“Male-dominated” may not be the first thing one thinks of when it comes to the world of fine art. But from the giants of the Renaissance—Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci—to modern masters such as Picasso, Pollock and Rothko, the established art-world canon has been dominated by men. All of which makes the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art’s new exhibit, Painting Women, both important and relevant. Featuring 34 paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the expansive exhibition is dedicated both to women who painted and the men with whom they collaborated.
The introductory piece of the show is, appropriately, Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun’s “Portrait of a Young Woman,” an oil painting from 1797 that displays the French artist’s natural, yet idealized, approach to portraiture. Vigée-Le Brun—whose patrons included Marie Antoinette—set the example for female painters to follow, and consequently served as a starting point for Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art executive director Tarissa Tiberti’s arrangement of the exhibit.
“I like the theme—the idea of women artists and their achievements through the centuries,” Tiberti says. “It wasn’t just women being painted. They were getting on the other side of the canvas.”
With works on display from nearly every era since the late 18th century, Painting Women explores an impressive breadth of styles and subjects from both American and European artists, including abstract works by Maud Morgan and Doris Lee, landscapes by Georgia O’Keeffe and Gertrude Fiske, and still-lifes from Gretchen Woodman Rogers and Berthe Morisot. “I wanted to make sure you got as wide a range as possible,” Tiberti says.
Perhaps the most significant time period represented by the show is the late 1800s, when art academies and salons opened their doors to women for the first time, allowing these artists to pursue painting as a serious vocation. Still, the works on display in Painting Women tell a dual tale: that of women whose talents were nurtured—oftentimes in creative partnerships, such as Philip and Lilian Hale—and careers flourished, and that of others who struggled to be taken seriously and ultimately gave up on art.
“Women didn’t have any profession at the time,” says Katie Getchell, deputy director for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Societal expectations didn’t allow for them to have their own pursuits. These artists were brave and courageous.”
It’s a shame, because the quality and diversity of the art in Painting By Women is impressive. From the almost unnaturally vibrant portraiture of Adèle Romany to the Cubist-inspired, mixed-media work of Fannie Hillsmith, the works are exemplary representations of their respective styles and periods.
“We hope people will gain a better understanding that women have been doing art for a long time,” Tiberti says. “They are a big contribution to the art world.”
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Oct. 26, $13 for Nevada residents, 693-7871, Bellagio.com/BGFA.