A promising start towards gender equality was made in 1768 with the establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Two women painters were also included in the 40 founding members of the Academy. But in the later years, this step was limited to just a good beginning.
After that, no other woman was elected as a full-time member of the Academy until at least the 1930s. Because of some big names like Frida Kalo, Georgia O’Keefe, Alice Neel, Tracey Emin, it seems that since then the doors of the art world have been opened for women, but the truth is that the western art world is dominated by men.
According to the Public Library of Science, 87 percent of artworks in America’s 18 leading museums are by men. Of the 35,572 works of art in Madrid’s Prado, 335 works – less than one per cent – are by women. Of these, only 84 have been displayed.
But now the attitude is changing. In 2020, the Prado hosted an exhibition exclusively for women, and in the words of curator Carlos Navarro, the exhibition underscored the museum’s “historical misogyny”. Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović will become the first woman to have a solo show that will be held in all of the Royal Academy’s main galleries next year.
Increasing the proportion of works by female artists in all of their works is difficult for museums whose focus is largely on the past. At least that’s the excuse the Louvre in Paris has. There are only 1848 pictures. Of the 3,600 painters who make them, only 25 are women.
But Britain’s Tate Museum has room for improvement. Only five percent of the artworks in its pre-1900 collection were created by women, but this number has increased to 20 percent for post-1900 artists and 38 percent for post-1965 artists.
Polly Staples, head of British art at the Tate, said: “The gender balance improves with each new exhibition across the four galleries at the Tate. When the Tate Modern opened its new displays in 2016, half of all solo displays dedicated to women painters and since then this balance has been maintained.”
Talking about private buyers, the change has happened gradually. A person with inside knowledge of the art market, who requested anonymity, said, “Today all museums pay equal attention, the number of solo exhibitions of women painters is increasing … but in reality auction houses Women’s artworks are very under-represented.”
Since the 20th century, women are becoming more welcome in art courses and because of this the situation is changing here as well. A 2022 report by market tracker Artprice found that eight of the top 10 best-selling painters under the age of 40 were women.
Katie Hessel, author of the recent book “The Story of Art, Without Men”, says that blaming the past is not enough. She told AFP that women painters such as Italy’s Artemisia Gentileschi or the Flemish painter Clara Peeters “were known in their lifetime but have been forgotten with the passing centuries.”
Finding these forgotten names has been very popular. Her podcast, ‘The Great Women Artists’, has over 3,00,000 subscribers. “It has long been an anthropological taboo to imagine that a woman can invent something,” says Camille Morino, founder of Aware, a research group.
When Morino was curator at the Center Pompidou in Paris in 2009, she hung nothing but works by women painters on the walls there for two years, “to prove that museums have enough time to tell the full story of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries”. There are enough such paintings.”
Hessel says that new dimensions are still to be discovered. She cites Baya from Algeria and Georgette Chen from Singapore as examples of non-Western names that “have never really been part of our history.”
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