Recently I visited The Royal Academy to view an exhibition of Impressionist Art. Of all the paintings, I found myself standing in front of one by Berthe Morisot. It was of a woman doing her toilette, arms aloft, fixing her hair. There was something magical about its touch, the perfection of her arms, the understanding of this simple every day action. Of the many paintings exhibited it was this one that I loved most. I began to wonder whether its beauty and the subtle understanding of the woman’s actions were precisely because Morisot was a woman herself.
This thought was fresh in my mind when I came across Danger! Women Artists at Work by Debra N Mancoff. Having studied History of Art at University many years ago I am always interested in books about art and I was excited to read a book that covered the topic of women artists and their position in the art world.
Mancoff writes in her Introduction that ‘until relatively recently, the history of art was a celebration of male talent … the "Old Masters’’' and when you think about it, how many female artists do you know? In comparison to male artists, especially in the years before the twentieth century, there are few that I could name. In the past it has taken real courage for women to become artists. They were barred from Life Classes and although in the nineteenth century the amateur study of art by ‘ladies’ was ‘deemed a valued and genteel quality’, as Mancoff writes, their participation as professional artists was frowned upon.
As I read through Mancoff’s Introduction I was excited by her thoughts and fascinated to learn of women who broke the mould--from Sofonisba Anguissola in the sixteenth century through to the Guerrilla Girls who continue ‘to expose discrimination against women in the art world’.