Three Exceptional Female Artists: Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun and Dame Laura Knight by Bernard Allan
Nearly 300 years separates our three artists yet they faced the same struggle for recognition in what was a man’s world. Throughout these three centuries women had to fight for basic art training, for the right to exhibit and to sell their work.
But they shared a passion for painting and a determination to succeed. Artemisia, trained by her father Orazio, was the first female artist who deliberately invited comparison with her male peers; painting many ambitious history paintings focusing on the female nude. She included the Medici court and the kings of England and Spain among her powerful patrons.
By the age of 24 Elisabeth was painting portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette, with whom she enjoyed a close rapport. However in 1789 that relationship was inconvenient and she fled France. For 12 years she moved in European court circles, charging exceptionally high prices for her dazzling portraits. She introduced a refreshingly informal approach to portraiture of the 18thcentury.
But true recognition for female artists did not come until the 20th century when Dame Laura Knight became the first woman to be elected a Royal Academician since the 18th century. From a relatively humble background, and limited artistic training in Nottingham that left her ignorant of developments in contemporary art, she progressed to become one of this country’s best-known painters and the official artist at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946.
Has a BA (Hons) in History and an MA in History of Art. Having taken early retirement, commenced a new career as an art history tutor for the WEA. Has taught French and British art of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as women’s art, for the past eight years. Lectured to various societies, and guided parties around galleries in London and Paris. In addition to teaching, he is currently researching artists working in Sussex in the 19th century, with a view to publication.