March is the month devoted to women and their contributions to society. Major museums and private collectors are enthusiastically assembling paintings, sculptures and other work by female artists.
Women artists achieved a new position in the art world with the debut opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1987.
By the late 19th century, American Impressionist painters Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux, Fern Coppedge and Della Bittner, and muralist Violet Oakley devoted their careers to fine art.
Some women took classes and private art lessons in the late 1800s. Cassatt studied art privately and hired studio models. From 1860-62, Cassatt studied at the oldest art school in the nation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and made unescorted trips to Paris. She painted with the French Impressionists, including Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. Today, Cassatt’s paintings regularly command impressive prices on the art market.
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Many women artists studied with the great American masters. Elizabeth Grandin studied with Ashcan School painter Robert Henri. Grandin’s modernist seascape from 1910 shows a strong influence from Henri and fellow realists such as John Sloan, George Luks and Everett Shinn. Today, paintings by these female Impressionists consistently sell in the $50,000 to $150,000 price range.
By the 1940s, political unrest on the international stage allowed women artists to take major roles in the social and cultural events worldwide. Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s embraced artists such as Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell.
In 1971, Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro established the Feminist Art Program and made art based on women’s struggle for equality. These innovators helped open the doors for women artists who were formerly shut out of major museums and the lucrative art market.
Influential contemporary women sculptors include well-known artists such as Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin and Glenna Goodacre, among others.
Goodacre’s major large-scale public monuments are sited on the National Mall in Washington, at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia and at other important sites. Lin designed the moving monument to the Vietnam War heroes that has been a national landmark for decades.
As art reflects our history and social change, March is a perfect time to reflect on art made by women.