Women Artists - A History

As we experience Women’s History Month, we are reminded of the impact made within the history of art by female artists, despite the challenges of visibility.

As we experience Women’s History Month, we are reminded of the impact made within the history of art by female artists, despite the challenges of visibility.

Such as the time period of the 16th to the 19th century, where women were banned from studying the nude model, which was the largest form of academic training, or the fact that prestigious institutions didn’t allow women to study at all. In London’s Royal Academy the first female was accidently admitted in 1860 after Laura Herford admitted her work under her initials LH. 

This exclusion of women within education had a knock-on effect to women being either pigeonholed into craft, or excluded again from entire movements. Despite the gender gap female artists paved their own paths, now walked by our contemporary powerhouses who maintain and push art further. 

Here are Hancock Galleries top 5 female artists that have greatly informed contemporary art as we know it today:

Hannah Höch 

1889 – 1978

Höch met Raoul Hausmann in 1917 and became associated with the Berlin Dada movement, who were mostly male artists satirizing and critiquing German culture post WW1. She was one of the main pioneers of political collages and photomontages. Höch was known for reunifying text and image from mass media to comment upon pop culture as well as, critiquing the failings of Weimar Republic and socially constructed roles of females such as, “the new woman”. This got Höch banned throughout the Nazi regime in Germany due to her socially critical work. Höch commented in an interview with Edouard Roditi for Arts Magazine 34 (December 1959) on the gender gap within art, “Most of our male colleagues continued for a long while to look upon us as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us implicitly any real professional status.” 

Georgia O'Keefe
1887 - 1986

O'Keefe’s artwork has been credited for its mastery of key elements within art making through the use of line, colour and composition alongside a highly disciplined drawing practice and a dramatic colour pallet. O'Keefe is considered one of the greatest 20th century American artists creating serene art to reflect her experience of the natural world. The imagery of flowers was O'Keefe’s signature motif with magnified petals and blooms that become abstract planes of colour. She created her own style of work in a time where the modern art scene was chaotic, paving the way for others to see her success as inspiration. In O'Keefe’s later years, she fell in love with the open skies and stark landscape of New Mexico, painting the architecture, landscape and bleached animal bones.

Barbara Hepworth
1903 - 1975

Barbara Hepworth was a seminal artist of the 20th century born in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Hepworth created over 600 works of sculpture throughout her career varying in subject range and emotional presence. In high school Hepworth became inspired by images of Egyptian sculpture and with consistent encouragement from the headteacher Hepworth began her studies at the Royal College of Art in London in 1921. Throughout the 1930’s Hepworth became part of an artistic circle with Henry Moor and Ben Nicholson, who she lived with during this time. Sculpture, especially in this time period, was considered a macho art. However, when speaking in the 1961 BBC film entitled with her name, Hepworth commented on the inspiration for her want to create sculpture, ‘All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the forms.’

Frida Kahlo
1907 - 1954

Within Kahlo’s career she is most remembered for creating self-portraits with bold and vibrant colours, depicting both pain and passion. As a child the artist suffered from polio recovering from that to then as a teenager be in a bus accident that nearly took her life. Kahlo had a wide range of injuries from the accident from a shattered pelvis, broken foot, dislocated shoulder as well as multiple fractures of the spine, ribs and collarbone. Due to these injuries Kahlo was in a body cast to aid recovery and throughout this time she began to focus heavily on painting as a means to cope with her medical injuries and healing. When asked why she paints so many self-portraits Kahlo responded, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person, I know best.". To this day Kahlo is considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists and a world-renowned feminist icon for defying her destiny as a victim, painting real female experiences and defying gender stereotypes.

Lee Krasner
1908 - 1984

Lee Krasner was an American abstract artist specialising in collage who is now credited as an essential transitional figure in abstraction, connecting 20th century art to the new ideas of post war America. However, this was not always the case as Krasner was married to Jackson Pollock and at times the relationship would eclipse Krasner’s achievements and works. Krasner’s career ended up spanning over 50 years, where she created through a variety of mediums such as creating portraits, cubist drawings, collage and large-scale abstract painting. As well as, taking inspiration from a variety of movements spanning that half of a century. Krasner signed much of her work under “LK” or not at all, wanting to escape presumptions of femininity within the work of female artists and wanting the art to be judged for exactly what it was- art.


We are celebrating Women in History month throughout March and will be sharing more powerful and prominent females that have influenced the Art world as we know it. Stay updated on the latest events, exhibitions, and more at Hancock Gallery by subscribing to our newsletter below or follow us. 

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