Gender and Art: From the Past to Modern Times

have lived lives that serve as very good examples of the rise of the female artist in painting. A discussion of the emergence, place and expressions of gender in art is very pivotal in any arrangement aimed at understanding world art.

The female body has been a symbolic resource for artists all through history. In the Baroque period, opportunities for women artists, although limited, included education, growth and achievement. The most advantaged women were those whose parents were artist’s since they taught the from their workshops. Just like the male counterparts, women artists of the Baroque period made artworks of religious themes, individual portraits, reflections of the times, and other life events (Arnold, 2010). Compared with the Baroque artworks, neoclassical art was not as such emotional. The times affected women arts too. However, the romantic period came as a reaction to the neoclassical period, thus had a lot of emotional characteristics. A common thing in the period, including the post-impressionists is the use of women features like nude women, and sexual symbols to communicate. The modern times are no different. Female artists continue to use the female features to depict themes in nature.

In both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women artists fought negative perceptions to emerge victorious. Lilly Martin Spencer characterizes the antebellum times, a period known for agitation of women’s rights. Although Lilly was not born of artist parents, the activism of their parents inspired her to become an independent female artist. In what seems to showcase gender roles in art, Lilly’s art ha an emotional appeal to women and female audience. For example, one of her works, ‘This Little Pig Went to the Market’ (1857-Figure 1) depicts the roles of women in domestic work, as they took care of their children at home. Another female artist who has inspired many is Mary Cassatt, who even got a chance to join the American Academy of Arts (Arnold, 2010). Mary exhibited in the Salons before joining the impressionists through Edgar Degas in 1877. In Mary, one appreciates the discrimination against female artists in the nineteenth century. She was indeed denied access to places that were open to her male counterparts, including bars, dancehalls and café concerts (Gaze, 2013). Gender role in art can also be seen in her works that depicted upper-class women and domesticity. An example is in her work, ‘A Caress (1891-Figure 2). Additionally, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun excelled as a French female artist against the societal odds. She was a renowned portraitist who made great works, including many portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette.

The place of gender and women in art from the past had a great inclination to history and the politics of emancipation. The nations’ cultural inclinations were changing. In the United States, for example, major changes were taking place, with the 9th amendment giving women the right to vote. A new depiction of women as physically active, socially and economically independent, and politically able, was coming into being. The modern times have not been very different in regard to women artists. Modern art has tended to classify feminine things as secondary just as history did to women.indeed, until today, women have been classified into cultural, racial, ability, geopolitical location, and sexuality, among others. An example is racism and ethnicity in Leon Gerome’s ‘Moorish Bath,’ 1870 (Figure 3) that shows an African washing a lady of colour. Further, just as in the past, some aspects of nature are associated with the female gender in modern art, as masculine things are associated with men (Gaze, 2013).


In sum, the female gender has dominated artistic among others. In an aspect that depicts the role of gender in the art world, these women depicted domesticity and femininity in their artworks. From the examples provided, it is evident that the element of femininity was predominant in all their works. As time went on, these women were recognized and admired. A case example is Mary Cassatt who was invited by Edgar Degas to join the Impressionists in 1877. Also, Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun made portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette, which was a big achievement. The paintings of women were up-to-date with the changes that took place in history, including the emancipation of women socially, politically, economically and in terms of culture. In the current times, world art continues to use feminine characteristics to depict the aspects that the society regards feminine. Moreso, the society has continued to view women in terms of sexuality, gender, culture, race and ethnicity among others.

Figure 1: The Little Pig went to the Market-Lilly Martin Spencer, 1957

Figure 2: The Caress-Mary Cassat-1891

Figure 3: Moorish Bath-Leone Gerome-1870


Arnold, D. (2010). Art history: Contemporary perspectives on method. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Gaze, D. (2013). Concise dictionary of women artists. Oxon, OX: Routledge.

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