The most famous female painters of all time

Posted by Robert Lange on

There were many fantastic female painters throughout history, but some have achieved particular fame – very well-earned, undoubtedly! Said fame can be measured in many ways, so today, let's take a look at women who have changed the world of art – forever.

We'll divide this article into three main sections: first, we'll present to you two famous female artists working until the XVII century; then, amazing female painters from the XIX century; and lastly, contemporary artists who keep changing the art industry every day.

Famous Female Painters – 16th to 17th centuries

Let's start with women who were actual pioneers – strong, independent painters during the times when it was almost impossible. 

Sofonisba Anguissola

Do you know Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)? Or Leonardo da Vinci, Zurbarán, even van Dyck? Probably. So what about a woman whose paintings were often mistakenly taken as the above?

Sofonisba Anguissola was a Renaissance artist who defied convention by becoming a successful portraitist during a time when women were rarely allowed to pursue artistic careers. She was luckily born into a wealthy, open-minded family that actually helped her become a world-renowned painter! Her father also tried to get Michelangelo's attention – successfully, even!

What's interesting about Sofonisba, she ended up painting more self-portraits than Rembrandt himself. 

Her most famous paintings are: The Game of Chess, Family Portrait of Minerva, Amilcare and Asdrubale Anguissola, Queen Anna of Austria

Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was a prominent Baroque painter from Italy known for her powerful and dramatic paintings, typically depicting historical or mythological scenes with strong female figures. Notably, she challenged the male-dominated art world of her time. She learned how to paint from her father, Orazio Gentileschi, and later, influenced by Caravaggio's paintings, became one of the Caravaggisti – stylistic followers of the famous Italian Baroque painter. 

Her most famous paintings are: Judith beheading Holofernes, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, Susanna and the Elders, Salome.

Famous Female Artists-painters Through the 19th Century

Let's move on to the next page in the history of famous female painters – the XIX century.

Rosa Bonheur

What were the chances for a talented woman to become a professional artist in the nineteenth century? Low, to say the least: The Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, where Rosa Bonheur lived, did not admit women back then. And yet, she managed to become a famous animalier (animal artist) and created paintings so vivid and packed with energy and movement that they stunned the viewers. Bonheur wasn't just famous for her art, she was also a bit of a trailblazer.

Today, you can find these impressive paintings in museums like the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Her most famous paintings are: Ploughing in the Nivernais, The Horse Fair

Mary Cassatt

An American Impressionist who focused on scenes of motherhood and domestic life, she helped to bring a new perspective to the Impressionist movement. Many of her paintings depicted motherhood as she saw it. Cassatt's focus was on the social and private lives of women, with a strong emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Her most famous paintings are: Young Woman in a Black and Green Bonnet, The Boating Party, Tea, Summertime

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe was an American painter famous for her magnified close-ups of flowers and landscapes, which were ambiguous at times. Her work offered a new perspective on nature and the body, eventually helping pave the way for feminist art movements. O'Keeffe tended to transform realistic subjects into abstract paintings. 

Her most famous paintings are: Blue-Green Music, Black Iris 

Frida Kahlo

Did you know that her full name was Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón?

This iconic Mexican artist is known for her self-portraits, which explore issues of identity and disability and are strongly inspired by Mexican culture. Her bold use of color and symbolism made her a major figure in 20th-century art and a bold representative of the surrealism movement. Privately, she was the wife of Diego Rivera, another prominent Mexican painter.

Her most famous paintings are: The Two Fridas, Self-portrait with Cropped Hair, The Wounded Table, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

And speaking of surrealism – check out our entry about the 8 Most Famous Surrealism Artists.

Hide and Seek 12" x 16" colored pencil on board Kerry Simmons

Modern Famous Female Painters & Contemporary Artists: From 20th Century Until Now

This chapter on famous female artists and painters has yet to be written, and that's what makes it so enticing. You might also want to read about the difference between modern and contemporary art.

Yayoi Kusama (born 1929)

A contemporary Japanese artist known for her immersive installations and use of polka dots, she explores themes of infinity, obsession, and the nature of reality.

Judy Chicago (born 1939)

A feminist artist, educator, and writer. Her most famous work is likely The Dinner Party, a massive installation piece that celebrates the accomplishments of important women throughout history.

Barbara Kruger (born 1945)

She's known for her bold, graphic works, which use text and photography to address social and political issues like gender, power, and consumerism.

Throughout history, talented women have pushed the boundaries of the art world. Their achievements are not to go unnoticed: the unique perspectives and styles they brought to their work should be recognized. From Sofonisba Anguissola's self-portraits exploring identity to Georgia O'Keeffe's magnified visions of nature – these female artists-painters have left the art world changed forever.

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