Great Women Painters

Phaidon. Oct. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781838663285. $69.95. FINE ARTS
This oversize companion to Phaidon’s Great Women Artists surveys 300-plus female painters across five centuries and 60 countries, each one represented by a quality color reproduction and a paragraph of text. Styles represented range from the figurative to abstract, media from watercolor to spray paint, and thematic interests from the natural world and feminine spirituality to race and politics. The artists’ visual vocabularies span the history of art. A discussion of each painting, occasional quotes by the artists, and relevant biographical details add context, reflection points, and some fascinating stories. The volume’s alphabetical arrangement brings its own discoveries, juxtaposing distinct styles and periods, as seen, for example, in the paintings by Gwen John (1876–1939) and Claudette Johnson (b. 1959)—portraits strikingly different in style, palette, media, perspective, dimensions, and mood. Despite being underrepresented in histories, museums, and galleries, many of the early painters included were celebrated during their lifetimes. Others defied their families and the prevailing culture to pursue their art. As Jesse Mockran (b. 1981) notes, when it comes to “the construction of gender codes over time,” art history is the place she sees “human history made visible.”
VERDICT A richly rewarding overview capturing the range, depth, and accomplishments of women painters, many of whom continue to be overlooked and undervalued.
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