1 WHY HAVE THERE BEEN NO GREAT WOMEN ARTISTS?* By Linda Nochlin Linda Nochlin, professor of art history at Vassar College, recently published a major text on realism (Penguin). Her specialty is Courbet and nineteenth century French art, but she has written on a range of subjects from Grunewald to modern art. Why have there been no great women artists? The ques- tion is crucial, not merely to women, and not only for social or ethical reasons, but for purely intellectual ones as well. If, as John Stuart Mill so rightly suggested, we 1 tend to accept whatever is as "natural," this is just as true in the realm of academic investigation as it is in our social arrangements: the white Western male viewpoint, uncon- the viewpoint of the art historian, is sciously accepted as proving to be inadequate. At a moment when all disciplines are becoming more self-conscious—more aware of the na- ture of their presuppositions as exhibited in their own languages and structures—the current uncritical acceptance of "what is" as "natural" may be intellectually fatal. Just as Mill saw male domination as one of many social in- * A shortened version of an essay in the anthology Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness. Edited by Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran. New York: Basic Books, 1971.
2 2 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDA NOCHLIN 3 justices that had to be overcome if a truly just social order throughout history; to rehabilitate modest, if interesting were to be created, so we may see the unconscious domina- and productive, careers; to "rediscover" forgotten flower- tion of a white male subjectivity as one among many in- painters or David-followers and make a case for them; to tellectual distortions which must be corrected in order to demonstrate that Berthe Morisot was really less dependent achieve a more adequate and accurate view of history. upon Manet than one had been led to think—in other A feminist critique of the discipline of art history is words, to engage in activity not too different from that of needed which can pierce cultural-ideological limitations, the average scholar, man or woman, making a case for not merely in regard to to reveal biases and inadequacies the importance of his own neglected or minor master. the question of women artists, but in the formulation of Such attempts, whether undertaken from a feminist point Thus the crucial questions of the discipline as a whole. of view, like the ambitious article on women artists which 2 the so-called woman question, far from being a peripheral appeared in the 1858 Westminster Review, or more re- subissue, can become a catalyst, a potent intellectual in- cent scholarly reevaluation of individual women artists, 3 strument, probing the most basic and "natural" assump- like Angelica Kauffman or Artemisia Gentileschi, are tions, providing a paradigm for other kinds of internal certainly well worth the effort, adding to our knowledge questioning, and providing links with paradigms established of women's achievement and of art history generally. A by radical approaches in other fields. A simple question great deal still remains to be done in this area, but un- like "Why have there been no great women artists?" can, fortunately, such attempts do not really confront the if answered adequately, create a chain reaction, expanding question "Why have there been no great women artists?"; to encompass every accepted assumption of the field, and on the contrary, by attempting to answer it, and by doing then outward to embrace history and the social sciences so inadequately, they merely reinforce its negative implica- or even psychology and literature, and thereby, from the tions. very outset, to challenge traditional divisions of intellectual There is another approach to the question. Many con- inquiry. temporary feminists assert that there is actually a different The assumptions lying behind the question "Why have kind of greatness for women's art than for men's—They there been no great women artists?" are varied in range propose the existence of a distinctive and recognizable and sophistication. They run from "scientifically" proven feminine style, differing in both formal and expressive demonstrations of the inability of human beings with qualities from that of men artists and posited on the unique wombs rather than penises to create anything significant, character of women's situation and experience. to relatively open-minded wonderment that women, de- This might seem reasonable enough: in general, women's spite so many years of near equality, have still not achieved experience and situation in society, and hence as artists, is anything of major significance in the visual arts. different from men's, and certainly an art produced by a The feminist's first reaction is to swallow the bait and group of consciously united and purposely articulate attempt to answer the question as it is put: to dig up women intent on bodying forth a group consciousness of examples of insufficiently appreciated women artists feminine experience might indeed be stylistically identifi-
3 LINDA NOCHLIN 5 4 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS The problem lies not so much with the feminists' con- able as feminist, if not feminine, art. This remains within cept of what femininity in art is, but rather with a miscon- the realm of possibility; so far, it has not occurred. ception of what art is: with the naive idea that art is the No subtle essence of femininity would seem to link the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experi- work of Artemisia Gentileschi, Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, An- ence—a translation of personal life into visual terms. Yet gelica Kauffmann, Rosa Bonheur, Berthe Morisot, Suzanne art is almost never that; great art certainly never. The Valadon, Kaethe Kollwitz, Barbara Hepworth, Georgia making of art involves a self-consistent language of form, O'Keeffe, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Helen Frankenthaler, more or less dependent upon, or free from, given tem- Birdget Riley, Lee Bontecou, and Louise Nevelson, any porally-defined conventions, schemata, or systems of nota- more than that of Sappho, Marie de France, Jane Austen, tion, which have to be learned or worked out, through Emily Bronte, George Sand, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, study, apprenticeship, or a long period of individual Gertrude Stein, Anai's Nin, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, experimentation. and Susan Sontag. In every instance, women artists and The fact is that there have been no great women artists, writers would seem to be closer to other artists and writers so far as we know, although there have been many interest- of their own period and outlook than they are to each ing and good ones who have not been sufficiently investi- other. gated or appreciated—nor have there been any great Lith- It may be asserted that women artists are more inward- uanian jazz pianists or Eskimo tennis players. That this looking, more delicate and nuanced in their treatment of should be the case is regrettable, but no amount of manip- their medium. But which of the women artists cited above ulating the historical or critical evidence will alter the is more inward-turning than Redon, more subtle and nu- are no women equivalents for Michelangelo situation. There anced in the handling of pigment than Corot at his best? or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cezanne, Picasso or Matisse, Is Fragonard more or less feminine than Mme. Vigee- or even, in very recent times, for Willem de Kooning or Lebrun? Is it not more a question of the whole rococo Warhol, any more than there are black American equiva- style of eighteenth-century France being "feminine," if lents for the same. If there actually were large numbers of judged in terms of a two-valued scale of "masculinity" "hidden" great women artists, or if there really should be versus "femininity"? Certainly if daintiness, delicacy, and different standards for women's art as opposed to men's— preciousness are to be counted as earmarks of a femin- and, logically, one can't have it both ways—then what are ine style, there is nothing fragile about Rosa Bonheur's feminists fighting for? If women have in fact achieved the If women have at times turned to scenes of Horse Fair. same status as men in the arts, then the status quo is fine. domestic life or children, so did the Dutch Little Masters, But in actuality, as we know, in the arts as in a hundred Chardin, and the impressionists—Renoir and Monet—as other areas, things remain stultifying, oppressive, and dis- well as Morisot and Cassatt. In any case, the mere choice couraging to all those—women included—who did not have of a certain realm of subject matter, or the restriction to the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class certain subjects, is not to be equated with a style, much and, above all, male. The fault lies not in our stars, our feminine less with some sort of quintessentially style.
4 LINDA NOCHLIN 7 been called into question by a group of younger dissidents hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal within it. spaces, but in our institutions and our education—education Underlying the question about women as artists, we find understood to include everything that happens to us from the whole myth of the Great Artist—subject of a hundred the moment we enter, head first, into this world of mean- monographs, unique, godlike—bearing within his person ingful symbols, signs, and signals. The miracle is, in fact, since birth a mysterious essence, rather like the golden that given the overwhelming odds against women, or 4 nugget in Mrs. Grass's chicken soup, called Genius. blacks, so many of both have managed to achieve so much The magical aura surrounding the representational arts excellence—if not towering grandeur—in those bailiwicks of and their creators has, of course, given birth to myths since white masculine prerogative like science, politics, or the the earliest times. Interestingly enough, the same magical arts. abilities attributed by Pliny to the Greek painter Lysippus In some areas, indeed, women have achieved equality. in antiquity—the mysterious inner call in early youth; the While there may never have been any great women com- lack of any teacher but Nature herself—is repeated as late posers, there have been great women singers; if no female as the nineteenth century by Max Buchon in his biography Shakespeares, there have been Rachels, Bernhardts, and of Courbet. The fairy tale of the Boy Wonder, discovered Duses. Where there is a need there is a way, institutionally by an older artist or discerning patron, often in the guise speaking: once the public, authors, and composers de- 5 of a lowly shepherd boy, has been a stock-in-trade of manded more realism and range than boys in drag or artistic mythology ever since Vasari immortalized the piping castrati could offer, a way was found to include young Giotto, discovered by the great Cimabue while the women in the performing arts, even if in some cases they lad was drawing sheep on a stone while guarding his might have to do a little whoring on the side to keep their flocks. Through mysterious coincidence, later artists like careers in order. And, in some of the performing arts, such Domenico Beccafumi, Jacopo Sansovino, Andrea del as the ballet, women have exercised a near monopoly on Castagno, Andrea Mantegna, Francisco de Zurbaran and greatness. Goya were all discovered in similar pastoral circumstances. It is no accident that the whole crucial question of the Even when the Great Artist was not fortunate enough to conditions generally productive of great art has so rarely come equipped with a flock of sheep as a lad, his talent been investigated, or that attempts to investigate such gen- always seems to have manifested itself very early, in- eral problems have, until fairly recently, been dismissed as dependent of external encouragement: Filippo Lippi, Pous- unscholarly, too broad, or the province of some other dis- sin, Courbet, and Monet are all reported to have drawn cipline, like sociology. Yet a dispassionate, impersonal, so- caricatures in their schoolbooks, instead of studying the ciologically- and institutionally-oriented approach would required subjects. Michelangelo himself, according to his reveal the entire romantic, elitist, individual-glorifying and biographer and pupil, Vasari, did more drawing than study- monograph-producing substructure upon which the pro- ing as a child; Picasso passed all the examinations for fession of art history is based, and which has only recently
5 8 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDANOCHLIN 9 entrance to the Barcelona Academy of Art in a single day 6 teenth and eighteenth centuries that the transmission of when only fifteen. (One would like to find out, of course, the profession from father to son was considered a matter what became of all the youthful scribblers and infant of course (as in fact it was with the Coypels, the Coustous, prodigies who then went on to achieve nothing but medi- the Van Loos, etc.). Despite the noteworthy and dramat- ocrity—or less—as artists.) revoltes ically satisfying cases of the great father-rejecting wunder- Despite the actual basis in fact of some of these of the nineteenth century, one might well be forced to stories, the tenor of such tales is itself misleading. kind admit that in the days when it was normal for sons to Yet all too often, art historians, while pooh-poohing this follow in their fathers' or even their grandfathers' foot- sort of mythology about artistic achievement, nevertheless steps, a large proportion of artists, great and not-so-great, retain it as the unconscious basis of their scholarly assump- had artist fathers. In the rank of major artists, the names tions, no matter how many crumbs they may throw to of Holbein, Diirer, Raphael, and Bernini immediately social influence, ideas of the time, etc. Art-historical mono- spring to mind; even in more rebellious recent times, one graphs, in particular, accept the notion of the Great Artist can cite Picasso and Braque as sons of artists (or, in the as primary, and the social and institutional structures latter case, a house painter) who were early enrolled in within which he lived and worked as mere secondary the paternal profession. "influences" or "background." This is still the golden- As to the relationship of art and social class, an interest- nugget theory of genius. On this basis, women's lack of ing paradigm for the question "Why have there been no major achievement in art may be formulated as a syl- great women artists?" is the question: "Why have there logism: If women had the golden nugget of artistic genius, been no great artists from the aristocracy?" One can it would reveal itself. But it has never revealed itself. scarcely think, before the antitraditional nineteenth cen- Q.E.D. Women do not have the golden nugget of artistic- tury at least, of any artist who sprang from the ranks of genius. (If Giotto, the obscure shepherd boy, and van any class more elevated than the upper bourgeoisie; even Gogh with his fits could make it, why not women?) in the nineteenth century, Degas came from the lower Yet if one casts a dispassionate eye on the actual social nobility—more like the haute bourgeosie—and only Tou- and institutional situation in which important art has louse-Lautrec, metamorphosed into the ranks of the mar- existed throughout history, one finds that the fruitful or ginal by accidental deformity, could be said to have come relevant questions for the historian to ask shape up rather from the loftier reaches of the upper classes. differently. One would like to ask, for instance, from While the aristocracy has always provided the lion's what social classes artists were most likely to come at dif- share of patronage and the audience for art, it has rarely ferent periods of art history—from what castes and sub- contributed anything but a few amateurish efforts to the groups? What proportion of major artists came from fam- actual creation of art, despite the fact that aristocrats, like ilies in which their fathers or other close relatives were many women, have had far more than their share of educa- engaged in related professions? Nikolaus Pevsner points tional advantages, and plenty of leisure. Indeed, like out in his discussion of the French Academy in the seven- women, they were often encouraged to dabble in art, even
6 10 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS becoming respectable amateurs, like Napoleon Ill's cousin, the Princess Mathilde, who exhibited at the official Salons, or Queen Victoria, who, with Prince Albert, studied art with no less a figure than Landseer himself. Could it be possible that genius is missing from the aristocratic make- up in the same way that it is from the feminine psyche? Or is it not rather that the kinds of demands and expecta- tions placed before both aristocrats and women—the amount of time necessarily devoted to social functions, the very kinds of activities demanded—simply made total de- votion to professional art production out of the question, and indeed unthinkable, both for upper-class males and for women generally. The Swiss-born Angelica When the right questions are finally asked about the con- Kauffmann, most of whose prolific career was spent ditions for producing art of which the production of great in Italy, combines alle- art is a subtopic, it will no doubt have to include some gory with portraiture in discussion of the situational concomitants of intelligence Angelica Hesitating be- tween Music and Paint- and talent generally, not merely of artistic genius. As ca. 1765. Collection ing, Piaget and others have stressed, ability or intelligence is of R.D.G. Winn, London. built up minutely, step by step, from infancy onward, and the patterns of adaptation-accommodation may be estab- appear lished so early that they may indeed to be innate to the unsophisticated observer. Such investigations imply that scholars will have to abandon the notion, consciously 7 articulated or not, of individual genius as innate. A banner for Women's Lib could be Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Be- heading Holof ernes (Uffizi Florence), one of this Roman painter's favorite subjects. This version dates ca. 1615-20, shortly after the scandal of her alleged promiscu- ous relations with her teacher. 11
7 Marguerite Gerard, Fragonard's sister-in-law, was trained as an engraver, Portrait of the but turned to painting and did such ambitious work as Hermitage, Leningrad. Artist Painting a Musician. Self-Portrait, Lavinia Fontana's 1579, dates from the year she married and moved from her native Bologna to become a fashionable portraitist in Rome. Uffizi, Florence. 12
8 Adelaide Labille-Guiard's success at Versailles rivaled that of Mme. Vigee-Lebrun in the airy virtuosity of portraits like Comtesse de Selve. Wildenstein, New York. Maria Cosway, born in Italy of English parents and trained in Rome, adopted the pastoral portrait style of Gains- borough and Lawrence. Mr*. Fuller and Son, ca. 1780. Private collection. Despite the quality of pastels like Marie Genevieve Brouliard's Self-Portrait, ca. 1800, the popular medium was excluded from the Academy. Wildenstein, New York. 15
9 Born into a wealthy Amsterdam family in 1664 (her father was a noted professor of anatomy and botany), Rachel Ruyseh studied with Willem van Aelst and became a highly successful and well-paid still-life painter. This brilliant composition of fruit and insects, dated 1711, is in the Uffizi, Florence. Like so many women painters of the past, Anna Peale (1791- 1878) was one of a family of painters, the Peales of Phila- delphia (she was the daughter of James Peale and neice of Charles W. Peale). Thus the obstacles many aspiring women artists of her time would have faced were smoothed over for her. Still-life. Knoedler, New York. By Sofonisba Anguisciola, member of a noble family of Cremona: Philip II of Spain, ca. 1570. National Portrait Gallery, London. 16
10 Eva Gonzales was Manet's pupil and close associate; he worked with her on this Portrait of a 1879. Wilden- Woman, stein, New York. Almost as famous as her contemporaries Vigee-Lebrun and Labille-Guiard, Military Anne Vallayer-Coster was praised for painting "like a clever man." Private collection, Texas. Attributes. Portrait of a Girl by Best known for her fragile Philiberte Ledoux, a studies of young girls, pupil of Greuze, to whom Marie Laurencin painted her works have been mis- this bold portrait of attributed. Knoedler, Picasso in 1908. Collec- New York. tion of D. S. Stralem. 18
11 Possibly autobiographical, this painting by the little-known English painter Emily Mary Osborn depicts the plight of a struggling woman painter face to face with a crafty dealer. Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun's immense following at the French court was largely due to the patronage of Marie-Antoinette, whom she has been credited with making sympathetic to posterity through her portraits of the queen. The Artist's Daughter, ca. 1787, combines wit with Rococo sensibility. Collection of James F. Donohue, New York. 21 20
12 Rosa Bonheur, at the height of her fame, visiting Buffalo Bill's touring company. At left is Chief Sitting Bull, next to him Buffalo Bill. Behind Mme. Bonheur is her dealer, Ronald Knoedler. Rosa Bonheur: The Duel, 1895, 58% inches high. Knoedler, New York. Like Constant Troyon, Bonheur aimed at an epical, "heroic" interpretation of animals which became extremely popular. Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Triptych (I), 1935, 20 inches wide. Loeb-Krugier Gallery. 23 22
13 LINDA NOCHLIN 25 24 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS and painting from the male nude in the Vienna Academy —both of these latter from the mid-eighteenth century; The Question of the Nude men working from the seated male nude in Boilly's charm- ing painting of the interior of Houdon's studio at the We can now approach our question from a more reason- beginning of the nineteenth century; and Mathieu Co- able standpoint. Let us examine such a simple but critical chereau's scrupulously veristic Interior of David's Studio, issue as availability of the nude model to aspiring women exhibited in the Salon of 1814, reveals a group of young artists, in the period extending from the Renaissance until men diligently working from the male nude model. near the end of the nineteenth century. During this period, The very plethora of surviving "Academies"—detailed, careful and prolonged study of the nude model was es- painstaking studies from the nude studio model—in the sential to the production of any work with pretentions to oeuvre youthful of artists down through the time of Seurat grandeur, and to the very essence of History Painting, and well into the twentieth century, attests to the im- then generally accepted as the highest category of art. portance of this branch of study in the development of the Central to the training programs of academies of art since talented beginner. The formal academic program normally their inception late in the sixteenth and early in the proceeded from copying from drawings and engravings, seventeenth centuries was life drawing from the nude, to drawing from casts of famous works of sculpture, to generally male, model. In addition, groups of artists and drawing from the living model. To be deprived of this their pupils often met privately for life-drawing sessions ultimate state of training meant to be deprived of the pos- in their studios. It might be added that while individual sibility of creating major art—or simply, as with most of artists and private academies employed female models ex- the few women aspiring to be painters, to be restricted to tensively, the female nude was forbidden in almost all the "minor" and less highly regarded fields of portraiture, public art schools as late as 1850 and after—a state of genre, landscape, or still-life. affairs which Pevsner rightly designates as "hardly believ- There exist, to my knowledge, no representations of 8 able." artists drawing from the nude which include women in Far more believable, unfortunately, was the complete any role but that of the model—an interesting commentary unavailability to aspiring women artists of nude models any on rules of propriety: i.e., it is all right for a ("low," of at all. As late as 1893, "lady" students were not admitted course) woman to reveal herself naked-as-an-object for to life drawing at the official academy in London, and a group of men, but forbidden that a woman participate in even when they were, after that date, the model had to be the active study and recording of naked-as-an-object men 9 "partially draped." or women. A brief survey of contemporary representations of life- I have gone into the question of the availability of the drawing sessions reveals: an all-male clientele drawing from nude model, a single aspect of the automatic, institutionally the female nude in Rembrandt's studio; men working maintained discrimination against women, in such detail from the male nude in an eighteenth-century academy; simply to demonstrate the universality of this discrimina- from the female nude in the Hague Academy; modelling
14 26 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDA NOCHLIN 27 tion and its consequences, as well as the institutional of iconography and motifs—the same is by no means true nature of but one major facet of the necessary preparation for the poet or novelist. Anyone, even a woman, has to for achieving proficiency, much less greatness, in art at a learn the language, can learn to read and write, and can certain time. One could equally well have examined other commit personal experiences to paper in the home. Na- dimensions of the situation, such as the apprenticeship turally, this oversimplifies, but it still gives a clue as to the system, the academic educational pattern which, in France possibility of the existence of an Emily Dickinson or a especially, was almost the only key to success and which Virginia Woolf, and their lack of counterparts (at least had a regular progression and set competitions, crowned until quite recently) in the visual arts. by the Prix de Rome, which enabled the young winner to Of course, we have not even gone into the "fringe" re- work in the French Academy in that city. This was un- quirements for major artists, which would have been, for thinkable for women, of course, and women were unable to the most part, both physically and socially closed to compete until the end of the nineteenth century, by which women. In the Renaissance and after, the Great Artist, time the whole academic system had lost its importance aside from participating in the affairs of an academy, anyway. It seems clear, to use France in the nineteenth might be intimate and exchange ideas with members of century as an example (a country which probably had a humanist circles, establish suitable relationships with larger proportion of women artists than any other—in terms patrons, travel widely and freely, and perhaps become of their percentage in the total number of artists exhibiting involved in politics and intrigue. Nor have we mentioned in the Salon) that "women were not accepted as profes- the sheer organizational acumen and ability involved in 10 In the middle of the century, there were sional painters." running a major atelier-factory, like that of Rubens. An a third as many women as men artists, but even this mildly enormous amount of self-confidence and worldly knowl- encouraging statistic is deceptive when we discover that edge, as well as a natural sense of dominance and power, had attended out of this relatively meager number, none was needed by a great both in the running of chef d'ecole, that major stepping stone to artistic success, the ficole des the production end of painting, and in the control and Beaux-Arts, only 7 percent had received a Salon medal, instruction of numerous students and assistants. 11 and none had ever received the Legion of Honor. De- prived of encouragements, educational facilities, and re- wards, it is almost incredible that even a small percentage of women actually sought a profession in the arts. The Lady's Accomplishment It also becomes apparent why women were able to com- pete on far more equal terms with men—and even become Against the single-mincledness and commitment de- innovators—in literature. While art-making has traditionally manded of a chef d'ecole, we might set the image of the demanded the learning of specific techniques and skills— "lady painter" established by nineteenth century etiquette in a certain sequence, in an institutional setting outside the books and reinforced by the literature of the times. The home, as well as familiarity with a specific vocabulary insistence upon a modest, proficient, self-demeaning leve]
15 LINDA NOCHLIN 29 28 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS career, marriage, and the unfemininity of deep involvement of amateurism—the looking upon art, like needlework or with work rather than sex—it is the very mainstay of the crocheting, as a suitable '"accomplishment" for the well- feminine mystique to tais day. Of course, such an out- brought-up young woman—militated, and today still mili- look helps guard men from unwanted competition in their tates, against any real accomplishment on the part of "serious" professional activities and assures them of "well- women. It is this emphasis which transforms serious com- rounded" assistance on the home front, so they may have mitments to frivolous self-indulgence, busy work or occu- own sex and family in addition to the fulfillment of their pational therapy, and even today, in suburban bastions of specialized talent. the feminine mystique, tends to distort the whole notion As far as painting or especially drawing is concerned, of what art is and what kind of social role it plays. Mrs. Ellis found that it has one immediate advantage for In Mrs. Ellis's widely read The Family Monitor and the young lady over music—it is quiet and disturbs no Domestic Guide, published before the middle of the nine- one; in addition, "it is, of all other occupations, the one teenth century—a book of advice popular both in the most calculated to keep the mind from brooding upon self, United States and in England—women were warned against and to maintain that general cheerfulness which is a part the snare of trying too hard to excel in any one thing: of social and domestic duty. ... It can also," she adds, "be laid down and resumed, as circumstance or inclination It must not be supposed that the writer is one who 13 may direct, and that without any serious loss." would advocate, as essential to woman, any very Lest we feel that we have made a great deal of progress extraordinary degree of intellectual attainment, espe- in this area in the past 100 years, I cite the contemptuous cially if confined to one particular branch of study. . . . To be able to do a great many things tolerably well, remark of a bright young doctor about his wife and her is of infinitely more value to a woman than to be able friends "dabbling" in the arts: "Well, at least it keeps them to excel in any one. By the former, she may render out of trouble." Now, as in the nineteenth century, women's herself generally useful; by the latter, she may dazzle amateurism, lack of commitment, snobbery, and emphasis for an hour. By being apt, and tolerably well skilled in on chic in their artistic "hobbies," feed the contempt of into with life situation any in fall she may thing, every dignity and ease—by devoting her time to excellence the successful, professionally committed man who is en- in one, she may remain incapable of every other. . . . gaged in "real" work and can (with a certain justice) So far as cleverness, learning, and knowledge are con- point to his wife's lack of seriousness. For such men, the ducive to woman's moral excellence, they are therefore "real" work of women is only that which directly or in- All that would occupy her desirable, and no further. directly serves them and their children. Any other com- mind to the exclusion of better things . . . all that mitment falls under the rubric of diversion, selfishness, would tend to draw away her thoughts from others and fix them on herself, ought to be avoided as an evil egomania or, at the unspoken extreme, castration. The [italics mine]. to her™ circle is a vicious one, in which philistinism and frivolity mutually reinforce each other, today as in the nineteenth This bit of advice has a familiar ring. Propped up by a century. bit of Freudianism—some tag lines about woman's chief
16 LINDA NOCHLIN 31 30 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS Suzanne Valadon, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Kaethe Koll- witz, or Louise Nevelson, have come from nonartistic Successes backgrounds, although many contemporary and near-con- temporary women artists have, of course, married artists. But what of the small band of heroic women who, It would be interesting to investigate the role of benign, throughout the ages, despite obstacles, have achieved pre- if not outright encouraging, fathers: both Kaethe Kollwitz eminence? Are there any qualities that may be said to and Barbara Hepworth, for example, recall the influence of have characterized them, as a group and as individuals? unusually sympathetic and supportive fathers on their While we cannot investigate the subject in detail, we can artistic pursuits. point to a few striking general facts: almost all women In the absence of any thoroughgoing investigation, one artists were either the daughters of artist fathers, or later, can only gather impressionistic data about the presence or in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, had a close per- absence of rebellion against parental authority in women sonal connection with a strong or dominant male artist. artists, and whether there may be more or less rebellion on This is, of course, not unusual for men artists either, as we the part of women artists than is true in the case of men. have indicated in the case of artist fathers and sons: it is One thing, however, is clear: for a woman to opt for a for their feminine simply true almost without exception career at all, much less for a career in art, has required a counterparts, at least until quite recently. From the legend- certain unconventionality, both in the past and at present. ary sculptor, Sabina von Steinbach, in the fifteenth century, And it is only by adopting, however covertly, the ''mascu- who, according to local tradition, was responsible for the line" attributes of single-mindedness, concentration, tena- portal groups on the Cathedral of Strasbourg, down to ciousness, and absorption in ideas and craftsmanship for Rosa Bonheur, the most renowned animal painter of the their own sake, that women have succeeded, and continue century—and including such eminent women artists as to succeed, in the world of art. Marietta Robusti, daughter of Tintoretto, Lavinia Fontana, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elizabeth Cheron, Mme. Vigee- Lebrun, and Angelica Kauffman—all were the daughters of artists. In the nineteenth century, Berthe Morisot was closely associated with Manet, later marrying his brother, Rosa Bonheur and Mary Cassatt based a good deal of her work on the It is instructive to examine one of the most successful style of her close friend, Degas. In the second half of the and accomplished women painters of all time, Rosa Bon- nineteenth century, precisely the same breaking of tradi- heur (1822-1899), whose work, despite the ravages wrought tional bonds and discarding of time-honored practices that upon its estimation by changes of taste, still stands as an permitted men artists to strike out in directions quite dif- impressive achievement to anyone interested in the art of ferent from those of their fathers enabled women—with the nineteenth century and in the history of taste generally. additional difficulties, to be sure—to strike out on their own Partly because of the magnitude of her reputation, Rosa as well. Many of our more recent women artists, like
17 32 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDA NOCHLIN 33 Bonheur is a woman artist in whom all the various con- at Menilmontant. Although in her later years Rosa Bon- flicts, all the internal and external contradictions and strug- heur might have made fun of some of the more farfetched gles typical of her sex and profession, stand out in sharp eccentricities of the members of that community, and dis- relief. approved of the additional strain which her father's aposto- The success of Rosa Bonheur emphasizes the role of in- late placed on her overburdened mother, it is obvious that stitutions in relation to achievement in art. We might say the Saint-Sirnonian ideal of equality for women—they dis- that Bonheur picked a fortunate time to become an artist. approved of marriage, their trousered feminine costume She came into her own in the middle of the nineteenth was a token of emancipation., and their spiritual leader, century, when the struggle between traditional history Le Pere Enfantin, made extraordinary efforts to find a painting, as opposed to the less pretestious and more Woman Messiah to share his reign—made a strong im- free-wheeling genre painting, landscape, and still-life was pression on her as a child and may have influenced her won by the latter group, A major change in social and future course of behavior. institutional support for art was under way: with the rise "Why shouldn't I be proud to be a woman?" she ex- of the bourgeoisie, smaller paintings, generally of every- claimed to an interviewer. "My father, that enthusiastic day subjects, rather than grandiose mythological or re- apostle of humanity, many times reiterated to me that ligious scenes, were much in demand. In mid-nineteenth woman's mission was to elevate the human race, that she century France, as in seventeenth-century Holland, there was the Messiah of future centuries. It is to his doctrines was a tendency for artists to attempt to achieve some sort that I owe the great, noble ambition I have conceived of security in a shaky market situation by specializing in a for the sex which I proudly affirm to be mine, and whose specific subject. Animal painting was then a very popular 14 independence I will support to my dying day." When field, and Rosa Bonheur was its most accomplished and she was still hardly more than a child, he instilled in her successful practitioner—followed only by the Barbizon the ambition to surpass Mme. Vigee-Lebrun, certainly the painter, Troyon, who was at one time so pressed for his most eminent model she could be expected to follow, and paintings of cows that he hired another artist to brush in gave her early efforts every possible encouragement. At the the backgrounds. same time, the spectacle of her uncomplaining mother's Daughter of an impoverished drawing master, Rosa Bon- decline from overwork and poverty might have been an heur early showed her interest in art; she also exhibited even stronger influence on her decision to control her own an independence of spirit and liberty of manner which destiny and never to become the unpaid slave of a man immediately earned her the label of tomboy. Although her and children through marriage. attitude toward her father is somewhat ambiguous, clearly, In those refreshingly straightforward pre-Freudian days, he was influential in directing her toward her life's work. Rosa Bonheur could explain to her biographer that she Raimond Bonheur had been an active member of the short- had never wanted to marry for fear of losing her independ- lived Saint-Simonian community, established in the third ence—too many young girls let themselves be led to the decade of the nineteenth century by "Le Pere" Enfantin altar like Iambs to the sacrifice, she maintained—without
18 LINDA NOCHLIN 35 34 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS head, which she excused as a practical measure taken any awkward sexual overtones marring the ring of pure after the death of her mother: "who would have taken practicality. Yet at the same time that she rejected mar- 16 care of my curls?" she demanded. riage for herself and implied an inevitable loss of selfhood She rejected a suggestion that her trousers were a symbol for any woman who engaged in it, she, unlike the Saint- of bold emancipation: Simonians, considered marriage "a sacrament indispensable to the organization of society." I strongly blame women who renounce their customary While remaining cool to offers of marriage, she joined in attire in the desire to make themselves pass for men. a seemingly cloudless, lifelong and apparently completely ... If I had found that trousers suited my sex, I platonic union with a fellow woman artist, Nathalie Micas, would have completely gotten rid of my skirts, but this is not the case, nor have I ever advised my sis- who evidently provided her with the companionship and ters of the palette to wear men's clothes in the ordinary emotional warmth which she, like most human beings, course of life. If, then, you see me dressed as I am, needed. Obviously the presence of this sympathetic friend it is not at all with the aim of making myself interest- did not seem to demand the same sacrifice of commitment ing, as all too many women have tried, but simply in to her profession which marriage would have entailed. In order to facilitate my work. Remember that at a cer- tain period I spent whole days in the slaughterhouses. any case, the advantages of such an arrangement for Indeed, you have to love your art in order to live in women who wished to avoid the distraction of children pools of blood. ... I had no alternative but to realize in the days before reliable contraception are obvious. that the garments of my own sex were a total nuisance. Yet at the same time that she frankly rejected the con- That is why I decided to ask the Prefect of Police for 17 ventional feminine role of her times, Rosa Bonheur still But the authorization to wear masculine clothing. the costume I am wearing is my working outfit, noth- was drawn into what Betty Friedan has called the "frilly ing else. ... I am completely prepared to put on a blouse syndrome," which even today compels successful skirt, especially since all I have to do is to open a professional women to adopt some ultrafeminine item of 18 closet to find a whole assortment of feminine outfits. 15 clothing or insist on proving their prowess as pie bakers. Despite the fact that she had early cropped her hair and It is somewhat pathetic that this highly successful world- adopted men's clothes as her habitual attire (following the renowned artist—unsparing of herself in the painstaking example of George Sand, whose rural romanticism exerted study of animal anatomy; diligently pursuing her bovine a powerful influence over her artistic imagination), to her or equine subjects in the most unpleasant surroundings; in- biographer she insisted, and no doubt sincerely believed, dustriously producing popular canvases throughout the that she did so only because of the specific demands of course of a lengthy career; firm, assured, and incontrovert- her profession. Indignantly denying rumors to the effect ibly masculine in her style; winner of a first medal in the that she had run about the streets of Paris dressed as a boy Paris salon; Officer of the French Legion of Honor; Com- in her youth, she proudly provided her biographer with a mander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic and the daguerreotype of herself at sixteen years, dressed in per- Order of Leopold of Belgium; friend of Queen Victoria— fectly conventional feminine fashion, except for her shorn
19 36 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDANOCHLIN 37 should feel compelled late in life to justify and qualify her vantage—the unavailability of nude models to women art perfectly reasonable assumption of masculine ways, for institu- students—we have suggested that it was indeed any reason whatsoever; it is more pathetic still that she tionally impossible for women to achieve excellence or suc- should feel compelled to attack her less modest, trouser- their no matter what cess on the same footing as men, wearing sisters. Yet her conscience, despite her supportive talent, or genius. The existence of a tiny band of successful, father and worldly success, still condemned her for not if not great, women artists throughout history does nothing being a "feminine" woman. to gainsay this fact, any more than does the existence of The difficulties imposed by society's implicit demands a few superstars or token achievers among the members of on the woman artist continue to add to the difficulty of any minority groups. their enterprise even today. Compare, for example, the What is important is that women face up to the reality noted contemporary sculptor Louise Nevelson, with her of their history and of their present situation. Disad- combination of utterly "unfeminine" dedication to her work vantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an and her conspicuously "feminine" false eyelashes. She ad- intellectual position. Rather, using their situation as under- mits that she got married at seventeen, despite the cer- dogs and outsiders as a vantage point, women can reveal tainty that she couldn't live without creating, because institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at 19 Even in the "the world said you should get married." the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take- case of these two outstanding artists—and whether we like part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought or not, we still must admire Rosa Bonheur's The Horsefair and true greatness are challenges open to anyone—man achievement—the voice of the feminine mystique with its or woman—courageous enough to take the necessary risk, potpourri of ambivalent narcissism and internalized guilt the leap into the unknown. subtly dilutes and subverts that total inner confidence, that absolute certitude and self-determination (moral and esthetic), demanded by the highest and most innovative NOTES work in art. 1. John Stuart Mill, "The Subjection of Women" (1869) in World's Classics Series (Lon- Three Essays by John Stuart Mill, don, 1966), p. 441. 2. "Women Artists," a review of Die Frauen in die Kunstge- by Ernst Guhl in schichte The Westminster Review (American Conclusion grateful I am 91-104. (July 1858): Elaine Edition) 70 to Hopefully, by stressing the institutional, or the public, Showalter for having brought this review to my attention. 3. See, for example, Peter S. Walch's excellent studies of individual, or private, preconditions for rather than the Angelica Kauffman or his doctoral dissertation, "Angelica Kauff- achievement in the arts, we have provided a paradigm for mann," Princeton University, 1967. For Artemisia Gentileschi, the investigation of other areas in the field. By examining see R. Ward Bissell, "Artemisia Gentileschi—A New Documented in some detail a single instance of deprivation or disad- Chronology," Art Bulletin 50 (June 1968): 153-168.
20 38 ART AND SEXUAL POLITICS LINDA NOCHLIN 39 4. For the relatively recent genesis of the emphasis on the 13. Ibid., 38-39. artist as the nexus of esthetic experience, see M. H. Abrams, Rosa Bonheur: Sa Vie, son oeuvre (Paris: 14. Anna Klumpke, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical E. Flammarion, 1908), p. 311. Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953) and 15. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Maurice Z. Shroder, Icarus: The Image of the Artist in French Norton, 1963), p. 158. Romanticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961). p. 166. 16. Klumpke, op. cit., 5. A comparison with the parallel myth for women, the 17. Paris, like many cities even today, had laws on its books Cinderella story, is revealing: Cinderella gains higher status on against impersonation. the basis of a passive, "sex-object" attribute—small feet (shades 18. Klumpke, op. cit., pp. 308—309. of fetishism and Chinese foot-binding!)—whereas the Boy Won- 19. Cited in Elizabeth Fisher, "The Woman as Artist, Louise der always proves himself through active accomplishment. For Aphra Nevelson," I (Spring 1970): 32. a thorough study of myths about artists, see Ernst Kris and Die Legende vom Kunstler: Ein Geschichtlicher Otto Kurz, Versuch (Vienna, 1934). 6. Nikolaus Pevsner, Academies of Art, Past and Present (Cambridge, England: The University Press, 1940; New York: Macmillan, 1940), p. g6f. 7. Contemporary directions in art itself—earthworks, con- ceptual art, art as information, etc.—certainly point awaij from emphasis on the individual genius and his salable products; in art history, Harrison C. White and Cynthia A. White, Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World (New York: Wiley, 1965) opens up a fruitful new direction of investigation, as does Nikolaus Pevsner's pioneering Academies (see Note 6); Ernst Gombrich and Pierre Francastel, of Art in their very different ways, have always tended to view art and the artist as part of a total situation, rather than in lofty isolation. 8. Female models were introduced in the life class in Berlin in 1875, in Stockholm in 1839, in Naples in 1870, at the Royal op. cit., College of Art in London, after 1875. Pevsner, p. 231. Female models at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts wore masks to hide their identity as late as about 1866—as attested to in a charcoal drawing by Thomas Eakins—if not later. 9. Pevsner, p. 231. op. cit., p. 51. op. cit., 10. White and White, Table 5. 11. Ibid., 12. Mrs. Ellis, "The Daughters of England: Their Position in Society, Character, and Responsibilities" in The Family (New York, 1844), p. 35. Monitor and Domestic Guide
21 Even female models had to be clothed for female artists in the eighteenth century. Daniel Cho- dowiecki's Ladies in a Studio. Berlin Museum. Houdon in His Boilly's In Rembrandt's studio, only male students could draw from a (Cherbourg Mu- Studio nude model. This ink drawing, Rembrandt Seated among His seum) shows male artists Students Drawing from the Nude, by a pupil of Rembrandt, is working from a seated in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Weimar. male nude at the begin- ning of the nineteenth century. In Zoffany's painting of the life-class at the Royal Academy, 1772, all the members are present except for Angelica Kauffmann, who for reasons of propriety has a stand-in—her portrait on the wall. 41
22 Although women were not allowed to draw from nude models of either sex, men faced no such restrictions: Mathieu Cochereau's Interior of David's Studio from the Salon of In this photograph by Louvre. Thomas Eakins of one of his life-classes at the Pennsylvania Academy around 1885, a cow serves as a model for the women students. In the 18805, women did take part in life-classes in which, segregated from the men students, they worked both from the male and the female model. However, when Eakins removed the loin- cloth from a male model during an anatomy lec- ture to women students, it precipitated his dis- charge from the Academy staff. By the time women were admitted to life classes, academic art was on the wane. This 1898 painting of the Russian artist Repin's studio is a collec- tive work by his students.
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