10 Women Who Changed Art History Forever, Pt. 2

Marina Abramovic- 10 Women Who Changed Art History- Matthews Gallery blog

Click here to read the first part of this blog post.

How do you measure influence? It’s easy to focus on art’s brightest stars and most famous imagery, but zoom in on the tapestry of art history and you’ll see that its fibers are often woven from close personal relationships and direct channels of inspiration. We tend to remember names like Caravaggio, Picasso and Pollock and overlook the other fish in their schools. The following women might not have received as much attention as their male contemporaries, but that doesn’t mean they had a lesser hand in directing the grand flow of things. Check out our picks, and let us know who would be on your list in the comments.

Georgia O'Keeffe- Ten Women Who Changed Art History- Matthews Gallery blog

6. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

It was 1908, and a young O’Keeffe had just won a prize from the Art Students League for her still life Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot when she gave up painting all together. The artist was worried that she’d never truly distinguish herself in the realm of realism. Three years later she started fresh, enrolling in an art class taught by Arthur Wesley Down, who encouraged his students to let their emotions guide them.

“I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for,” O’Keeffe said. The artist created a series of innovative abstract charcoal drawings that caught the eye of her future husband, New York photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz. She would continue throughout her career to build an emotional vocabulary of abstracted forms, strongly influencing her modernist contemporaries and later inspiring feminist artists like Judy Chicago. She’s now considered the Mother of American Modernism.

Peggy Guggenheim- Ten Women Who Changed Art History Forever- Matthews Gallery blog

7. Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)

Guggenheim was born with the promise of a healthy inheritance. Her father died on the Titanic when she was a teenager, and at 21 she inherited more than $30 million in today’s currency. What to do with so much money? Guggenheim’s passion was art. Her first job was at the Sunwise Turn bookstore in New York, a bohemian hotspot that inspired her to move to Paris in 1920. There she met Man Ray, Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp and other influential modernists. By 1938 she’d opened a modernist gallery in London, where she showed the likes of Kandinsky, Calder, Ernst and Picasso.

The gallery got lots of attention from the public but lost money in its first year, so Guggenheim decided to open a museum instead. When World War II forced her to delay her plans, she focused on a buying “one picture a day” for her future museum collection. Ten Picassos, forty Ernsts, eight Miros, four Magrittes, three Dalis and one Chagall later, Guggenheim had one of the most important collections of 20th century art in existence. Her influence endures in the rich archives of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Frida Kahlo- Ten Women Who Changed Art History- Matthews Gallery blog

8. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Kahlo was born to a German father and Amerindian and Spanish mother in 1907, but she always claimed she was born in 1910 at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. That might have been a slight distortion of the truth, but her life and art certainly mirrored the pain and the passion of Mexico’s modern rebirth. When she was a teenager, Kahlo was involved in a bus crash that left her in a full body cast. In the months afterward she took up painting to combat loneliness and boredom.

“I am the subject I know best,” Kahlo said. She drew influences from traditional Mexican folk art and American and European modernism in her colorful self portraits and still lifes, building new links between cultures and art movements but tightly focusing her subject matter on her own health and relationship struggles. During her lifetime, Kahlo was mostly known in Mexico as the on-again, off-again wife of muralist Diego Rivera, but in 1938 she had a solo show in the United States and a year later she exhibited in Paris, where the Louvre acquired one of her paintings.

Andre Breton called Kahlo a surrealist and others saw her work as Naive Art, but the artist defied labels. “I never painted dreams,” she said. “I painted my own reality.” Kahlo opened the door for women artists to openly explore their most personal experiences in their work, something that surely influenced the next artist on our list.

Louise Bourgeois- 10 Women Who Changed Art History- Matthews Gallery

9. Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

Bourgeois’ artistic journey began in 1924 when she discovered that her father and her English tutor were having an affair. Her mother turned a blind eye, but Bourgeois spent the rest of her life staring the betrayal full in the face. A born and raised Parisian, she started studying art after her mother’s death in 1932 and met Fernand Leger soon after, who told her she was more of a sculptor than a painter.

After gaining some notoriety in Europe, Bourgeois moved to New York City in 1938 and hit a wall. Though she was respected among artists like Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, her work wasn’t well known outside avante-garde circles. She was brutally honest in her explorations of memory, sexuality and family power dynamics, erecting monstrous spiders in sculpture gardens and immersing her viewers in scenes of violent patricide.

In 1982 the 70-year-old artist mounted her first retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and finally told the story of her father’s infidelity to the public. She identified her body of work as the genesis of a genre called “confessional art”. Every piece in her oeuvre is autobiographical, a retelling of the trauma she’d experienced as a child and the effect it’d had on her life thereafter. By the time she died in 2010, she’d captured the imagination of a new generation of artists and scholars.

Marina Abramovic- Ten Women Who Changed Art History- Matthews Gallery blog

10. Marina Abramovic (born 1946)

Considering the ephemerality of Abramovic’s work, the performance artist’s rise to become one of the contemporary art world’s most notorious and polarizing figures is a remarkable story. Abramovic was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia. Her mother kept tight control over her life through her early 20s, and she completed some of her first performance art pieces before her curfew at 10:00 pm. In her early work, she explored consciousness and the limits of the body within the context of performance art, pushing herself to exhaustion in various endurance tests.

Abramovic moved to Amsterdam in 1976, where she began a close relationship and artistic collaboration with performance artist Ulay Laysiepen. The duo continued to test their psychic limits, and also explored the idea of combining their identities into a single entity. They separated in 1988.

In 2005, Abramovic did a series of performances at the Guggenheim, and in 2010 she mounted a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. There she performed a 736-hour piece called The Artist is Present that was the subject of a documentary and received global attention.

Abramovic has been accused of chasing fame and creating a cult of personality. No matter her motives, the artist is a thought-provoking figure who’s impossible to ignore. She’s not a part of art history just yet, but she certainly makes a good future candidate.

Check out the first part of this blog post here, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more art news.

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The 10 Artists Who Changed Art History Forever, Pt. 2

To top off our list of art history’s most influential players (click here for part 1), we had to make some tough decisions. Would Monet still be known today if not for a fateful trip to the seashore with Boudin? Who had a greater influence on abstract expressionism: Pollock or De Kooning? Browse our choices and let us know if you agree or disagree in comments below or on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Eugene Boudin, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Trouville, Eugene Boudin

 6. Eugene Boudin (1824-1898)

French painter Eugene Boudin grew up riding across the English Channel on his father’s steamboat between his home village of Honfleur and the city of Le Havre. Boudin’s mother put an end to the voyages when the young boy nearly drowned, and the family moved to Le Havre to open a picture frame shop. Perhaps it was these early years at sea—and that terrifying dip in the tumbling waves—that drove Boudin to create the small but dynamic compositions that would directly inspire Impressionism.

As a young man Boudin opened his own framing shop and showed work by artists such as Constant Troyon and Jean-Francois Millet. At 22 he started painting full-time, capturing coastal scenes with an impeccable eye for light and a keen interest in the social interactions of beach-goers. He was greatly influenced by the 16th century Dutch masters, and was one of the first French painters to work in the outdoors.

Boudin moved to Paris on a scholarship when he was 23 and soon met the teenage Claude Monet. Monet was working as a caricaturist on the streets of Paris, but Boudin convinced him to travel to Normandy and paint en plein air. In 1874 Boudin showed work in the first Impressionist exhibition alongside Monet’s pivotal Impression, Sunrise, which was painted in Le Havre and inspired the name of the new movement. Without Boudin’s encouragement, Monet may never have moved past charcoal.

Pissarro, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Two Women Chatting by the Sea”, Camille Pissarro

 7. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) 

Picasso and Matisse called Paul Cezanne “the father of us all”, but there’s always a mentor behind a master. Cezanne was heavily influenced by Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. “He was a father for me,” Cezanne said. “A man to consult and a little like the good Lord.”

Pissarro grew up on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies and attended a boarding school near Paris. In school he studied the French masters and excelled at drawing and painting. He moved to Paris in 1855 to apprentice with Anton Melbye and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. While Corot worked on his paintings in the studio, Pissarro insisted on painting en plein air and often finished works in one sitting.

The artist was criticized for his technique, which often exposed the rougher, less picturesque side of the French landscape, but his quick, intuitive methods attracted a small group of artists who would soon be known as the Impressionists. Pissarro became their patriarch, and was the only artist to participate in all eight Impressionist exhibitions. However, it was his switch to Neo-Impressionism at 54 and his great influence on Post Impressionism that landed him on this list. Pissarro’s impulse to look deeper into the landscape and trace every rough edge would inspire Seurat, van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne in their revolutionary explorations of perspective that would fracture (and eventually completely dissolve) the classical picture plane.

Pablo Picasso, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Dora Maar au Chat, Pablo Picasso

 8. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) 

Pablo Picasso is arguably the most famous—and prolific—artist of the 20th century. He created roughly 13,500 paintings and hundreds of thousands more prints, engravings, illustrations and sculptures over the course of his 75-year career. Though he’s famous for co-developing Cubism, it was his explorations into all corners of the plastic arts that made him so influential. No matter the medium or style, Picasso had a hand in radically changing it all.

The artist was born in Malaga, Spain. His father was a professor of art who began formally training his son from a very young age. By 16, Picasso had gained entrance to the prestigious Royal Academy of San Fernando. In the early 1900s he moved to Paris, where he met art collector Gertrude Stein and many of the most famous artists of the time. He started working with Georges Braque in 1909, and the close friends developed a style that pushed Cezanne’s explorations of multiple perspectives to new extremes.

Cubism encouraged artists to analyze objects and break them into thousands of pieces, and similarly shattered the art world into myriad Modernist movements from Futurism to Constructivism.

Pollock, click the image to read the Matthews Gallery blog
No. 5, 1948, Jackson Pollock

9. Jackson Pollock (1912- 1956) 

Jackson Pollock was called “Jack the Dripper” and “The Worst Living Artist in America” by the media, and a large slice of the public saw him as a reclusive drunkard who dealt the killing blow to order and sense in art. Sometimes when you’re drumming up an art revolution, things have to get messy.

Pollock grew up the youngest of five brothers in Arizona and California. He and his brother Charles moved to New York City in 1930, where he studied at the Art Students League and worked for the WPA Federal Art Project. In 1936 he took an experimental workshop on liquid paint that would later influence his famous drip paintings. Under the watchful eyes of collector Peggy Guggenheim, art critic Clement Greenberg and his wife Lee Krasner, who he married in 1947, Pollock would become the figurehead of the Abstract Expressionist movement and radically change the world’s definition of art.

Greenberg saw Abstract Expressionism as the final step in painting’s inevitable reduction to its most essential elements. There was an unmatched purity to Pollock’s atmospheric, gravity free color fields that only the eye could traverse. “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced,” Greenberg mused. Whether you agree with the critic or not, Pollock undoubtedly subverted figurative painting in an unprecedented way, and changed art history in the process.

Andy Warhol, click here to read the Matthews Gallery blog
Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol

10. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) 

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Austro-Hungarian immigrants. In third grade he developed Sydenham’s Cholera, a disorder of the nervous system that left him bedridden for months at a time. Isolated from his peers, the shy child became a voracious student of pop culture. Just a few years later he would build his own towering pedestal using the very figures and symbols that he pinned on his bedroom walls.

Warhol graduated from high school in 1945 and attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology for commercial art. In 1949 he moved to New York City, where he worked in the publishing and advertising industries and got his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in pictorial design. In the 1950’s RCA records hired Warhol as a designer, where he pioneered innovations in various image-making techniques, most notably in screen printing. At the same time he was using similar processes—and subject matter—in his fine art, which he showed in galleries around New York. It was an approach to art that offended many critics at the time, who accused Warhol of succumbing to the homogenizing forces of consumerism.

This was Warhol’s true impact on art history: to show contemporary artists that they couldn’t avoid or ignore the foundational social changes affected by the mass media. Whether he was exploring identity, vanity, sexuality, fame or nothing at all, Warhol was molding the mercurial landscapes of Modern and Postmodern art.

Don’t forget to read part 1 of this series, and connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest to let us know who you would choose!