Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
Known as the ‘forgotten impressionist’, today her works are in comparison to Manet and Degas.
The art world forgot and disregarded her for decades owing to her gender.
Considered one of the most prominent figures of the Impressionist movement in France who was overlooked and understated after her death.
Her artworks are full of color and light with excellent use fleeing shades and shadows making them captivating.
Morisot’s works have always been feminine. Her subjects’ compositions focused on her family, friends, and nature.
Berthe loved to paint her daughter and produced a plethora of work to document her childhood.
15. Hilma af Klint (1862-1944)
“The pictures were painted directly through me, without preliminary drawings and with great power. I had no idea what the pictures would depict and still I worked quickly and surely without changing a single brush-stroke.“Hilma af Klint
She is a pioneer of abstract art; this Swedish artist became widely recognized after a survey hosted by the Guggenheim Museum.
Her paintings are recognized for their unlikeness; bold, colorful, and untethered from any recognizable references to the physical world.
Klint lived a double life as an artist, she took classes at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and made her living through typical paintings of landscapes and other realistic themes.
This famous female painter’s greatest works were kept private for most of her life and stayed hidden until 20 years after her death.
She rarely exhibited her paintings, saying, that the world wasn’t ready to understand her art.
Her artworks were produced decades before Wassily Kandinsky and his contemporaries Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, who were widely believed to be the first ones to produce a truly abstract painting.
Klint’s works are a combination of geometry, symbolism, figuration, language, scientific research, and religion.
Her paintings were typically large, which encouraged her viewers to envelop themselves in the emotional mood of the painting.
They viewers into a meditative state, letting them blend their reality with imagination.
16. Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”Helen Frankenthaler
Known for her contributors in the evolution of post-war, this American female painter, Helen is an important member of the abstract expressionism artistic movement.
Helen played a pivotal role in the transition of Abstract Art from grandiose gestures to a flat, minimalistic style.
She is a pioneer of color field painting—a style that features large ribbons of color as the painting’s “subject” and invented the soak-stain technique and expanded the possibilities of abstraction.
Helen thinned her paints and then poured them over an unprimed canvas. This allowed her paintings to have an almost-watercolor-like appearance with color built-in organic layers.
Known as one of the most famous female painters of her period who still is influencing and inspiring generations of artists with her six-decades-worth of work which displays a constant evolution in style.
the body of her work includes a wide variety of mediums apart from painting on canvas and paper; she worked with ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and printmaking.
17. Louise Bourgeois (French, 1911-2010)
“I need to make things. The physical interaction with the medium has a curative effect. I need the physical acting out. I need to have these objects exist in relation to my body”.Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois is known for her versatile and unconventional visual symbols in her painting and printmaking.
Her artworks explore the raw emotions of jealousy, anger, abandonment, loneliness, and fear.
Her body of work includes painting, and large-scale sculpting, throughout her long and varied career she commanded various art styles — such as Abstract Expressionism, Feminist art, and Surrealism.
But she wasn’t formally associated with any art movement throughout her art career.
This French American artist utilized the creation of art as a tool for processing one’s inner emotionality and creating her psychological landscapes.
To her, Art was a tool for coping; it was an exorcism. “Art is a guarantee of sanity,” she said.
In 2010, she died at the age of 98 in New York as one of the most acclaimed female painters of her generation.
18. Suzanne Valadon
“I paint with the stubbornness I need for living, and I’ve found that all painters who love their art do the same.”Suzanne Valadon
Marie Clementine Valadon, better known as Suzanne Valadon, had a childhood marked by poverty and could never afford formal art education.
She was a model for several important painters of her time, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
She could not afford formal training, but Valadon learned promptly from the painters around her.
Suzanne was close friends with Edgar Degas, who also acted as her mentor and taught her drawing and etching techniques.
Which led to her transitioning from an artist’s muse into a skilled and successful artist.
Said to be the first self-taught women painter to exhibit at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
She is perhaps, one of the first female painters who painted unapologetic portraits and nudes that unidealized women, challenging the convention of the sexualized, passive female body.
Her works also include still-lives, bouquets, and landscapes.
Known for their remarkable composition and vibrant colors.
19. Sonia Delaunay
“One who knows how to appreciate color relationships, the influence of one color with another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinite variety of images”.Sonia Delaunay
A prolific and innovative artist, Sonia Delaunay – a Russian painter who was a pioneer of abstract art in the years before World War I.
Sonia Delaunay grew up in St. Petersburg, from where her abstract compositions were directly inspired by the traditional quilts she saw as a child in Russia.
Educated in Germany and France, and eventually settled in Paris with her husband Robert Delaunay, who was also an artist.
The couple was committed to developing Simultanism as a post-Cubist style of modern painting aimed at color relationships, and to the depiction of modern subjects.
Sonia was very successful and had many solo and group exhibitions during her career.
She was one of the few female painters who was honored with numerous awards, such as the French Légion d’Honneur (1975), Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (1958), and a gold medal for her two murals at the Paris World’s Fair (1937).
20. Lavinia Fontana
Lavinia Fontana is possibly one of the first professional female painters of Italy, whose name is all too frequently left out.
Her success story remains to this day insufficiently appreciated.
Fontana painted many portraits for the nobles and produced many religious paintings during her career.
The artistic abilities that were nurtured by her father from an early age allowed her to rise to fame and success.
She painted highly detailed and vibrant portraits of her subjects that left the views in marvel.
Her husband was also a painter, albeit a mediocre one who later on acted as her assistant and managed their growing household; the couple has 11 children.
Her largest work, the Martyrdom of St. Stephen got destroyed in the fire of 1823, it was a redo for San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome.
Her career was on the rise along with her fame when she moved to Rome and became the portraitist at the court of Pope Paul V.
Awarded with various honors, including a bronze portrait medallion cast in 1611 by sculptor and architect Felice Antonio Casoni, and she was elected as a member of the Roman Academy, which was rare for a woman.
21. Leonora Carrington
“Do not give up hope entirely in spite of the horror of your situation. I am mobilising all my mental capacities to obtain your unconditional freedom”.Leonora Carrington
Carrington was born to an Irish-Catholic family in England who struggled to conform to societal standards and found refuge in art.
She was introduced to Surrealist Max Ernst in London and soon became romantically involved with him.
At 20, she moved to Paris with Ernst, where she met André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy, Léonor Fini, amongst others.
Within two years, she produced some of her earliest Surrealist works, including her well-known Self-Portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1937–38).
Leonora’s paintings are significant to Surrealism, her fantastic scenes that made space for feminine rhetoric within the movement.
She lived a daring life, romance with an older man (Ernst), disowned by her family, an escape from the Nazis (WW II), a mental breakdown leading her to a psychiatric hospital, and expatriate life in Mexico.
Carrington was more than a painter; she was a feminist, a writer, and lastly a survivor – who lived her life on her terms.
Died at 94, she was believed to be the last of the Surrealists.
She often refused to explain her artworks, saying that “I am as mysterious to myself as I am mysterious to others.”
she is one of the most acclaimed female painters from the Surrealist movement.
22. Amrita Sher-Gil
“Europ belongs to Picasso, Matisse, and many others, India belongs only to me”.Amrita Sher-Gil
A Hungarian-Indian painter, known as one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century.
Amrita was a pioneer in modern Indian art, who was inspired by the pre-colonial Indian art styles and culture around her in the country.
A revolutionary female artist who was the originator of modern art in India.
She took inspiration from both her European and Indian heritage–depicting the everyday life around her.
Sher-Gil was heavily influenced by realism and impressionism, who saw recognition at the young age of 16 for her painting young girls.
Despite her short-lived life, Amrita left an impressive body of work behind.
She was well-traveled and was exposed to the works of old Italian masters at an early age.
During her stay in India, she became heavily influenced by wall paintings in Western India and the aesthetic of European oil painting techniques.
Her art had a convergence of east and west which is clear in her exceptional color palette filled with unbridled and bold colors.
23. Mira Schendel
“My work constitutes an attempt to immortalize fleeting moments and confer meaning to ephemeral things”Mira Schendel
A Swiss-born Latin American artist, Maria Schendel, is one of the most significant and prolific post-war female painters.
Maria is a self-taught artist, who was uninfluenced by other painters, nor did she have ties to any specific school or movement.
Her artistic style was constantly developing throughout her life, experimenting with different styles –having the freedom of a fluid form of thought and pushing the limits of the style and work itself.
She moved from Italy and in 1949 she established herself in Brazil, which was undergoing cultural change; allowing Maria to indulge herself amid a vibrant scene of artists and intellectuals.
As her work moves towards abstraction, she questions the profound relationship between human existence and belief.
Often addressing the difference between faith and certainty, and assessing ideas of being, existence, and the void.
Her artworks are just sublime. They are simple in their complexity, delicately restrained, and exquisite.
24. Yayoi Kusama (1929- present)
“My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings”.Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese avant-garde artist who worked extensively with polka dots and neon colors.
She was best known for her use of polka dots and neon colors.
Her body of works includes sculpture, installation, and paintings as well as film, fashion, and literature.
She is a conceptual artist, infiltrates feminism, pop art, and abstract impressionism into her work.
Her works are based on conceptual art; sharing some characteristics of surrealism, her art is minimalism and part of the feminist art movements.
An inspiration to artists across the world, her magical work art has an almost hallucinatory intensity.
25. Angelica Kauffman
Maria Kauffman, commonly known as Angelica Kauffman, is a famous woman painter considered to be ahead of her time.
This Swiss neoclassic painter was one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London in 1768.
Angelica was trained by her father who was a skilled Austrian muralist and painter.
As a teenager, she traveled across Europe, working as her father’s assistant; which allowed her to see and copy many classical and Renaissance masterworks.
Her Artworks have a unique blend of history and allegory, a cause of highly personal engagement with the genre.
She married a painter, Antonio Zucchi, who took the place of her father as her business manager.
By the time of her death, Angelica was one of the most influential and famous female painters.
Why Have There Been No Great Female Artists?
“Why are there no great women artists?’ sounds as ignorant of human geography as the query ‘Why are there no Eskimo tennis teams?”Francine du Plessix Gray
Prestigious museums such as the Louvre, MoMA, MET, the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage, etc. house less than 11% of women artists in total.
When we think of famous artists or best painters, we think of DaVinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Warhol, Botticelli, or Rembrandt, and artists on these lines.
And undoubtedly, they are some of the great painters of all time, but I’m sure they aren’t the only ones.
Did you notice that all these painters are men? That our history has failed us to educate us about artists that aren’t men.
Listing as many great women artists as male artists is nearly impossible.
“She has the talent of a man”
The question that lies ahead are women not capable of being great artists? Are all recognized artists coincidentally male? Or has our society and institutions been incapable to recognize and facilitate women’s works?
Art is more than just a drawing or splashes of color; it reflects and influences how we view our society and people.
Women as artists have faced gender inequality throughout history and this is a reoccurring topic that never gets the attention it deserves.
But the real question here is: What does the male domination of art history say about the way we look at women?
Even though art is viewed as a free and autonomous activity, the contrary seems to be true.
For a very long time, women were not allowed in art guilds and academies.
They were “deprived of the possibility of creating major art works’” (Harris, 2001).
Knowing the history of women in art is vital to fully appreciate their work and comprehend the fundamentals of their creation.
Along with understanding their vulnerability, which came from their position in society during their respective times.
Paintings are a great way to express emotions, it is more than the act of painting,
It’s always about the emotions a painting evokes in us.
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The purpose of this article is to build a more inclusive and richer picture of art history.
We honor their contribution to the art world as a painter and admire them for their courage.
It is due to these women who came before us, we have the freedom to create the lives we want to live today.
I hope you found this article on female painters answering all questions, if we have missed any point or information that you wish us to add, please let us know in the comment section below.
All facts and figures are taken from official sources.
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