Women – the most celebrated muse of the art world. Sculptures, portraits, and paintings of women have been around for more than centuries.
There is no denying that women have played a vital role in the history of art. They have been a part of the most eminent pieces across the globe.
The portrayal of women in paintings has held different significance and meaning over time.
From being mythological muses in the Middle Ages to being portrayed to showcase their family’s affluence in the renaissance era.
Art is a product of its time. Women have been sculpted, molded, and painted not just by artists but also the society.
In the following article, we will observe iconic paintings of women from influential artists who have painted them in styles that persisted during their times, reflecting their world almost like an allegory.
Table of contents
- 1. The sleeping Venus By Giorgione 1510
- 2. Mona Lisa By Leonardo DaVinci 1519
- 3. The Rokeby Venus By Diego Velázquez 1647
- 4. The Girl with a Pearl Earring By Johannes Vermeer 1665
- 5. Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio 1599
- 6. Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting By Artemisia Gentileschi 1639
- 7. Arrangement In Grey And Black No.1 By James McNeil Whistler 1871
- 8. Woman with a Parasol By Claude Monet 1875
- 9. Madame X by John Singer Sargent 1884
- 10. Flaming June By Frederic Leighton 1895
- 11. The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse 1902
- 12. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I By Gustav Klimt 1907
- 13. The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon 1920
- 14. Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso 1932
- 15. Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird By Frida Kahlo 1940
- 16. Woman I By Willem de Kooning 1952
- 17. Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol 1964
1. The sleeping Venus By Giorgione 1510
This painting of a woman’s body is a sensual work of art that is attributed to the Venetian artist Giorgione and his brilliant student Titian.
Giorgione died before he could finish The Sleeping Nude and as a devoted student, Titian completed the work but it is unknown how much was painted by Giorgione and what was added by titian.
This grand nude painting of a woman was the first in renaissance art to be painted.
The curves of the reclining nude match the rolling and lush hills behind her, sleeping in harmony, almost like she is embodying nature.
Despite the sensuous pose, the sensuality has been distilled off, denoting not the act of love but rather the reminiscence of it.
Because of this, it came under a lot of scrutiny from critics and became of the most controversial artworks in the world.
This masterpiece has influenced many artists to paint their own reclining nude that has evolved to represent the women of their era.
Perhaps, even defining the women of their generation.
(Also Read: Lady Godiva painting by John Collier that reveals the facts from fiction)
2. Mona Lisa By Leonardo DaVinci 1519
Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci – The art world’s most celebrated art and artist.
It is a masterpiece that tills dates and mystifies art lovers and artists alike.
Taking a look at Mona Lisa is like taking part in a silent back-and-forth negotiation.
The bewitching gaze of the muse teases us with the proud grin that prompts us to try to understand both the mood of the muse and the intention of the artist.
This painting features a seated woman who is set against an imaginary landscape that shares similarities to Renaissance portrayals of the Virgin Mary.
Unlike most paintings of women during the era, this famous painting of women was anything but elaborated.
Mona Lisa is perhaps the most recognized and skillfully rendered work of art that is known for both its curious iconography and unique history.
This classic female painting is on a permanent display in Louver Museum, Paris.
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3. The Rokeby Venus By Diego Velázquez 1647
The only surviving nude painting of Velázquez; an essential figure in the Spanish golden age and European baroque.
Painting of women’s bodies was a rarity in 17th-century Spain and they were to be seen by a private audience only.
This enigmatic painting was subjected to violence in the national gallery during the suffragette’s protest.
The Rokeby Venus is considered one of the most erotically charged images to this day.
4. The Girl with a Pearl Earring By Johannes Vermeer 1665
This painting of a young Girl with a pearl earring and a blue scarf is considered to be one of the most beautiful paintings in the world.
Painted by Vermeer in the 17th century, this intimate portrait of a woman is perhaps is also one of the most famous paintings of a woman and often compared to DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.
Every famous painting has a mystery behind it and Vermeer’s mystery lies in his subject.
But that doesn’t matter, this work was never intended to study the subject but to attest to Vermeer’s technical expertise, especially his mastery of light.
5. Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio 1599
This painting of women is an icon of female rage and is inspired by a story symbolizing triumph over tyranny.
Judith Beheading Holofernes depicts the biblical story of Judith who saves her tribe by seducing and beheading Holofernes; an Assyrian general.
This story has been painted before by many but none had such dramatic flair.
Unlike the other paintings of Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio did not idealize its subjects.
He painted ghastly depictions of the climatic sense that was rarely ever shown before.
Caravaggio’s realistic composition of the actual beheading is sensational, his use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism has helped bring the intensity of his subject’s emotion to life.
From the old woman’s grim satisfaction, Holofernes’s shock, and Judith’s sense of determination, he has used their body language to convey the protagonists’ state of mind.
6. Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting By Artemisia Gentileschi 1639
This self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi consisted of two elements; A self Portrait and an Allegory.
This Painting depicts a powerful symbol for its viewers of how the artist sees herself.
Artemisia depicts herself holding a brush in one hand and a palette in the other.
With her unruly hair, iridescent dress, and wearing a gold chain with a medallion in the form of a mask, she cleverly identifies herself as the female personification of painting (Pittura’).
Her expertly rendered portrait speaks for her skills; from her challenging pose to the intellectual allusion of ‘Pittura’ making this painting a truly original image that is more significant than those of her male counterparts.
7. Arrangement In Grey And Black No.1 By James McNeil Whistler 1871
Arrangement In Grey And Black No.1 is a portrait of the painter’s mother.
The painting is a simple formal composition and a nuanced symphony of greys, blues, and yellows.
Yet whistler’s mother looks out of place in his Japanese-inspired room. She is just simply an unexpected part of the decorative composition.
This painting of women sitting is one of the most recognizable portraits in today’s world.
Whistler defined the work as an art object rather than a portrait of a specific person, he believed in making art for the sake of art.
This painting also became a symbol of motherhood when the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp engraved with this image and the saying “In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America”.
8. Woman with a Parasol By Claude Monet 1875
Monet’s Woman with a Parasol is one of the most famous paintings of women in art history.
The painting depicts a woman in a stylish dress, with her parasol shading her from the sun.
The woman is wearing a necklace and a bracelet with pearl earrings, which matches the elegant style of her dress along the background, where we see a yacht and another building.
The painting is one of the earliest examples of Impressionist art.
This painting helped to influence the development of Impressionism as a movement in the art world.
Isn’t this painting fascinating? Well, Monet’s all paintings are!
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9. Madame X by John Singer Sargent 1884
John Singer Sargent’s infamous painting – Madame X was considered too scandalous for 18th-century Parisian society.
The muse was soon recognized as the notorious Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau – a well-known beauty of the Parisian society at her time.
This famous painting of women created an uproar when it was exhibited in the Paris salon of 1884 as the French considered it to be too provoking.
The controversy forced Sargent to re-paint the right strap of her dress, which was originally painted slipping off the shoulders.
The painting may not have been a success in Paris but as they say, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”; this painting led him to have a great career, both in America and England.
10. Flaming June By Frederic Leighton 1895
A Victorian painting by Frederic Leighton that explores the similarities between sleep and death.
An idea that piqued the curiosity of many Victorian artists then.
The woman enjoys a nap under a canopy during a hot summer day, seeming calm with a flush.
Her peaceful and motionless frame is draped in bright orange which nearly fills the entire canvas.
Above her, we see the glorious Mediterranean Sea shining with the reflection of the sunlight.
You can also read John’s The Soul of the Rose, which depicts a beautiful yet mysterious lady.
11. The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse 1902
The Crystal Ball is one of John William’s most famous works.
The painting depicts a woman holding a crystal ball in her hand, staring at it intently.
The painting is largely influenced by the style of Renaissance architecture and pre-Raphaelites.
William is known for his surrealist artwork which used everyday objects to create a sense of mystery and intrigue.
The Crystal Ball captures the tension between reality and illusion, which is also present in many of his other paintings.
12. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I By Gustav Klimt 1907
This painting is the first in the series of two paintings by Adele Bloch-Bauer.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and various other paintings were commissioned by and owned by the Bloch-Bauer family.
Gustav Klimt was an artist who passionately practiced his craft and daringly rebelled against the institutes.
He was shy but charming and was dearly adored by the women he painted.
He also painted women as heroines in the battlefield as his work in Judith and the Head of Holofernes depicts.
Klimt painted the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I in his ‘golden phase’ and is today considered to be amongst one of the most expensive paintings in the world.
Often referred to as ‘The Woman In Gold’, the painting has a colorful history of theft and long legal battles.
This famous painting of a woman can be seen at the Neue Galerie in New York, USA.
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(Also Read: Paintings by Gustav Klimt)
13. The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon 1920
The Blue room by Susanne Valadon is an unconventional portrait of its time.
The painting depicts a clothed reclining on her bed, with a cigarette in her mouth and a few books by her feet.
She lays without any care on a messy bed, with a floral sheet. She is a real woman of modern society and not a woman depicted by the male gaze.
Valadon is a self-taught artist who started her journey in the art world as a muse.
Today, she is remembered as a model, lover, mother, and most importantly a painter.
Suzanne Valadon was a rebel who changed the path of art expression forever by shattering gender norms for women in art.
And The Blue Room is her masterpiece, made from her personal experience to embody the intricate layers of womanhood that questioned society’s narrative of a woman.
14. Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso 1932
Le Reve (The Dream) is a painting by 50-year-old Picasso of his 24-year-old mistress – Marie-Thérèse Walter.
This large-scale lustful portrait of sexual desire and expression carries interesting for its viewers.
Here we can see that Picasso used Fauvist and Cubist styles to create this distorted version of reality as well as an abstract version of his own penis on the upturned face of his model.
The oversimplified outlines and great color combinations help highlight the erotic nature of this painting.
15. Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird By Frida Kahlo 1940
Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is one of the most famous paintings of Frida Kahlo.
This self-portrait of Kahlo is almost a collection of symbols, giving us a peak into her mental and emotional state that cannot be deduced by her impassive stare.
Here, the thorn necklace is a symbol of the pain and suffering that Kahlo endured throughout her life, whereas the hummingbird is a symbol of hope and resilience.
Frida painted this painting after she ended her marriage with her husband Diego Rivera.
Today, this female painter is one of the most famous artists of our time.
The painting is currently on display at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City.
To know more about this painting, you can read a deep analysis of Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.
16. Woman I By Willem de Kooning 1952
Woman I is a powerful painting of women that takes inspiration from women in all their forms across history.
This arresting image is intimidating yet intriguing that rejects the traditional representations of women.
Willem de Kooning’s grotesque portrayal of women challenges the line between figurative and abstract painting.
Huge eyes, a menacing grin, massive breasts, distorted limbs, and a ferocious stare are heightened by the artist’s undisciplined brushwork.
Today, it is one of the most celebrated portrayals of the female form.
Women I can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art, USA
17. Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol 1964
Blue Marylin by Andy Warhol is one of the most famous paintings of women in Pop Art.
There has been no painting important to Andy Warhol and his career as this painting of Marylin Monroe.
Warhol’s portrait of celebrities has been a way to comment on their iconic status and the holiness their fans view them with.
He created this diptych sometime after Monroe’s suicide, it was to remind their audience and fans that there is a real person beyond all the fame and glamour.
This diptych is interpreted to be a celebration of the artist as well as a satire on the world’s obsession with materiality and fame.
Female figures have had inspiration for artists to create art in styles that prevailed during their time. Ranging from women as goddesses, reclining nudes,
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I hope this article helped you appreciate the world’s most famous muse – A woman.
If I have missed your favorite painting of women or if we have missed any 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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Famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and Austrian painter Gustav Klimt were amongst the artists who introduced women subjects in their paintings regularly.
Famous Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Magnum opus Mona Lisa.
The Birth of Venus by Sando Botticelli happens to be one of the most famous painting of a woman after Mona Lisa.
Judith beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio is a very peculiar painting. It depicts Judith decapitating Holofernes with a sword while he was asleep in his tent.