3 Cool Things You Might Not Know About Artemisia Gentileschi, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Louise Bourgeois

Today, Art Snap brings you glimpses into the careers of three diverse artists, all of whom happen to be women. It can seem that the field of art history celebrates male artists disproportionately because some spheres in which women worked, such as textile arts, were not recorded in its annals and because scholarship was initially driven by men, so we’re here to rectify that this week. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593—1652/3), Georgia O’Keeffe (1887—1986), and Louise Bourgeois (1911—2010) created oeuvres that are rightfully enshrined today in museums, exhibitions, and the pages of academia alongside their male peers’, so keep reading to get a taste of these women’s works.

ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI: Gentileschi’s general reputation as a Baroque artist is that she painted in a dramatic spirit, depicting forceful, strong women in works closely tied to the events of her real life. This is an oversimplification that at best only captures the subject matter of about a quarter of her paintings. A look at her painting “Judith Decapitating Holofernes,” on view in Naples, demonstrates both why she is thought of this way and what a better understanding of her artistic motivation is.  Gentileschi painted the canvas while her father brought another painter to court for raping her during an art lesson, and many view it as a violent revenge fantasy.  Yet it really should be seen in the Baroque context of the competitive spirit in which artists worked at the time as they looked to challenge and outdo one another while crafting their legacies. Gentileschi’s “Judith” can be compared to Caravaggio’s, with subtle distinctions in tone and setting perceptible in the unspoken dialogue between the artists.

GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: In a career spanning seven decades and resulting in some 900 paintings, O’Keeffe managed to remain independent from the art world’s shifting currents and stayed focused on her vision of committing the essential forms of nature to canvas. People are mot familiar with her work drawn from the landscape and forms of New Mexico, which she first visited in 1929 and where she moved permanently from New York twenty years later.  But O’Keeffe was moved by other environments as well. For example, in return for 2 canvases on any subject arising from the trip, the Dole Company paid for the artist’s nine week stay in Hawaii. O’Keeffe produced 20 paintings inspired by the lava flows and lush vegetation that were so foreign to her as a New Yorker. This painting of a pineapple bud was one of the two submitted to Dole for use in its pineapple juice ad campaigns.

LOUISE BOURGEOIS: Sometimes labeled a feminist, other times a Surrealist, the artist best known for her sculptures rejected all labels but one: existentialist. Bourgeois began her career as a painter in Paris, keeping company with the likes of Duchamp, Breton, and Masson, but moved to New York in 1938 and soon turned to sculpture. She came into contact with the ideas of the Surrealists when throngs of artists fled to the New York area from WWII Europe.  Her sculptures, many of a massive scale, often fuse vague anthropomorphic forms with allusions to sexuality. A favorite subject is the spider, which references her childhood, when she worked as an assistant in her parents’ tapestry restoration workshop. Part predator, part protector, the spider is an ambiguous motif of Bourgeois’ that symbolizes both her mother and herself.

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Phaidon Press. The Art Museum. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2011.

Christiansen, Keith, et al. Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001.