7, March 2017
By: Christy Oldham
It’s never too late for a renaissance. It only took two centuries to discover the value of a female Old Master like 18th-century French portraitist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who drew crowds at the Grand Palais in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in 2015 and 2016.
The Madrid’s Museo del Prado recently devoted its first exhibition to a female artist, the mysterious Flemish Baroque still-life painter Clara Peeters. (Peeters’ first known painting is signed and dated in 1607; the technical polish and compositional sophistication of this painting and of her other early works indicate the skill of a highly trained artist). Her work suggests training in Antwerp, a city where artists stressed detail and careful finish in painting, however, no record of her apprenticeship has been found.
Conservators at the Tate in London are preparing its earliest work by a woman—the newly acquired Portrait of an Unknown Lady (1650-55) by Joan Carlile—for display at Tate Britain in 2018.
And 30 paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi—arguably the greatest female artist in history—are currently on show in Italy alongside those of her male peers at the Museo di Roma (Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Times).
At Tefaf (The European Fine Art Fair), Maastricht, Shapero Rare Books is exhibiting illustrations by the German naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), who will also be the subject of shows in Berlin and Frankfurt this year.
About Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)
By the time she was in her early teens, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was painting portraits professionally. After her studio was seized for her practicing without a license, she applied to the Académie de Saint-Luc, which unwittingly exhibited her works in their Salon. In 1774, she was made a member of the Académie. As her career blossomed, she was invited to the Palace of Versailles and granted patronage by Marie Antoinette. So pleased was the queen that during a period of six years, Vigée Le Brun would paint more than thirty portraits of the queen and her family, leading to her being commonly viewed as the official portraitist of Marie Antoinette.
About Artemisia Gentileschi (1593- 1656)
She painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors. Her best-known work is Judith Slaying Holofernes (a well-known medieval and baroque subject in art), which “shows the decapitation of Holofernes, a scene of horrific struggle and blood-letting. Unfortunately, the fact that she was a woman painting in the seventeenth century and that she was raped and participated in the prosecution of the rapist long overshadowed her achievements as an artist. For many years she was regarded as a curiosity. Today she is regarded as one of the most progressive and expressive painters of her generation.
About Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
The German-born illustrator and naturalist was trained in flower painting by her stepfather. She married a painter and published her first scientific book, a study of the life cycle of butterflies, in 1679. She left her husband and moved to progressive Amsterdam, embarking on an expedition to the Dutch colony of Surinam in 1699. The resulting volume with 60 engravings of flora and fauna sealed her international reputation. A joint show at Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett (7 April-2 July) and Städel Museum in Frankfurt (11 October-14 January 2018) and a conference at the University of Amsterdam (7-9 June) will mark the 300th anniversary of her death this year.
About Clara Peeters (1607-1621)
She was unusual for her time in being a female painter, and is the earliest significant woman painter of the Dutch Golden Age; if regarded as a Flemish painter, she was the most famous Flemish woman of the 17th century. Most female Dutch painters also specialized in still life’s, which did not require knowledge of anatomy. Many aspects of her life and work remain very unclear, especially outside the period 1607 to 1621 from which period dated paintings are known.