What’s it like to be a woman and be an artist? That seems like a weird question today, but back starting in the 1700’s things were a little different.
A while back I went to an exhibition at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. This exhibition is centered on paintings by women artists spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th century.
The guide explained the difficulties women faced trying to make it as artists. During the span of those time periods, wealthy women learned skills such as sewing, reading, writing and painting. Because of this their work was not considered valuable and it wasn’t treasured.
As the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art Executive Director Tarissa Tiberti Put it:
“The works feature artist of every style while representing a time period when talent was under-appreciated because it was assigned to gender, as the wheels of equality were slowly, but purposefully, grinding.”
An artist that stuck out to me was Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun (1755 – 1842). She was a French painter famously known for her portraits of wealthy women.
In 1779, she painted a portrait of Queen Marie-Antoinette (Imagine how intimidating that must have been. Your head would literally be on the chopping block if you messed up!). The queen liked her so much she ended up painting over 20 portraits of Marie-Antoinette. Her strong social skills and her friendship with the queen allowed her to become a highly-desired portrait artist, a rare feat for a woman in her time.
Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun became a role model to other women artists through these efforts and also by painting royalty with all of their ornate accessories in a softer more natural view.
The stories the guide told us made me feel even luckier to be an artist today. I have always been grateful that I didn’t have to work with the toxic elements used to create paint and instead go to the store to pick up what I need.
Photography has also been a great assistance. To be able to take photos of your subject matter where the lighting remains the same, where your fruits never rot and your flowers never droop is truly amazing. I can only imagine the difficulty of sitting in a location trying to paint while the light was still good.
I have admired the discipline of impressionists and even today’s plain air painters for hauling their materials to and from a site in order to pick up where they left off and to see and paint in the same light.
In short, It is a wonderful time to be a woman painting!
The image I used was found here.