In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at a few of the groundbreaking female artists featured throughout the Art Institute’s collection. Spanning four centuries and four different types of media, the works by these artists were influential in their time and continue to inspire artists today.
In the early 18th century, Rosalba Carriera brought distinction to the use of pastel. It was not the tool of choice at the time, but her technical mastery and innovative viewpoint gave the medium a fresh face in France and Italy. Works such as A Young Lady with a Parrot (about 1730) (Gallery 216a) bring these sumptuous and rarely used colors to life in a lush display, offering a slightly subversive portrait that made Carriera famous.
Berthe Morisot’s Woman at Her Toilette (1875/80) (Gallery 210) offers an unusual portrait that is nearly the opposite of Carriera’s work. Atypical of European portraits, this painting features the subject’s back as she glances into a mirror. The artist’s name is signed across the bottom of the mirror’s frame, suggesting that the subject is a stand-in for Morisot herself. But with her back to us, we are left to guess as to her identity and her story.
Morisot was a core member of the Impressionist movement and was the only woman to be exhibited in seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions between 1874 and 1886 (this painting was shown in the fifth exhibition).
Agnes Martin was a master of abstraction, creating renowned works that were often categorized as Minimalist or Conceptual, though she denied (and defied) categorization throughout her career. Her most famous works, such as Untitled #12 (1977) (Gallery 297B) feature faint grids. Though initially these grids might appear to be machine made, upon closer examination you can see the human touch of the artist. Martin’s works invite a slow study that rewards over time.
One of the latest additions to the museum’s collection, Yoko Ono’s Mended Petal (2016) (Pritzker Garden) is the 13th piece of a 12-petal lotus sculpture in Jackson Park known as Skylanding. In contrast to the smooth petals of Skylanding, Mended Petal has visible seams of repair, referencing the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, in which one mends broken porcelain with gold-mixed lacquer. Rather than hiding the imperfections, kintsugi and Ono’s reference to it present the cracks as something to be examined, contemplated, and perhaps celebrated.
Take a moment to contemplate these and other works by women artists throughout the museum in honor of Women’s History Month.
Rosalba Carriera. A Young Lady with a Parrot, c. 1730. Regenstein Collection.
Berthe Morisot. Woman at her Toilette, 1875/80. Stickney Fund.
Agnes Martin. Untitled #12, 1977. Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund.
Yoko Ono. Mended Petal, 2016. Gift of the artist and Project 120 Chicago.