Unless you have a pretty good reason for separating male and female artists when displaying their work, gender-based shows are silly. . http://quadrust.com/article/the-war-on-women-and-the-world-of-art Art is art. After all, did it matter that Marie Curie, who pioneered research on radioactivity, was female?
Stockholm’s National Museum’s women-only show “Pride and Prejudice” has reasons – history. The exhibit spotlights those French and Swedish women artists of the 18th and 19th century who broke into a world long known to keep women out – the Royal Academies.
Even when women were allowed Academy membership, beginning in the mid-18th century, there were restrictions: no more than four women allowed at one time. Making the cut came down to who you knew. Preferential treatment went to those women with family ties or social relations to male artists.
You’d think that when discrimination against women artists eased in France and Sweden, things would change elsewhere in Europe. Not quite yet.
Angelica Kauffmann, a painter of ancient history, who received her first commission before she was a teen, found a way to get into an Academy by establishing her own. With fellow painter Mary Moser , they founded the British Royal Academy.
Even at that, they experienced disregard in their own Academy. You can see it in a portrait of the first class studying a nude—”The Academicians of the Royal Academy” by Johann Zoffany. Everyone is shown at work except Kauffmann and Moser. Zoffany put their faces in small portraits on the studio wall.
The 19th into the early 20th century didn’t get any better for women artists. And it’s no wonder if you read things like the treatise Women and Art by art critic Karl Scheffler. He said stuff like “In an Amazonian state, there would be neither culture, history nor art.” He also faulted women’s ability to gain spiritual insight.
Some male artists also sneered at their female counterparts. Edgar Degas, a known male supremacist, saw women as “animals” with an “absence of all feeling in the presence of art.” Thomas Hart Benton believed that “an art school is a place for young girls to pass the time between high school and marriage.”
Then there was this accepted book of rules for women in the 18th century called “Domestic Guide”:
“To be able to do a great many things tolerably well is of infinitely more value to a woman than to be able to excel in any one… All that would involve her in the mazes of flattery and admiration, all that would tend to draw away her thoughts from others and fix them on herself ought to be avoided as an evil to her, however brilliant or attractive it may be in itself.”
The etiquette for female artists seeped over into the 19th century. When animal sculptor Rosa Bonheur sought to get animal anatomy just right by visiting slaughterhouses in trousers, she needed a police permit to wear trousers. The permit needed renewing every six months. She made the effort.
Aren’t you glad she did?