Throughout history, female artists have often been overlooked in favor of their male contemporaries. However, during the 19th century, there was an increase in prominent female artists, spanning countries, cultures and mediums. These artists helped pave the way for others to come forward and became prominent contributors to their respective movements and mediums. Read on about 20 of the most prominent, pioneering and influential among these.
The 19th Century Art World: A Home For Female Artists
The 19th century was a time of fast-paced change throughout the world. Along with technological advances was a drastically changing art world. The political upheaval of the French Revolution established the groundwork for the 18th-century interest in classicism and the use of the Salon to determine an artwork’s value. In turn, the 19th century began to challenge the art world’s system even further. Art as a practice and commodity became more democratized than ever before. Although female artists have existed throughout the history of art, the 19th century’s social and economic changes allowed for more women to enter and find success within the art scene. Art schools were created specifically for female artists. Featured within exhibitions and the Salons of Paris were many prominent female artists of the 19th century. The democratization of art allowed for many underrepresented demographics to become more successful, including female artists.
Cecilia Beaux: American Portraitist
Cecilia Beaux was an American artist born in Philadelphia in 1855, best known for her portraits. Beaux’s maternal aunts and grandmother raised her and her sister after the death of their mother. Following her mother’s death, her father returned to his native country of France. He was absent for most of her life. Beaux exhibited an interest in art at an early age, taking lessons from her relative, Catherine Ann Janvier née Drinker, and later with Francis Adolf van der Wielen. By the time she reached 18, she was a drawing teacher at Miss Sanford’s School, as well as making a living from her commercial arts. In 1876, she began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and became their first female professor. She made repeated trips to France, consistently improving on her craft. She was a highly successful portraitist, exhibiting domestically and internationally. Beaux died in 1942.
Emily Cumming Harris: New Zealand’s First Prominent Female Painter
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Emily Cumming Harris is one of New Zealand’s first prominent female artists. She was born in England in 1836 to a teacher and an artist. She and her family emigrated to Nelson, New Zealand when she was a child, remaining there for the majority of her life. Most of her work was botanical studies of New Zealand’s floral and plant life. She was also a writer and poet. In 1860, Harris was sent to Hobart, Australia to study and avoid the outbreak following the First Taranaki War. Several years later, she returned to Nelson and assisted her sisters in running a primary school. She also offered private lessons in dancing, music, and drawing. Harris repeatedly exhibited her work, both in New Zealand and abroad. Despite her exhibitions, Harris was never a “full-time artist,” as her sales and profits from her art were infrequent and unsubstantial.
Asta Nørregaard: Portraitist Of Norway
Asta Nørregaard was a Norwegian portraitist born in 1853. Early in life, she and her older sister became orphans when her mother died in 1853 and their father in 1872. Asta studied art at the Knud Bergslien school of painting with fellow painter Harriet Backer. At age 22, she became a pupil of Eilif Peterssen, remaining in Munich with him for approximately three years. In 1879, she moved to Paris for five years. During this time, she became well known for her portraits. Her first major exhibition in Paris was the Salon of 1881. She returned to Norway in 1885 but continued to travel internationally, exhibiting her work in multiple countries across Europe. Nørregaard died in 1933 at age 79.
Helga Von Cramm: German Watercolorist
Helga von Cramm was a German-Swiss watercolorist, illustrator, and graphic artist. She was born in 1840. Helga was a baroness, which allowed her to live a comfortable life, like many 19th century female artists who were born into wealthy families. In 1885, Von Cramm married Erich Griepenkerl, a politician from Brunswick, who died 3 years later. Throughout her life, she lived in multiple countries and exhibited her work in a variety of locations. She had a great deal of success in the United Kingdom, exhibiting in the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, and more. In 1876, Von Cramm met poet Frances Ridley Havergal in Switzerland. The two became friends, leading to Von Cramm illustrating Havergal’s poetry for 1 to 2 years. Von Cramm died in 1919.
Maria Slavona (Marie Schorer): German Impressionist
Maria Slavona, born Marie Dorette Caroline Schorer, was a German Impressionist born in 1865 in Lübeck. After informally studying art, she attended women’s art schools in Berlin at 17 years old. She later attended the teaching institute at the Museum of Decorative Arts until 1886. In 1887, she began attending the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen, a women’s art institution. A year later, she moved to Munich and eventually attended the Münchner Künstlerinnenverein.
Her first exhibition was the 1893 Salon de Champ-de-Mars of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where she exhibited under a male pseudonym. In 1901, she joined the Berlin Secession, returning to Lübeck, and later to Berlin. Sadly, much of her work was destroyed during World War II after being labeled “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) by the Nazis. Her work was not considered significant until a retrospective of her work was held in 1981, 50 years after her death.
Jessie Newbery: Embroidery As An Art
Jessie Newbery was a Scottish embroiderer and textile artist. She was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1864. Her interest in textile work began during a visit to Italy when she was 18. In 1884, she enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art. She worked in a variety of materials, including metalwork, stained glass, carpet design, and embroidery.
She eventually established the Glasgow School of Art’s department of embroidery and later became the department head in 1894. Her embroidery brought her recognition domestically and internationally, with a large fanbase in Germany. Newbery’s work led to a new kind of appreciation of embroidery, elevating it beyond a “peasant craft.” In 1908, she retired from her position as a department head, continuing to produce and exhibit her work. Beyond her professional accomplishments, she was an avid suffrage advocate. She was a part of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists and a Glasgow Girl.
Harriet Backer: Norwegian Genre Painter
Harriet Backer was born in Holmestrant, Norway in 1845 to a wealthy family and able to begin drawing and painting lessons at 12 years old. In her twenties, she began studying at Knud Bergslien’s school of painting after studying under Johan Fredrik Eckersberg and Christen Brun.
She traveled frequently with her sister, Agathe Backer- Grøndahl, a composer and pianist. These trips allowed her to continue improving her craft by replicating old master paintings. In 1874, she traveled to Munich to continue her education. Four years later, she continued her studies in Paris, France. While in France, she became associated with the Salon Marie Trélat and was inspired by the work of Impressionists. She remained in France for 10 years, returning to Norway permanently in 1888. From 1892 to 1912 she managed a painting school. She received many awards for her work, including a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
Anna Atkins: Marrying Science And Art Through Photography
Anna Atkins was a British botanist and photographer, best known for her cyanotypes. She was born in 1799 in Tunbridge, United Kingdom. Her father was a significant influence in her life: he was a chemist, mineralogist, and zoologist. She received an extensive, scientific education, unlike many 19th century women. Botany was a specific area of interest for her. In her 20s, she published 256 of her scientifically accurate drawings in her father’s translation of Genera of Shells.
Atkins gained familiarity with photography from the source, inventor William Henry Fox Talbot. She was the first person to illustrate a book with photographs. With the help of Atkins’ friend and inventor of the cyanotype, John Herschel, she created albums containing cyanotype photogenic drawings. These cyanotypes established and legitimized photography as a means of scientific illustration. This process became a favorite of Atkins’, which she would continue to use throughout her artistic career.
Berthe Morisot: Depicting the Life Of A Parisian Woman
Berthe Morisot was a French Impressionist painter and printmaker. Born in 1841, she was able to begin studying art under Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot at a young age with the encouragement of her mother and the bourgeois status of her father. Related to Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Morisot had the blood of artists in her DNA.
In 1864, Morisot exhibited in the Salon de Paris. She exhibited her work for six subsequent Salons until she joined the Impressionists in their independent exhibitions in 1874. Her close friendship with Edouard Manet led to her eventual marriage to his brother, Eugène, that same year. Morisot explored a variety of subjects within her works, from domesticity to landscapes. Despite this, she was not nearly as successful during her lifetime as her male counterparts. However, Morisot’s work has gained significant recognition in recent years, in exhibitions displaying the work of 19th-century female artists.
Elizabeth Nourse: An American New Woman
Elizabeth Nourse was born in 1859 in Cincinnati, Ohio. At fifteen years old, she enrolled at the McMicken School of Design with her twin sister. Unlike many of her female contemporaries, she did not teach, despite being offered a position at her alma mater. In the same fashion, she was a staunch realist, as opposed to the many female impressionists of the day. She relied and concentrated solely on her art in the hopes to legitimize her place as a more serious artist.
In 1887, she traveled to the epicenter of 19th-century art: Paris. It was there that she found her subject matter and earned her way to (relative) fame. In 1888, she had her first major exhibition at the Société des Artistes Français. She is one of the “New Women:” a group of female artists from the 19th century who were successful, highly trained, and unmarried.
Elizabeth Shippen Green: Advancing Illustration
Elizabeth Shippen Green was born in 1871 in Philadelphia to a well-connected family. Her father was an artist; this allowed her to actively pursue the career path of an illustrator. Green became a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when she was 16 years old. She studied under many influential artists, including Thomas Eakins. After graduating, she traveled across Europe and worked as an illustrator.
By the time she was 18, she was already a published illustrator. She later studied at the Drexel Institute. While studying at the Drexel Institute, she met her lifelong companions, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Violet Oakley. The trio later became known as the Red Rose Girls; a group of successful female illustrators. This group helped trailblaze the Golden Age of American Illustration. Shippen Green is best known for her illustrations in Harper’s Magazine, where she held a position for over two decades.
Olga Boznańska: Post-Impressionism In Poland
Olga Boznańska was a Post-Impressionist painter from Poland. Born during the partitions of Poland in 1865, she grew up as the child of a French woman and a Polish railway engineer. The wealth of her parents allowed her to travel across Europe, where she found inspiration in Diego Velázquez’s work. She took private lessons from a multitude of artists.
In 1886, her artwork debuted at the Kraków Association of Friends of Fine Arts exhibition. After her debut, she continued her private studies in Munich under Wilhelm Dürr. Her connections allowed her to find success in Germany and Austria. She joined the Society of Polish Artists “Sztuka” and moved to Paris in 1898. Her successes continued, earning her membership in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and a teaching position at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Today she is one of the most appreciated Polish artists.
Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz: Portraits Of Poland
Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz was a Polish portraitist born in 1854. She grew up in Imperial Russia with her father and later moved to Warsaw to study music and art. In 1882, she traveled across Europe with her friend Klementyna Krassowska, eventually settling in Paris. She studied and later taught at the Académie Julian. In 1884, she debuted her art at the Parisian Salon. During this time, quite a few of her friends died. Despite her talent and artistic intuition, her craft was not profitable. She spent ten years living and working in France, marrying doctor Antoni Bohdanowicz. The pair later moved to Warsaw. Her hope was to open a Parisian-style school of art for women in Warsaw. This dream would never come true, as she died from a heart condition in 1893.
Edmonia Lews: A Pioneering Black Female Sculptor
Edmonia Lewis was an African American sculptor of mixed African American and Native American descent. Much of the facts of her early life are up for some debate. Scholars have her birthdate listed around 1845, born in New York. She lived with relatives of her mother after being orphaned early in life. Edmonia lived with her mother’s family until her older brother paid for her to attend school in Oberlin, Ohio. She attended Oberlin College; she would never graduate after being wrongfully accused of poisoning two students, and other petty crimes. Despite being dismissed for these crimes, she moved away to Boston. There she continued training to become a sculptor. She began sculpting portraits of abolitionists. This eventually allowed her to travel to Europe where she would cultivate her skill in Rome. Despite her skill and the praise she received, much of her work no longer exists.
Sophie Pemberton: Art Of 19th Century Canada
Sophie Pemberton was a Canadian painter born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1869. She came from a well-off family and expressed an early interest in art. She was able to easily study art in San Francisco, London, and Paris. Throughout her adulthood, she able to live and study in Paris at the Académie Julian. In 1899, she was the first Canadian artist to receive the Prix Julian for portraiture. In addition to her artistic endeavors, she taught painting to female artists. Her success steadily grew throughout her life, despite the adversity she faced in her personal life. She was severely burned, experienced the death of many loved ones, and suffered a debilitating head injury. Pemberton continued to be one of the first artists from British Columbia to receive significant international attention for her work, exhibiting in England, France, America, and Canada.
Ann Hall: Examining Miniatures In America
Ann Hall was an American painter and miniaturist from Connecticut. Born in 1792, Ann’s parents encouraged her artistic talent and exploration. She began experimenting with various techniques including modeling wax figures, cutting silhouettes, and making still lives in watercolor and pencil. She began her artistic studies with Samuel King, learning how to paint miniatures. She later traveled to New York City to study oil painting under Alexander Robertson. By the time Hall was 25, she participated in the American Academy of Fine Arts’ exhibitions. Ann spent much of her time in Boston while living in New York. Hall never married, leaving an estate of $100,000 earned through her commissions. She was the only woman to become a full member of the National Academy of New York before the 20th century.
Henriëtte Ronner Knip: Dutch Romanticism
Henriëtte Ronner Knip was born in Amsterdam to a family of artists in 1821. She began art lessons at a young age, studying under her father. While she is best known for her feline paintings, she was an accomplished artist who painted multiple royal portraits. Ronner Knip was a Romanticist, creating sentimental works for the wealthy bourgeois of the 19th century.
After gaining control of her family’s financial and legal obligations at 14, she began painting seriously. Her first exhibition was at an annual art exhibition in Dusseldorf. At 17, she participated in the Exhibition of Living Masters. She moved to Amsterdam, becoming the first woman to be an active member of the Arti et Amicitiae. As her career progressed, so did her success amongst royalty and the wealthy. At 66 years old, she received the Order of Leopold and gained membership to the Order of Orange-Nassau in 1901.
Anna Ancher: Member Of Skagen Painters Of Denmark
Anna Ancher, born as Anna Kristine Brøndum, was born in Denmark in 1859. She was one of the Skagen Painters, being the only one who was born and raised in Skagen. Ancher expressed interest in art at an early age but was unable to enroll at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts due to her gender. This did not deter her: in 1875, she began attending a private art school run by Vilhelm Kyhn. She continued to cultivate her practice, becoming an active participant in Skagen’s artist colony. She is one of the “pre-eminent Impressionist painters within Danish art.” Her works evaluate modern life within the most remote parts of Denmark, making her art drastically stand out from French Impressionists. Despite the barriers of gender within art, Ancher experienced considerable success and is one of the greatest Danish painters.
Käthe Kollwitz: Printmaker And Draftswoman
Käthe Kollwitz was born in what is now considered Russia in 1867. However, she is viewed as a German artist who was a triple threat, working in painting, printmaking, and sculpture. Her father encouraged her artistic endeavors, gaining her access to education in the arts. Her first teachers were Gustav Naujok and Rudolf Mauer. She began as a painter, later learning in Munich’s Women’s Art School that she was a stronger draughtsman.
Kollwitz is one of many 19th century artists whose work bled into the 20th century. In a world rationalizing the brutality of World War I through abstraction, Kollwitz took the figurative route to highlight human suffering. Kollwitz was familiar with human suffering, using her art to express the grief over losing her son in 1914, and living through both World Wars. The world lost most of Kollwitz’s work during the bombing of her home and studio in 1943.
Gertrude Käsebier: Photography In America
Gertrude Käsebier was an American photographer born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1852. When she was 22, she married Eduard Käsebier, a Brooklyn businessman. The pair had three children. The couple did not experience a happy marriage and were entirely incompatible.
Unlike other female artists, her artistic endeavors did not begin until after she experienced motherhood. She started attending art school at 37 and later attended the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in 1889 where she studied painting. By 1894, she switched her discipline to photography, experiencing instant success. In 1897, she opened a portrait studio. While her subjects ranged from domesticity to portraits of Native Americans, she still produced basic portraits. She attracted wealthy clients and was widely exhibited, including a retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1929. That same year, she gave up photography entirely. She later died in 1934.
The 19th Century: Creating A Place For Female Artists
While the history of art is heavily male-dominated, the amount of documented female artists at the time cannot go unignored. 19th-century art caused and facilitated the expansion of artistic expression and pushed the envelope on two important questions: “What qualifies as art?” and “Who qualifies as an artist?” Female artists of the 19th century directly contributed to the development of art as we see it today. Without them, the 20th and 21st-century art we love to follow would cease to exist as it does.