Among the almost 8,000 paintings and sculptures presented in the Prado Museum, the amount of illustrated women artists at the Prado Museum is very important. But the number of women creators is much smaller. Out of the 1700 pieces exhibited in the museum’s permanent exhibition, only 9 works created by women are presented, the 10th being the entrance door to the Saint Jeronimo Cloister extension, created by Cristina Iglesia, which we mentioned here.
Is this absence of women artists simply due to the fact that women have not been able to access the rank of artist for a long time? Not only. Many of them learned in the family workshop or in a self-taught way, not being able to access academic training. But despite their success during their lifetime, few of them have survived in art history.
How can we explain this lack then? Would men have had more talent to remain in the history of art? Absolutely not. But like any discipline, art history is also the result of a society and its failings. The XIXth century was particularly terrible for them, since the historians of the time simply pushed them aside from the museums which opened then and from the works of history of art.
Sometimes, the attribution of the works was fatal to them, and we still find errors today, their paintings being in the name of their fathers, colleagues, or teachers.
So let’s try to highlight the 4 painters presented in the Prado Museum!
1. Sofonisba Anguissola (1530-1626)
Painter of the Italian Renaissance, she became a portraitist of the Spanish court after meeting Queen Elizabeth of Valois, wife of Philip the IInd, for whom she worked as a drawing teacher. As it was often the case with women artists, she couldn’t paint other types of pictures than portraits, but her sketches found later show a willingness to work on genre scenes or landscapes. She was the first woman artist to enter the royal collections of the Prado. Unfortunately, the fire of the old royal palace in Madrid in 1734 explains the disappearance of some of her works, but especially her archives, and her name is forgotten when several of her works are attributed to Alonso Sanchez Coello, her colleague at the Spanish court.
2. Clara Peeters (1580/90-1657)
She is the most represented woman painter in the Prado Museum!
Probably born in Antwerp, she began working at a very young age (her first work at only 14) and became a pioneer in still lifes, and especially in the representation of luxurious breakfasts, often associated with precious objects (cups, vases, jewels…), painted on a very dark background. She used these subjects to represent herself sometimes, in the reflection of a metal in particular. In “Still Life with Nuts, Sweets and Flowers”, exhibited at the Prado, you have to look closely at the painting (below) to see her in the reflection of the teapot in the background.
3. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-vers 1656)
Born in Rome, Gentileschi became a famous painter in the Baroque world. Unable to enter the Academy, she joined the studio of Agostino Tassi, who raped her and then refused to marry her, leading to a very painful trial for her. This will not be without consequences on her work, dramatic and sometimes violent. She married and finally left Rome for Florence, where she became a recognized painter, sold a lot of works, and even brought the main sources of money for her home. She reached the European courts, such as those of Charles I of England or the Medici in Italy, and became the first woman to be named illustrious of the Academy of Arts in Florence. Artemisia Gentileschi also distinguished herself by the representation of historical or religious scenes, to which women did not have access. Her works will be regularly attributed to her father, and the inventory of her paintings is not yet completely finished.
4. Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
Rosa Bonheur is a very famous French painter who became known for her ability to represent nature. She studied at the Louvre Museum at only 14 years old, and was already exhibited at the Salon in Paris 5 years later. She was the first woman to receive the Legion of Honor in France, but also joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and the Society of Belgian Artists. Her naturalistic style and her anatomical drawings allowed her to reach excellence in the representation of animals, herself owner of many pets, some of them very singular (goats, lion, deer…).
Rosa Bonheur firmly believed in the equality of women and men, and fought to live from her work all her life. For that, she had to go through absurd steps, such as asking the French prefecture for permission to wear pants to work.
The work of recognizing women artists at the Prado Museum and in classical art museums is still in progress throughout Europe, and will perhaps reveal more female creators in the years to come.
In the meantime, thanks to the work of the graphic designers of Verne, blog of the newspaper El Pais, you can download a map of their works in the Prado Museum:
So don’t miss to go and see them during your next visit!
We will be waiting for you with open arms in our free tour Madrid !