Where are the women in art? (ctd.)

May 20 2014

Image of Where are the women in art? (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian/Annie Kevan

Hot on the heels of my post below comes this story The Guardian, looking at 'women who have been airbrushed from art history'. These women damned by male art historians include, says The Guardian, the likes of Sofonisba Anguissola and Angelica Kauffmann. What a load of phooey. 

The story comes as a result of a series of copies portraits of female artists by Annie Kevans, who in The Guardian says:

"For hundreds of years there was this very strong control over the canon and [the male-dominated establishment] didn't want women written into it," says Kevans, when we meet in her small, portrait-lined studio in north-east London. Her project was partly inspired by the realisation that she, too, could be erased from our collective cultural archive. "As a contemporary artist, there are still concerns. I do think, what if that happened to me?"  [...]

So why does Kevans think Anguissola, Meurent and the rest have been written out of art history? She lays much of the blame on the mainly male academics who compiled what we think of as the artistic canon. "There hasn't been enough research into female artists and attributing their work properly. So when historians see a fabulous painting they tend to attribute it to a well-known man."

Moreover, critics living at the same time as these women not only ignored female artists, but treated them with a combination of condescension and distrust. "Critics just didn't take women seriously," says Kevans. "Because a lot of women were married to other artists, people assumed they were helped by their husbands. But, actually, those women were artists before they were married; indeed, that's how they met their husbands."

Regular readers will know that I don't often leap to the defence of 'art history' as an academic discipline. But this claim that big name painters like Kauffmann have been subjected to a conspiracy of male art historians and contemporary critics is simply rubbish. A very quick rebuttal: Vasari wrote enthusiastically about Sofonisba, as did Van Dyck, who paid her homage in Sicily and took care to write down her views on painting; London went 'Angelicamad' when Kauffmann came here in 1766; there is no shortage of the works of either on display in museums large and small around the world; and even a quick check of their historiographies shows that both figures have been studied for considerably longer than some people who can't be bothered to read believe. 

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