Story of Women and Art


Women’s artistic contributions have often been dismissed throughout history, yet the female perspective has played a critical role in shaping the visual culture of the modern world. In THE STORY OF WOMEN AND ART, Professor Amanda Vickery explores the story of female creativity through the ages with a fascinating art history tour from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Tackling the opinions of both art professionals and ordinary women, Vickery demonstrates how the stories behind women in art can provide crucial insight into the female psyche. More importantly, Vickery shows how a familiarity with female artistry helps us to understand the ways societal attitudes towards women and their artistic endeavors have evolved throughout the years.


Story of Women and Art Episode One air Thursday, August 4 at 8:00 pm on WSKG TV.

Professor Amanda Vickery begins her journey in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, where our understanding of western art was born. A world where women found their lives and creativity hidden behind closed doors. She meets intrepid art historians uncovering long forgotten works in basements, storeroom and convents and uncovers the incredible stories of female artists who battled against all the constraints placed upon them to fulfil their artistic ambitions. From a female sculptress who honed her skills on peach stones to a woman who secured a privileged place at the heart of the richest empire in the world.

Leaving the opulence and excess of Catholicism behind, Amanda heads north to discover how the Protestant Reformation would create a very different artistic landscape. In the new Dutch Republic, there was a greater respect and reverence for the home which finally cast the spotlight on traditional feminine craft and offered women whole new opportunities for fame, fortune and even adventure. It would be here that a female paper cutter would be feted by kings and even outsell Rembrandt and a housewife would boldly leave her home and her husband to travel to the far reaches of the known world to capture the tropics in vivid technicolor. In this first programme of the series Amanda Vickery will highlight the tantalising and dazzling array of female artistry that has been too easily forgotten, but which proves beyond doubt the vital and significant contribution female creativity has played in our art history.


Story of Women and Art Episode Two air Thursday, August 4 at 9:00 pm on WSKG TV.

Professor Amanda Vickery’s journey to explore the contributions women have made to Western art reaches the 18th century. Now, the spotlight falls on Britain – a new world leader in innovation, manufacturing, and commerce; and France – home to the finest and most extravagant court of the 18th century. It’s a world defined by male artists like Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and the neoclassicism of Robert Adam. When it comes to art, women are second class citizens. Yet, argues Professor Amanda Vickery, this was also a world that was shaped, styled and designed by women – you just need to know where to look.

Much of the art produced by women had the status of amateur – a word that had yet to acquire the negative connotations it holds today. Far from being mere dabblers, many ingenious women realized their imaginations in entirely new ways and with considerable skill. Women from all classes – even servants – were swept up by the explosion of craft skills – and blanketed their homes with collage water colors, japanning, gilding, filigree, and shell-work as well as the traditional activities of embroidery and tapestry.

Women’s creativity was not to be confined to the home. When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768 with the aim of promoting British Art and training home-grown artists, it turned its back on female crafts and only accorded its two female founders associate membership. Yet one of those artists, Angelica Kauffman, would not only master the male preserve of History Painting but would take her art to the tables and walls of the middle classes by striking deals with manufacturers to use her imagery, thus showing a shrewd understanding of the revolutionary power of reproduction.

Manufacturing and trade were clearly becoming the commercial drivers of 18th century Britain and in their wake came other possibilities for creative women to take their art to the world. Into the cutthroat market of high-end silk design came the unlikely figure of a Lincolnshire vicar’s daughter, Anna Maria Garthwaite, whose mastery of pattern and color propelled her to the forefront of this high-status industry. Her exquisite fabric designs were sought after throughout the western world. Across the Channel, a young woman from an equally obscure background was about to use her artistry to revolutionize a French industry and become the world’s first celebrity fashion designer in the process. Rose Bertin not only styled Marie Antoinette, she helped define the image of the most glittering – and doomed – court of the 18th century. Alongside her it was a female portraitist Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun – acclaimed by Joshua Reynolds as ‘the equal of any portrait painter, living or dead’ – who displayed the monarch and her style to the world. Bold and ambitious, she fled Paris in the wake of revolution, eventually achieving international success in the courts of Russia and Italy that was matched by few men and no other women of the period.


Story of Women and Art Episode Three air Thursday, August 4 at 10:00 pm on WSKG TV.

In this final program, Amanda Vickery explores the explosion of creative opportunities that women seized between the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. At a time when women were beginning to demand greater social and economic freedoms and boldly forge independent paths, female creativity would not only triumph in traditionally male-dominated artistic arenas, but redefine the very notion of what art could be. For centuries there remained one genre of art that was undoubtedly male – war, and yet it would be the young, delicate and privileged Lady Elizabeth Butler who would go on to become the most celebrated war artist of the Age. Meanwhile, across the channel, while one woman rose to the heart of the art establishment another would lead the charge against it. Berthe Morisot is a name that is less familiar than Cezanne or Degas but she was once dubbed the purist of all the impressionists, a group of bold artistic revolutionaries daring to paint in a whole different way. But this was a time when the boundaries of art could be pushed even further, if we only change our perspective a whole new parallel world of female creativity swims in to view. Leaving the galleries behind Amanda casts a spotlight upon female artists whose vision has transformed our lives in unexpected ways; from Gertrude Jekyll who took her formal artistic training outside into nature and give birth to our nation’s obsession with gardening; to a housewife in Sweden whose tapestry and traditional craft skills would reinvent our domestic spaces and inspire Ikea to take it to the world, and a humble French seamstress whose sculptural eye would liberate women from the shackles of their clothes. This was a time when women were unafraid to take art in bold new directions, they no longer felt obligated to follow in the footsteps of male contemporaries, and all this is epitomised by one artist in particular – using the most conventional of mediums she would forge the most unconventional of paths. Georgia O’Keeffe would escape to the harsh desert of New Mexico in search of a new way of painting and found a whole new artistic movement – proving for all time that with courage and talent women could be artists with a capital ‘A’.

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