Women Artists

Written by Pippa Roberts | 16 July 2021

Since London Art Week introduced Art History in Focus, its new series of talks and articles on the LAW Digital platform, we have looked at many works by great women artists offered for sale by our dealers.

Women painters and sculptors were often forgotten after their deaths, written out of the art history books, marginalised in favour of their male counterparts by museums, or overlooked by later critics. It is significant that this situation is being determinedly rectified by the art world; sale prices for historic women painters are rapidly increasing and ground-breaking exhibitions are taking place at museums across the world. There is a revolution afoot to bring these female talents back to our attention, and a renewal of interest in their lives and work.

Here are a few you will find for sale at this summer's London Art Week.

'I have always appreciated those who choose to experiment with materials and proportions' said Zahah Hadid (1950-2016), the ground-breaking architect and artist.  William Weston Ltd offers a pair of sculptures, created by Hadid to mark the 25th anniversary of the German Guggenheim Museum. Solid - Translucent and Opaque, 2005, are moulded in acrylic, one transparent, one opaque, both signed with an incised signature, and each numbered from the edition of 250 which was originally sold through the Guggenheim Museum. Both sculpture measure 370 x 85 x 46mm and come on a purpose-made illuminated Perspex light-box similar to that used for the Museum display.

Dame Zaha Hadid, who was of Iraqi-British nationality, is recognized world-wide as one of the most inspired and influential architects of the period from 1990 to her death in 2016. From the outset she sought to make her buildings move beyond the accepted expressions of space and form. They were also expressions of a visual emotion and movement. She brought the same concepts to her work as an artist - especially in her sculptural works, as here, which also have a strong link to her architectural models and concept schemes. 

Writing about Hadid's design for the Guangzhou Opera House in China (2003-2010), one of her most renowned works, architecture critic Edwin Heathcote wrote for the Financial Times in 2011 that the building: 'appears akin to two smooth-edged boulders faced with 75,000 panels of polished granite and glass' and that it seems to 'suck in the surrounding landscape into a vortex of movement and swirling space...'. It is the same feelings of solidity and fluidity that fill Hadid's small scale sculptural/architectural art creations and models. It is significant that she titled this pair of sculptures as 'Solid', when in fact solid is just what they are not; it is the interior voids which are as important as the exterior form. In her work on design and sculptural objects, as in her buildings, she was often known as the 'Queen of Curves'
Hadid's works of pure 'art' seldom appears on the market as very little of it was ever intended to be sold or exhibited. One of the very few exhibitions of this aspect of her work was as a part of the exhibition 'Deconstructivism in Architecture' at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1988, alongside six other architects. This pair of moulded acrylic sculptures were intended for sale, being created and exhibited to mark the German Guggenheim's 25th anniversary.

Sophie Dickens (b. 1966)
Peloton, 2018,
Sladmore Gallery

An artist to be found at Sladmore Gallery is Sophie Dickens (British, b. 1966), a contemporary British sculptor with an international reputation. Her large-scale works have adorned cathedrals and enlivened skylines from Moscow to LA. Several of her works feature in the gallery's current exhibition open during London Art Week.

Classically trained in the drawing and construction of anatomy as well as a graduate of the prestigious Courtauld Institute London, Sophie Dickens' in-depth knowledge of form allows her to reduce and abstract to create works that move in all senses of the word. Whether a quick sketch or monumental sculpture, her work is full of dynamism.

Dickens' instantly recognisable style comes from her technique of building figures from abstract geometric shapes of cut wood and attaching them to a welded armature. Sophie creates monumental sculptures full of passion and life, where the inner workings of the body and mind have burst through the skin and now form the outer shell.  Her work is bold and Amazonian, as if her creatures have uprooted themselves from fertile grounds. Her work often contains themes of tragedy but there is a strong sense of fight and survival.

Sophie's subjects mostly revolve around nature, mythology, the elements and humanity. Her forms full of poetry with lyrical shapes and emotive poses. She has inherited the family ability to evoke the senses, as her great, great grandfather Charles Dickens was so apt at doing, however Sophie Dickens manages to speak volumes without needing any words.

Catherine Carrington (1904 - 2004)
Portrait of David John, 1923,
Elliot Fine Art

This is the only known portrait by Catherine Carrington (née Alexander). Catherine was marred to the publisher Noel Carrington, and therefore sister-in-law to the famous Dora Carrington, making Catherine a peripheral member of the avant-garde and Bohemian Bloomsbury Group. The work was drawn it 1923, when Catherine was 19 and studying at the Slade School of Art. It was last seen publicly in 1975, when it was exhibited at the New Grafton Gallery. According to them, the sitter is David John, son of Augustus John. The work is with Elliott Fine Art, whose exhibition for LAW Digital is titled Diverse Beauty: Portraiture 1800 - 1950.

Antonietta Brandeis (1848 - 1926)
Venice: San Marco, with Piazza San Marco beyond; The entrance to the Arsenale, c. 1890s
Charles Beddington

Charles Beddington Ltd is showing a group of works by Antonietta Brandeis (1848-1926), a prolific artist who earned a good living selling views to international travellers and 'Grand Tourists' to northern Italy, particularly Venice.

Born in Myslkovice, in south Bohemia, in 1848, Brandeis studied in Prague under Karel Javurek (1815-1909), considered one of the founders of Czech historical painting, before moving to Venice to become a pupil at the Academy of Fine Arts at the age of nineteen in 1867. One of their first women students to be admitted to the Venetian Academy, Brandeis was taught by prominent figures such as Michelangelo Grigoletti, Napoleone Nani and Federico Moja, and completed her studies there in 1872, three years before the Ministry granted women the legal right to instruction in the fine arts. Brandeis was one of only two women artists to graduate from the Academy in 1872.

Following the practice of previous generations, Brandeis travelled, and painted, in Italy, notably Verona, Bologna, Rome and Florence. She must have made copious "notes", or drawn records, from which to continue to paint the iconic views that were for her so successful. There are nine sketchbooks held in the Innocenti Institute museum, in Florence, the city where Antonietta lived after her husband died in 1909, and also photographs squared off, that must have been further aide memoirs. 

While she is known to have painted religious subjects, and copied the Old Masters in the Pitti, she started early on to paint views, particularly and most successfully for the by now more democratised and numerous grand tourists. There were shops in Venice at that time that retailed these works, a significant change from Canaletto's day. And she additionally exhibited at the annual show at the Accademia, Venice, the Promotrice Veneta, the Academy in Paris, and in Florence, Rome, Budapest, and even Melbourne (early on often as Antonio - she disliked the patronising praise received as a 'woman artist'). But by 1900, her love of Venice seems to have dimmed, and according to Angelo de Gubernatis, she sent all of her works to London. In this and through all her life she showed clearly what a determined and capable businesswoman she was, and how determined she must have had to be to challenge established conventions, as a Bohemian born Jewish female painter in a decidedly patriarchal Catholic world, as well as one of her generation's most outstanding artists. 

Her works are held in numerous museums including in Italy at the Instituto Innocenti, Florence and the Pitti Palace, Gallery of Modern Art, Florence, and in the UK at Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery, Gloucestershire and at Rossendale Museum, Lancashire County Museums Service, Lancashire.

The last work we look at here is a bit of a mystery.  Well the artist is, certainly; the talent and skill speaks for itself. At Lullo • Pampoulides you will discover a most beautiful and slightly haunting self-portrait by Ernestine Rousteaux-Darbour (1872- after 1920).

Darbour was a little-known painter of genre scenes and portraits that was active in Nice at the cusp of the 20th century. This confident and enigmatic self-portrait is rich in the stylistic vocabulary of the Belle Époque: light colours, quick brushstrokes, and a vibrant, optimistic subject matter.  

In this canvas the artist proudly holds the tools of her profession - her artist's palette - and a lily, which is a reference to purity.  

Almost nothing is known about this young woman, or what became of her.  Was she an assured amateur painter whose output came to a halt when she married? It seems we may never know, as there are so few records to be found about her. 

We can at least enjoy her direct gaze, which perhaps looks to a future where great women artists lost to history will all be revealed and revered as they should. 

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