Museum  January 2, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Women Artists Excel in the Face of Oppression in new Dallas Museum of Art Exhibition

Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of Natalia Zakharovna Kolycheva, née Hitrovo, 1799, oil on canvas. Lent by the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation.

Their styles vary widely, from Rococo to Modernism, but the thing that all the artists have in common in a new exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is that they’re all female, struggling against the constraints of a society that hindered them in the pursuit of their chosen career. Women Artists in Europe from the Monarchy to Modernism ties together talented female artists from two centuries, and takes a closer look at the systems of oppression, both codified and unspoken, that they faced.

Painters that are now canonical, like Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Rosa Bonheur, though successful in their lifetimes, were forced to conform to societal expectations. In the hierarchy of subject-matter, portraiture and genre painting (like Bonheur’s famous depictions of cattle) were considered less challenging and therefore less prestigious, making them more appropriate for the lesser sex. The fact that these two artists excelled within these parameters, expanding the genres themselves, is a testament to their strength, talent, and determination as artists.

Rosa Bonheur, Lion's Head, c. 1880-1885
Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Rosa Bonheur, Lion's Head, c. 1880-1885, pencil heightened with white on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Campbell.

Lyubov Popova, Painterly Architectonics, 1918
Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Lyubov Popova, Painterly Architectonics, 1918, oil on cardboard. Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund and gifts from Mrs. Edward Marcus, James H. Coker and Ann Addison, Margaret Ann Bol.

Eva Gonzalès, Afternoon Tea, c. 1874
Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Eva Gonzalès, Afternoon Tea, c. 1874, Oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Gabriele Münter, Woman and Man with Dog, 1918
Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Gabriele Münter, Woman and Man with Dog, 1918, lithograph on velin paper. Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Dorace M. Fichtenbaum.

With the rise of modern art, the academy, once the arbiter of art greatness, and who had forbidden female artists from studying from live nude models, lost prominence. As the definition of art expanded, so did opportunities for women in the arts and on the whole. With the rise of Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism, female artists found a new means of expression and new audiences.

Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in a Terracotta Vase with Peaches and Grapes, 1776, oil on canvas. Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund.

Drawn largely’s from the DMA’s collection, Women Artists in Europe from the Monarchy to Modernism shows a breadth of styles, media, and messages. Modern artists like painter and designer Lyubov Popova, who came from a family of prominent Russian art patrons, used the advantages that came with her family’s status to develop and promote Cubo-Futurism and other avant-garde movements. These newer styles embraced a diversity of media beyond oil paints, which were once seen as the exclusive media of fine art. These newly acceptable choices were more economically accessible to female artists, who had often relegated to working in less valued media like paper and pastels. The acceptance of new artforms encouraged audiences to look more seriously at work that was assumed to be lesser simply because of the material it was made with. Similarly, this exhibition asks us to examine the works created by great women artists not in spite of the boundaries they faced, but because of the strength it took to overcome them.

Women Artists in Europe from the Monarchy to Modernism is on view through June 9, 2019, at the Dallas Museum of Art.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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