BY ALEXXA GOTTHARDT
The first edition of H.W. Janson’s History of Art—the 572-page textbook long referenced in many art history survey courses—includes no women artists. No Mary Cassatt, no Frida Kahlo. Zilch. It was published in 1962, and women artists wouldn’t appear on the pages of later editions until 1987.
By the time writer Bridget Quinn got her hands on the tome, during her undergrad art history studies, she counted only 16 female artists. She was angry. “In more than 800 pages, this was all ‘official’ art history could offer,” she writes in her new book, Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order).
Quinn’s first experience with Janson’s male-dominated instructional inspired a career devoted to uncovering female artists who’d largely been left out of the canon. The women she encountered became not only the focus of her work, but also her personal heroes. “They helped me weather life’s storms: career frustrations, money troubles, pregnancy,” she tells me from her home in San Francisco. “Their lives and work were a lighthouse, an anchor for me.”
Quinn brings together 15 of these artists in Broad Strokes, published this March. Their lives and output span centuries and mediums—from Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi to Japanese-American post-war sculptor Ruth Asawa. What ties them together is their boundary-pushing skill and defiant commitment to their work, despite the unrelenting sexism they encountered in the art world.
While today, many scholars now study these artists and alternatives to Janson’s book have been published, Broad Strokes reminds us that there is still work to be done. Louise Bourgeois may be a household name amongst today’s art aficionados, for instance, but she remains nowhere to be found in the most recent 8th edition of Janson’s History of Art.
Below, we highlight seven artists from Quinn’s spirited pages, which make strides towards exposing the practices of women creatives to a wider audience.
Gentileschi was a Baroque painter known for her depictions of female goddesses and biblical figures in their most powerful moments. She wielded paint deftly, and became a master of techniques, like chiaroscuro, which were used by her peers and her teacher, Caravaggio.
Her magnum opus, the powerful Judith and Holofernes (ca. 1620), has been regarded not only as a masterpiece of Baroque art, but also as a celebration of female autonomy and strength. It shows the biblical character Judith and her servant Abra ferociously beheading their hulking nemesis Holofernes. Quinn points out that Gentileschi was no stranger to sexism—she painted the work not long after the trial for her rape, by one of her instructors, ended…..