Category: woman 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).

Mary Moser (1744-1819)

Born in 1733, Mary Moser’s father, George Michael Moser (1706-1783); an accomplished Swiss engraver, taught and nurtured her impressive talent and she exhibited her work when only 14. Throughout her life she would become recognised for her beautifully detailed flower works, as well as becoming one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. In 1771, fellow member Johann Zoffany (1733-1810)

painted a group portrait of the founders, in which neither Mary or Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) were actually “present” in. At the time, it was considered immodest for women to be close to nude male models. Instead, Zoffany painted them symbolically with their own portraits hanging on the wall (seen to the right).

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-72, Johann Zoffany (1733-1810)

Royalty was not blind to Mary’s talents, because around 1792, Queen Charlotte commissioned her to decorate a floral room in the Frogmore House. This room is known today as the Mary Moser Room.

Mary was a renowned artist during her time, and a bit of a scandalous one at that. After marrying in the 1790′s, she retired her professional name and only entered in amateur exhibitions under her married name. She died in 1819, at the age of 74.

Above: Both titled A Vase of Flowers (1792-97), by 

Mary Moser (1744-1819)

Leonor Fini (1908-1996), Les Aveugles, 1968. Oil on canvas.

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)