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Sketch of the Artists in Proto-Feminism

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844–1926 (82 years)

Mary Cassatt was an American painter who dared to rebel against the gender expectations set for women in the 19th century and become a professional artist. Disregarding her family’s concern with her career choice and its exposure to ‘feminist’ ideas, Cassatt traveled to Europe where an artistic revolution was under way broadening the freedom artists had to choose their own subjects and style. Her strong character was displayed throughout her life pursuits including a lifelong advocacy of equal rights for the sexes. She made her name as an Impressionist renowned for her unconventional, intimate and honest depictions of women and children, and for her insight into female inner life. She was one of the few American artists invited by the French avant-garde painters of the time to join that progressive group known as the Impressionists. Her mentors and fellow painters were Degas and Pissarro; and Paris became her home. Cassatt sent paintings back to exhibitions in America which were among the first Impressionist works seen in the US. Her artistic activism led to advising wealthy American patrons on acquisitions which played a crucial role in creating some of the most important collections of Impressionist art at museums in America today.


Young Mother Sewing, painted in1900, is in the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art / New York, NY.

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Natalia Goncharova

Russian, 1881–1962 (81 years)

Natalia Govancharo was an eccentric and a leading artist of the Russian avant-garde. Revolutionary, independent, transgressive — yet celebrated for her experimental and controversial approach to art, illustration, graphics, costumes and fashion. She was the first female to have a retrospective show in Moscow. Notorious for her occasionally shocking behavior, some of her controversial works were removed from more than one exhibition. Radical in both her art and her behavior, she challenged societal norms. She exhibited at the notorious Salon d’Automne in Paris, and in 1919 at age 38, she and her partner settled there. Along with artists Kandinsky, Marc and Klee, she founded a group whose work and exhibits contributed to the development of abstract art. She and her partner were leaders of the Russian Futurists. The Cyclist is one of her most iconic such paintings reflecting the acceleration of life: The dynamics in the life of an individual. Her ability to make a wide variety of styles her own is her legacy. She did not merely follow the course of art history but changed it. Her ever-evolving art was a catalyst for art movements at that time. Goncharova is one of the most expensive female artists at auction. Her work is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery in Washington, DC and many others.


The Cyclist, painted in 1913, is exhibited at the  Russian Museum / St Petersburg, Russia.

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Hilma af Klint

Swedish, 1862–1944 (81 years)

Modernist pioneer Hilma af Klint began creating radically abstract paintings in 1906 like nothing done before. Bold, colorful, mystical views of reality unconnected to the physical world. Her contemporaries exhibited widely, but af Klint was a voluntary outsider never sharing her abstract work. Convinced society was not ready to understand art outside the norm and done by a woman, she and her family held her groundbreaking work in private, unseen, until after her death and almost a half century later. Her interest in abstraction and symbolism came from her involvement in transcendental spiritualism, in vogue at the end of the 19th century— widely accepted and not limited to followers of the occult. Klint, with four other women, communicated with “High Masters” by way of séances. Her abstract work done under the channeled direction of these spiritual intermediaries — some 900 pieces — included The Ten Largest: Monumental paintings, each 10x9 feet, abstractly conceptualizing the vital forces of life from childhood to old age. Klint herself struggled her whole life to understand their meaning. In 1986 at the first exhibition of her strikingly imaginative work, the art world was stunned. Klint’s abstract paintings predated abstract works by Kandinsky and other well known male artists who claimed to be originators of abstract art by at least 5 years. And so it was a woman, not a man, who got there first!


The Ten Largest, No.7, Adulthood, created in1907, is in the Collection of the Hilma af Klint Foundation / Stockholm, Sweden.

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