In 1971, American art historian Linda Nochlin published her essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. It focused on the institutional obstacles that had prevented women in the west from becoming successful artists. Linda’s essay came to be regarded as a pioneering essay for both feminist art history and feminist art theory; and it initiated a search for prominent women artists in history. Among the best known early female artists is Artemisia Gentileschi, who is now regarded as one of the great artists of the Baroque period. 19th century first saw the emergence of several leading women artists in the west. These included Rosa Bonheur and Mary Cassatt, who became prominent painters of the art movements Realism and Impressionism respectively. Some of the most renowned and influential artists of the 20th century were females; and painters like Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo were instrumental in altering the gender balance in the art world. Here are the 10 most famous female artists and their best known works.

 

Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley

#10 Bridget Riley

Born: April 24, 1931

Nationality: English

Op art, short form for optical art, is a genre in abstract art in which the artist creates an optical illusion through precise manipulation of patterns, shapes and colors. Bridget Riley is perhaps the most famous Op artist after Victor Vasarely and her paintings of the 1960s became synonymous with the Op Art movement. In 1968, Riley represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale, where she was the first British contemporary painter, and the first woman, to be awarded the International Prize for painting. Over the course of her career, Riley also created murals for major art institutions, including the Tate and the National Gallery. Her large black and white murals shape and articulate the environments they occupy. Bridget Riley is one of the most famous female abstract artists. For her contribution to the genre, she is renowned as the Mother of Op Art.

Masterpiece: Movement in Squares (1961)

Movement in Squares (1961)
Movement in Squares (1961) – Bridget Riley

Other Famous Works:-

Current (1964)

Kiss (1961)

 

Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara de Lempicka

#9 Tamara de Lempicka

Lifespan: May 16, 1898 – March 18, 1980

Nationality: Polish

Born in Poland in an aristocratic family, Tamara de Lempicka spent her working life in France and the United States. She studied painting with two prominent artists: Maurice Denis and André Lhote. Art Deco was an artistic style characterized by precise and boldly delineated geometric shapes and strong colors. Lempicka was the lone traditional easel painter who worked in the Art Deco style. She is best known for portraits of aristocrats and the wealthy which were executed in a realistic, dynamic and colorful Art Deco style. Lempicka was a bisexual and she made bold, liberated female sexuality the linchpin of her art. She often depicted her female lovers and other women in pairs or groups thus challenging the traditional way of depicting a nude woman for the pleasure of the male viewer. After fading out temporarily, Lempicka’s art made a comeback in the late 1960s with the rediscovery of Art Deco and since then her paintings have had numerous admirers including the famous American singer Madonna.

Masterpiece: Autoportrait (Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti) (1929)

Self-portrait in a Green Bugatti (1929)
Self-portrait in a Green Bugatti (1929) – Tamara de Lempicka

Other Famous Works:-

Young Lady with Gloves (1930)

La Belle Rafaela (1927)

 

Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur

#8 Rosa Bonheur

Lifespan: March 16, 1822 – May 25, 1899

Nationality: French

Born in a rich family, Rosa Bonheur first displayed her art at a salon in Paris at age 19 and she was soon recognized as an important painter. Her popularity in France declined around the center of her life but her works were greatly admired in England and America. Even Queen Victoria had high praise for Bonheur’s masterpiece, The Horse Fair. Bonheur is best known for her painting of animals which she created after extensive scientific study of animal anatomy. She is credit for paving the way for future generation of female artists. In 1865, Rosa Bonheur became the first woman to be awarded with the Grand Cross Legion of Honor, the highest French order for military and civil merits. Realism was an art movement which concentrated on depicting the present with uncompromising accuracy. Bonheur is not only the best known female realist artist but she is also widely regarded as one of the greatest female painters of the 19th century.

Masterpiece: The Horse Fair (1855)

The Horse Fair (1853)
The Horse Fair (1853) – Rosa Bonheur

Other Famous Works:-

Ploughing in the Nivernais (1849)

The Lion at Home (1881)

 

Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington

#7 Leonora Carrington

Lifespan: April 6, 1917 – May 25, 2011

Nationality: Mexican

Surrealism was an influential art movement which rejected rationalism and literary realism; and instead focused on channeling the unconscious mind to unveil the power of the imagination. Considering that renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo declared that she was not a Surrealist, Leonora Carrington is perhaps the most famous female Surrealist artist. Leonora was born in England but lived most of her adult life in Mexico. She had a romantic relationship with Max Ernst, one of the leading Surrealist artists; and her first work in the genre was a portrait of Ernst as a tribute to their relationship. Unlike the other Surrealists, Carrington was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud. She is instead famous for her haunting, autobiographical paintings that incorporate images of sorcery, metamorphosis, alchemy and the occult. Her art is also known for expressing female sexuality in a distinctively different way than males.

Masterpiece: Self-Portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1937 – 1938)

Self-Portrait, The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1938) - Leonora Carrington
Self-Portrait, The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1938) – Leonora Carrington

Other Famous Works:-

Portrait of Max Ernst

The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947)

 

Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin

#6 Tracey Emin

Born: July 3, 1963

Nationality: English

The Young British Artists is a name given to a loose group of visual artists who first began to exhibit together in London, in 1988. They are known for their openness to materials and processes, shock tactics and entrepreneurial attitude. Tracey Emin is the most famous YBA after Damien Hirst. She has explored a wide variety of media; and her art is known for being autobiographical and confessional. Her best known works include Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, a tent appliqued with the names of everyone she had ever shared a bed with; and My Bed, a ready-made installation consisting of her own unmade dirty bed while she was going through a period of severe depression. Called the “bad girl of British art”, Tracey Emin is among the most renowned contemporary artists. She was named one of the 100 most powerful women in U.K. in 2013 and she is one of just two women to be appointed professor at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, since its foundation in 1768.

Masterpiece: Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995)

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 – Tracey Emin

Other Famous Works:-

My Bed (1998)

You Forgot to Kiss my Soul (2007)

 

Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois

#5 Louise Bourgeois

Lifespan: December 25, 1911 – May 31, 2010

Nationality: French-American

Bourgeois’s father was a tyrannical philanderer who had an affair with her teacher. Her mother, for convenience, turned a blind eye to her husband’s infidelity. The art of Bourgeois was heavily influenced by the traumatic psychological events from her childhood, particularly her father’s infidelity. Her artwork ultimately became renowned for its highly personal thematic content involving the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body. Louise Bourgeois was one of the most successful and famous artists of the 20th century. Although she is best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, she was also a prolific painter and printmaker. Bourgeois explored a wide variety of themes over the course of her long career including domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the subconscious.

Masterpiece: Maman (1999)

Maman (1999)
Maman (1999) – Louise Bourgeois

Other Famous Works:-

Steilneset Memorial (2011)

Femme Maison (1947)

 

Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt

#4 Mary Cassatt

Lifespan: May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926

Nationality: American

Born in Pennsylvania in the United States, Mary Cassatt traveled to France for her artistic training and remained there for most of her life and career. French artistic world at the time was dominated by Impressionism, an influential movement in which the artists focused on capturing the momentary effect of a scene rather than accurately depicting it. Mary Cassatt became the only American artist to exhibit with the Impressionists in Paris. Her talent was recognized by her contemporaries and she had a long period of collaboration with the famous artist Edgar Degas. Mary Cassatt is best known for portraying the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. Her contribution as a female artist is notable as she was able to achieve professional success at a time when very few women were regarded as serious artists. Mary Cassatt was the most famous female Impressionist and she is regarded as one of the greatest female artists of all time.

Masterpiece: The Child’s Bath (1893)

The Child's Bath (1893)
The Child’s Bath (1893) – Mary Cassatt

Other Famous Works:-

Little Girl in Blue Armchair (1878)

The Boating Party (1893)

 

Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi

#3 Artemisia Gentileschi

Lifespan: July 8, 1593 – c. 1656

Nationality: Italian

Artemisia lost her mother when she was only 12 and, at the age of 17, she was raped by one of her father’s colleagues, Agostino Tassi. After her rapist was prosecuted, she married a painter and relocated to Florence. There she put behind the tragedies of her early life and flourished as an artist. Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno, an instructional art academy in Florence. She enjoyed the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, among others. She also had international clientele. Artemisia specialized in depicting strong and suffering women from myths, allegories and the Bible. She was famous for convincingly depicting the female figure as well as for her skill and talent in handling color. She was associated with the Baroque art style. Artemisia Gentileschi is today regarded as one of the most accomplished painters of her time as well as one of the greatest female artists of all time.

Masterpiece: Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620)

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620)
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620) – Artemisia Gentileschi

Other Famous Works:-

Susanna and the Elders (1611)

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1639)

 

Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe

#2 Georgia O’Keeffe

Lifespan: November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986

Nationality: American

American Modernism was an artistic and cultural movement which peaked between the two World Wars. It was marked by a deliberate departure from tradition and use of innovative forms of expression. Georgia O’Keeffe became the leading figure in American Modernism by challenging the boundaries of artistic style with her paintings, which combined abstraction and representation. She is most famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. Georgia O’Keeffe was highly significant in influencing the gender balance in the artistic scene. Known as the Mother of American Modernism“, she is not only the most famous female American artist but also one of the most influential figures of 20th century art. In 1977, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Masterpiece: Black Iris III (1926)

Black Iris III (1926) - Georgia O’Keeffe
Black Iris III (1926) – Georgia O’Keeffe

Other Famous Works:-

Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931)

Radiator Building — Night, New York (1927)

 

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

#1 Frida Kahlo

Lifespan: July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954

Nationality: Mexican

On 17th September 1925, Frida Kahlo and her friend Alex were riding in a bus when it crashed into a street trolley car. Due to the grave injuries she suffered in the accident, Frida had to undergo 35 operations in her life, bear with relapses of extreme pain and could not have children. While in hospital, Kahlo began painting and she ultimately abandoned her career in medicine to become an artist. Frida Kahlo is most famous for her self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Frida Kahlo is ranked among the greatest artists in the genre of self portraiture. She is undoubtedly one of the most famous modern artists and perhaps the most renowned female painter. She also remains a feminist icon for the way she led her life.

Masterpiece: The Two Fridas (1939)

The Two Fridas (1939) - Frida Kahlo
The Two Fridas (1939) – Frida Kahlo

Other Famous Works:-

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)

The Broken Column (1944)

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