An artwork may contain much more than what the naked eye can see. Paintings of females are among the most well-known realistic pieces of art. But aside from what is visible to the naked eye, what do those well-known paintings of women convey to viewers? Do they also convey the inner essence of their female subjects, or only the expertise of their creators? Do they also deduce a cultural or historical concept of gender when they artistically depict their era? Do they only display images of women in varied settings or do they delve deeper into the broader implications of situational feminine realities?
The female body is one of the oldest and most commonly depicted motifs in visual arts. Famous paintings of women had a profound influence on the world of art and popular culture that graced them with remarkable fame. In the early 20th century, two Viennese painters Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt took the female form to a new level and created some of the most famous paintings of women ever. By surrounding his subjects with gold, Gustav Klimt introduced Egyptian art to Europe and was one of the pioneers of the Art Nouveau movement. His slightly distorted poses and erotic depictions of the female form were quickly inherited by his pupil Egon Schiele who added his own emotionally intense and often disturbing style to his famous paintings of women.
Famous paintings of women
Women are such complex subjects when it comes to painting them no matter what medium you use whether it is watercolours or oils or acrylic paints. The following are some examples of the famous paintings of women.
Georgia O Keeffe - Abstraction IX (woman sleeping) (1916)
Charcoal and watercolour wash on paper
Georgia O’Keeffe stripped away everything she considered inessential. She sought to immerse viewers in a feeling. To do so she would often create large-scale, close-up images, enveloping viewers in the pictorial space. This painting is one of several similar abstract compositions O’Keeffe made of a woman sleeping. She drew it in charcoal then went over it in a wet brush, creating a dreamlike ethereality within the frame. It is an image of stoic, dignified grace, which speaks to something transitory and delicate, earthbound and yet eternal.
Pablo Picasso - Jacqueline with Flowers (1954)
Oil on canvas
Until his death in 1973 Picasso continued making art, often returning to the methods and styles he had explored earlier in his life. He had become the world’s most famous living artist and was commissioned to create everything from large-scale public works to common housewares. In 1953, he met the woman who would become his second wife, Jacqueline Roque. Picasso was 72 at the time; Jacqueline was 27. His painting of her from 1954 is an example of the mature aesthetic of a master artist at the apex of success.
Johannes Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)
Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ – a painting of an imaginary figure. Tronies depict a certain type or character; in this case a girl in exotic dress, wearing an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear.
Gustav Klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)
Oil, gold, and silver on canvas
The influence of Egyptian art on Klimt is undoubtedly at work in this portrait of the wife of the industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. He twice commissioned Klimt to paint a portrait of Adele. This painting, made at the height of Klimt's career, prompted critics to coin the phrase 'Mehr Blech wie Bloch', a pun meaning more brass (i.e., money) than Bloch.
Leonardo da Vinci - Lady with an Ermine (1489)
Oil, wood panel
The portrait embodies the Renaissance idea of an image as an illusion of natural vitality. The artist managed to achieve this thanks to his knowledge of anatomy and his lighting skills, which enabled him to create a three-dimensional human figure on the image plane. The original background, which was overpainted with black in the 19th century, was also modelled with light just like the figure, which must have given the impression of the model emerging from the shadows. The portrait became the property of the Republic of Poland in 2016.
Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa (1503)
The Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. Considered an archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, it has been described as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world"
Sandro Botticelli - Birth of Venus (mid 1480s)
Tempera on canvas
Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus depicts the Greek goddess of love while emerging from the sea as an adult woman. The famous woman painting represents the dual idea of Venus depicted in the work of ancient Greek writers who saw her both as an earthy figure who symbolised physical love, but also as a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love characteristic for human beings.
Edouard Manet - Olympia (1856)
Oil on canvas
Edouard Manet's nude depiction of a courtesan caused an outrage among the people of Paris as it humanised prostitution which was not very popular at the time it was painted. The way Olympia's eyes seem focused on the viewers also enraged the public since it was unusual for women yet alone a nude prostitute to stare at someone so bluntly as the main subject of the painting.
Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Dora Maar (1937)
Oil on canvas
Throughout the ages, Pablo Picasso painted numerous portraits of his lover and noted photographer Dora Maar. This particular portrait depicts her while sitting on a chair and it is executed in typical Cubist fashion that's marked with distorted forms and vivid colours.
THE SPACE gallery has an upcoming exhibition that displays women in artwork. The exhibition is held during the month of the International Women's Day (March, 8). We are calling artists who want to join “Les Femmes” Group Exhibition. You can register here.
Art lovers, make sure you keep an eye on our social media or subscribe to our newsletter to preview the exhibition.