Where are our famous women artists?

I heard a discussion recently on the Antiques Roadshow about image the lack of recognition given to women artists. At the same time, I had an email about Theresa May’s campaign for Equal Pay.

It seems extraordinary to me that art should have an element of sexual discrimination. Is that still the case today? The Antiques Roadshow expert said that women artists were now "on the up", which would indicate some discrimination.

image How many famous women artists are there besides Emma Sargeant and Tracey Emin? Where are our female Grand Masters?

I have a postcard by my desk of the beautiful 18th century portrait artist Louise Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun who was one of the first successful women artists. You can see her stunning self portrait. She was quite a sensation in her day and painted many distinguished figures of her day, including Mary Antoinette and Lord Byron. How many women artists have followed in her inspriational footsteps and achieved the same recognition?

Women in the past were not encouraged to become great artists. This article describes how the during the Renaissance, they were excluded from artists’ workshops and conventional forms of training. They were also not encouraged to draw the nude body. Instead they painted mothers and children and flowers – people and objects accessible to them – rather than "history paintings" of battles and so-called "worldly deeds."

Perhaps today’s struggling women artists would benefit by supporting Theresa May’s new campaign. This is what she says:

Despite it being the 21st Century, men are STILL getting paid 17.2 per cent more than women. This means that the average woman will lose or forgo a massive £300,000 over her lifetime. This pay gap does not only exist in the lower paid job sectors – full-time women earn less than full-time men in EVERY occupation.

I think this is wrong and I want to help change it. This autumn I am launching Theresa May for Equal Pay. Working with TV presenter June Sarpong, we want to help to stamp out the pay gap once and for all.

This Christmas, we will introduce the Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill in Parliament. The Bill contains tough new measures which if passed, would help to stamp out the pay gap once and for all. But to make our Bill into law, we need all political parties to vote to for it in parliament.

If you are a female reader of this blog, do you get equal pay?


  1. Tracey Emin opened her first solo show in London in four years at White Cube Mason’s Yard, ‘Those who suffer Love’.

  2. I also wanted to point out that there were artists that were women of color who were involved in the struggle to address inequality. For example, the sculptor, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968) went to Paris where white students refused to share lodgings with her. She embraced her racial heritage, and became the first Black American artist to focus on African inspired themes.

  3. Mentraditionally make more money but there are ALOT of high powered well heeled business ladies who are committed to their profession, business and / or craft. It can be a misnomer in some ways and interpreted wrong. Especially nowadays….

  4. Michelle, that’s disgraceful, surely a bank should have known better. I hope it is still not getting away with it.

  5. I remember working as a temp for a bank in the 90s with a group of other people all doing the same job. Despite the fact we all had the same job title and were doing the same job all the female temps got 50p and hour less than the guys. And we checked for experience, qualifications, etc for another explanation and there just wasn’t one.

  6. Favorite female artist: Emily Carr

  7. I receive the same pay as my male counterparts because I work under a classification underpinned by an award, in the state government.

  8. The campaign for equal pay is a big issue in PCS too.

    I think part of the problem is that women have career breaks for children and when they come back they drop onto the pay scale where they left off. This needs looking at and so does the pay scale.

  9. Spot on, Philipa – and very funny too. I’m hoping to meet you soon !

    Ellee – how can a career break NOT affect career development ? It would be interesting to follow the fortunes of stay-at-home fathers returning to work.

    Does this survey also include jobs heavily based on commission earnings ? In which case isn’t the market setting the wages blind to sex ?

  10. There is also Germaine Greer’s “Women Artists” [or the title is something like that].

  11. Oh I forgot to comment on the initiative for trying to “stamp out the pay gap forever”. I was very involved in such initiatives over the years, especially equal pay for work of equal value which is a whole other kettle of fish.

    I think you can achieve wage parity where jobs are unionized but as soon as you get into private industry with no such contracts even men find that they are not necessarily being paid the same as a fellow male worker doing the same job. So I wish them well but somehow doubt it is going to be totally successful. It is something that women will be chipping away at forever with limited success.

  12. I think it was understandable in the “olden days” that women were not artists because it was an “apprenticeship” system and so women were kept out of the system unless they were the daughter of an artist like Artemesia Gentileschi for example. Remember you did not buy your paint at the local store, you had to learn how to mix the various pigments and it was a very long process of learning to be an artist. Talent was but a part of it.

    Yes well nominally Pharmacy had equal pay and certainly in the hospital industry where I worked for the last 18 yrs of my career it was the same. But I often wondered if in community pharmacy men were able to negotiate better wages, say to manage a pharmacy than women were. I did suspect it might be so.

  13. I work on a freelance basis so I set my own rates of pay in general.

    When I worked for the University (and I am still employed on a part-time basis) I received parity of pay to my male colleagues. When I was first working I was in a largely male department (Mathematics) and whilst the pay was equal I know that there was not equality of opportunity in other respects. In terms of the qualifications i had and the publications and experience I had when I left I was not employed in as senior position as many male colleagues with fewer academic assets. So in that sense I suppose I did not receive equal pay but it could be argued that was because I did not perform as well. In my mind there were many reasons some of which were gender specific.

    It remains very difficult to succeed at the highest level as a woman with children.

  14. I would pay for what art I like, not which gender has produced it. Guess it all comes down to personal tastes, we don’t all like what some male artists do and then again, we don’t all like what others appreciate from female artists, no matter how good others see them.

  15. I am aware that different editors pay different rates to journalists for their work depending on experience etc. I don’t know what other journalists get paid on the magazine I mostly write for – they are mostly women anyway! But I agree that we should be paid the going rate regardless of sex.

  16. There are a few women artists around, Ellee. They are just hard to find.

  17. Philipa

    All front and talking the talk with no trace of irony or shame whatsoever.

    It’s amazing where total self-confidence can get you. Or is that some kind of secret 😉

  18. Philipa, I agree with your views about Tracey Emin, but others don’t. How does she get away with it?

  19. Philipa

    Tracy Emin is not a famous artist. she is a celebrity. She sells stuff that passes for art in the same way that… well… an unmade bed passes for art! But isn’t really. It’s just tapping into the current zeitgeist.

    I corresponded with someone who was at art school with her who said she was never that good at art (painting, drawing etc.) but could certainly talk the talk.

    You know, if they gave me a spray can I could sell my entire house to the Tate gallery or Saatchi or someone and retire happily forever. To a tidier house.

  20. My favourite female artist is Berthe Morisot.

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