I recently went to an exhibition at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery called “Women in Art”. This exhibition has work from the Renaissance to the modern day. It features models, portraits and 20th century ceramics surrounding women.
Artists on display include John Waterhouse, Beryl Cook, Prunella Clough, Rose Hilton, Elizabeth Forbes, Anya Gallacio and Kate Nicholson. Ceramics by Clarice Clift, Dorothy Doughty and Lucie Rie.
Next door to this exhibition was a collection of portrait paintings by Laura Knight which I particularly enjoyed.
However, it got me thinking about sexism in the arts and how hard it is for female artists to be taken seriously and be remembered by history.
For example, how many female artists featured in the top 100 auction sales, ranked by price, last year? Gemma Rolls-Bentley, an independent curator, looked at the 2012 list “and spent a couple of hours writing M next to the artists. I got to the end and there wasn’t a single F.” The list was a mixture of living and dead artists, all were highly valued both critically and economically and all were men.
Campaigning group UK Feminista in 2010 showed that 83% of the artists in Tate Modern were men, along with 70% of those in the Saatchi Gallery.
These numbers further reflect women’s marginalisation in art history. It is estimated that only around 5% of the work featured in major permanent collections worldwide is by women. The National Gallery in London, for example, contains more than 2,300 works however only 11 of the artists in their collection are women.
This is a poster from the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist activist group who started highlighting sexual and racial inequality in the arts in 1985 – while dressed in gorilla masks due to being ignored. Perhaps their most famous poster came in 1989, and featured the female nude from Ingres’s “Grande Odalisque”.
Obviously, this is not just an issue in painting and sculpture but across all artistic mediums.
More information on women in art history: