Category: female artist

The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, attributed to the circle of Rosalba Carriera

Italian, 18th century


private collection x

Allegory of Painting, attributed to a sister of Rosalba Carriera

Italian, 18th century

pastel on paper mounted on canvas

private collection x

Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907)

Edmonia Lewis had so much acting against her success during her time, yet she overcame prejudice to become a highly celebrated neoclassical artist. Born to a free African-American father and a Native American mother, she was orphaned at only five years old. As she grew, she was raised by her Chippewa aunts, and supported by her brother – who financed her course at Oberlin College in Ohio. She changed her Chippewa name of ‘Wildfire,’ and became known as ‘Mary Edmonia Lewis.’ While the college was considered progressive for its time, Lewis was subject to racism and prejudice. She was accused of poisoning her roommates, was badly beaten by a mob, accused of stealing supplies, and was eventually refused to be allowed to graduate. All were probably racially motivated, as there was little to no evidence to support them. This, however, led to her being tutored by the sculptural artist Edward Augustus Brackett (1818-1908).

Under the tutelage of Brackett, Lewis’ skills grew, as did her commissions. She earnt enough money off of creating portraits to fund her travel to Europe. She eventually settled in Rome, where her love of neoclassicism flourished. She experienced much more freedom there, in terms of her career and her spiritual identity. Many sculpture artists flocked to the area, due to the availability of marble, and skilled workmen. Lewis, however, preferred working through her process alone. Most other artists employed other workers for some part of the model work.

Edmonia Lewis’ work revolved around her own identity. She celebrated both her African-American and Native American heritage. She was often inspired by this heritage, and of the representation of historically strong women. This is all seen in works such as ‘Forever Free’ (1867), ‘Old Arrow Maker’ (1872), and ‘The Death of Cleopatra’ (1876).

Not only was Edmonia Lewis a woman, but she had African-American and Native American heritage and lived through the American Civil War. She faced strong prejudices that endangered her life. Yet she became one of the most celebrated sculptural artists of her time. She continues to be an inspiration to people today.


Hiawatha,’ and ’Minnehaha,’ both created in 1868, by Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907).

But the fearless Hiawatha

Cried aloud, and spake in this wise:

“Let me pass my way, Kenabeek,

Let me go upon my journey!”

And they answered, hissing fiercely,

With their fiery breath made answer:

“Back, go back! O Shaugodaya!

Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!”

 Then the angry Hiawatha

Raised his mighty bow of ash-tree,

Seized his arrows, jasper-headed,

Shot them fast among the serpents;

Every twanging of the bow-string

Was a war-cry and a death-cry,

Every whizzing of an arrow

Was a death-song of Kenabeek.

 Weltering in the bloody water,

Dead lay all the fiery serpents,

And among them Hiawatha

Harmless sailed, and cried exulting:

“Onward, O Cheemaun, my darling!

Onward to the black pitch-water!”

– An excerpt from ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ 1855, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). This was a poem that Lewis often drew inspiration from.

Above: ‘Forever Free,’ 1867, by Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-1907).

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, Harry Ransom Center, Austin

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, Harry Ransom Center, Austin

Pan Yuliang (1895-1977)

Although I have written a short paragraph or two on this amazing woman, in my ‘Some Awesome Female Avant-Garde Artists’ post, I have been wanting to do a longer post to describe Pan Yuliang’s life a little more in detail. Born in the late 1800’s in Yangzhou, Pan Yuliang was sold to a brothel by her uncle, after being orphaned at the age of 14. While forced to work as a prostitute, she met Pan Zanhua. Pan Zanhua became infatuated with her. He bought her freedom and she became his second wife.

With the meeting of her new husband, Pan Yuliang’s new life began. She enrolled into the Shanghai Art School in 1920. She also studied and lived in other countries such as Italy and France, winning numerous prizes for her talent. The French audience was particularly enamoured with her avant-garde works. China, on the other hand, had very differing and controversial views on the world of art – especially that of female artists who were former prostitutes. Pan Yuliang is actually regarded as the first Chinese female artist to paint in Western style. On the spectrum of people who regarded her work – one side was fascinated by such a modern type of work being done by a Chinese artist, while on the other – particularly government officials – did not regard it as art and aimed to destroy any respect she gathered by drawing attention to her old profession. One incident even included someone actively ruining one of her works, tearing it to pieces, and noting “This is a prostitute’s carol to a whoremonger.” As a result, Pan Yuliang understandably spent most of her career in France.


As for Pan Yuliang’s works, she aimed to combine “Chinese and western paintings into one.” While she worked in inks, sculpture, and other mediums, her oil works are my personal favourite. Because of her personal life, the nudes she received so much hate for has been debated for their origin. Did they relate to her work as a prostitute? Was it a Western influence, or simply painting the beauty of the female form? Or was it her way of making a political statement to the oppression of women in her country? Whatever way you take it, her pieces are lovely to admire and I believe she certainly achieved her desired Chinese-Western hybrid style.

Pan Yuliang died in 1977 and was buried in Paris. Many of her works were sent to China some time after her death. Her pieces can be found in many museums, most notably France and China (such as China National Museum of Fine Arts and China Anhui Museum). Her life has been depicted in books, tv shows, and a movie, such as Jennifer Cody Epstein’s fictional book: ‘The Painter from Shanghai.’ The 1994 movie called ‘A Soul Haunted by Painting’ (Hua hun) is also available on Youtube if anyone is interested.


Flower Still Life, 1669, by Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693)

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)

Renaissance artist Lavinia Fontana is one of the most important and influential women in art history. She is considered a “first” in many aspects of artistic endeavours for women.

Born in the mid 16th century in Bologna, Italy, Fontana became the must-have artist for portraitures of the Bolognese female nobles. While many may assume Fontana’s gender held her back in her career, and in certain ways I’m sure it did, it also helped to her advantage. Many women who came to commission artwork felt more comfortable sitting, for hours at a time, with a female artist. She grew very close with a number of her sponsors. Many of them became close family friends which she would stay in contact with for many years.

As Fontana’s success grew, she broadened her artistic horizons. She began painting mythological scenes, and in a much larger scale. These scenes included female nudes. Fontana is actually considered the first woman to paint this subject matter – female nudes that is – in public settings. Those that commissioned her works changed from a primarily female customer base, to include even higher members of society, such as cardinals and she even received the patronage of Pope Paul V when she moved to Rome. Some of what is considered her best works are done for altarpieces.

If you consider Fontana’s work life unconventional for her time, you’ll find her home life to be even more so. While she recieved work and brought in money for her family, Fontana’s husband (Gian Paolo Zappi) would look after their household.

Her husband was also an artist and would assist her in painting certain background elements in some paintings.

Marriage did not force her into obscurity, but allowed her even more freedom with her work. Recieving high-paying privileges and honours throughout her life, Lavinia Fontana is considered one of the most successful artists in history.

Above: Portrait Of A Lady Of The Court, 1590, by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)

Recommended Art Books ;; The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait

“Published here in its entirety, Frida Kahlo’s amazing illustrated journal documents the last ten years of her turbulent life. This passionate, often surprising, intimate record, kept under lock and key for some forty years in Mexico, reveals many new dimensions in the complex persona of this remarkable Mexican artist.”