On Empowerment and Vision | 10 Paintings for International Women’s Day
There are so many representations of women in paintings through the years that one feels that to shape an imagery ideal for the female sex was and still is an on-going cultural obsession. Lots have been said to this end and it is clear that many images could be seen in many different ways.
The decisive factor for the choice of the following works was that they pronounce empowered, positive, strong female imagery. Well, that’s the spirit of the day and, if you ask me, of every day!
1. Vermeer, Girl with the pearl earring,1665-67, 44x39cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.
Source: Essential Vermeer
This painting, so delightfully bright and uplifting, bathed in the sharp Vermeer light has spun quite a few tales just because its upfront stare. The girl, that appears friendly and open yet forever unknown, shares a look so alive, energizing and permeating. Nothing more, or less is needed anyway. A female in essence through the years.
2. Peter Paul Rubens, The three Graces, 1630-35, 221X181 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Rubens was a great innovator of the pictorial perception of female shape. He used the conventions of his baroque era in his own way to express the male gaze but with respect and admiration to female nature.
In this painting the three women are strong, full figured, almost monumental presences, semi-goddesses lush and potent. A romantic but telling fact is that the far left figure is made after Rubens’ wife Helene.
3. Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas, 130×190 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Source: Khan Academy
This painting caused quite a stir when it was presented at the salon of its era. Oh, the nerve, to allow a plain naked woman, and one belonging to the world of Parisian prostitution of its time to raise her look directly to the viewer with no idealization to stand for it! But Manet dared to do it, mocking tradition and declaring it was about time painting had relevant, realistic, contemporary subjects.
Olympia, as an artwork, was an act of rebellion. With such a stark presence and unwavering stare, staying put for what she is, Olympia can surely hail the liberation of the woman’s sexuality and desire to be her own master.
4. Georgia O’ Keefe, Red Canna, 1924, 73.7×45.7, Oil in Canvas.
O’Keeffe said she painted flowers so as to reflect the way she saw them. So not a direct representation of a woman this one, just flowers made so magnificent and gigantically abstract but with unmistaken allusions to women genitalia. What. Could. Be. More.Female. Empowering.
Georgia O’Keeffe was a true pioneer for voicing the female body from a female’s point of view. Thank You, Dear Georgia O’Keeffe, For Paving The Way!
5. Henri Matisse, Pink Nude, 1935, Oil on Canvas, 92,7x66cm, The Baltimore Museum of Art, MD, USA.
This female figure, proportionally huge inside its -not so huge- frame manages to reach an omnipotent presence, a goddess that stretches to cover everything overflowing her borders.
Executed with in the vivid colors akin to Matisse and in a languid posture, it is a woman that enjoys her right to just be.
6. Frida Khalo, Roots, 1943, 50x30cm, Oil paint on metal.
Source: Totally History
Khalo lived her life as an example of female independence, handling her intense love for Diego Rivera and facing her personal challenges with immense strength. Her paintings were often symbolic, as is this painting of herself. It is an open and direct connection of womanhood to nature, a clear vision of how rejuvenating and powerful women can be as presences to the world.
For Khalo, who had her share of struggles, it looks as if she claims peace and endurance in a time-honored kind of female strength.
7. Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Françoise, 1946, 66x50cm, Drawing, Picasso Musée, Paris France
Françoise Gilot was only 17 when she met Picasso in 1943, 61 then. 10 years later she left him, the only woman ever to do this. In this portrait, Picasso managed to pass on some of her force, her will-power and her unapologetic appreciation of herself. The face is poised centrally, surrounded by a wild mess of hair that adds an impact to the character portrayed.
This is the image of a very strong woman, a woman that fights for what she wants, or as Gilot allegedly said to Picasso once “a woman that came when she wanted to and will leave when she likes”.
8. Barbara Kruger, Your body is a Battleground, 1989
Source: The Art History Archive
Barbara Kruger’s compositions are simple and direct. A written message on a black and white image make her message easily received. In this case, Kruger talks about the almost-impossibility for women to possess an effortless understanding of themselves in the middle of the cultural turmoil about the female body as it exists in various female representations.
Too many conflicting messages, too many distracting ambitions, so many voices. It is all hard work, sisters, but it is totally worth it and, most importantly, women are steadily getting there.
9. Nicki de Saint-Phalle, Black Standing Nana, 1995, polyester resin and acrylic on fiberglass, 287 x 213.3 x 113 cm
The Nanas, initially inspired by Saint-Phalle’s pregnant friend Clarice, are large-scale and brightly colored sculptures of women. Exuberant and voluptuous, they are enduring emblems of maternity and femininity sparkling with life.
There are several white and black Nanas, each one a lively monument to womanhood and a testament to Saint-Phalle’s belief that all women are goddesses, regardless of color.
10. Kiki Smith, Carrier, (Standing Woman Carrying Wolf) 2004, collage and ink on Nepal paper.
Source: Alucina con planear
The imagery in this work by Kiki Smith is intense. A woman is carrying a wolf in her shoulders. [Women and wolves do well in myths and images, as it goes].
The execution of the work, in a fine delicate line and in the also delicate Nepal paper generates a series of subliminal questions about the meaning or the vestige of strength. Not all strong people look really strong.
This intense, subtle, fascinating work speaks peacefully but steadily about the enormous power that lies within every woman.
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