Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lady Painters and Sculptors

This is in response to Chris Millers' post on Sally Farnham, one of the many talented Lady Sculptors of America.

Some time ago I was given a book about the paintings and sculpture collected by King Charles I of England, a subject that brought me to thinking about female artists and sculptors over the centuries in Western Art. (The Sale of the Late King's Goods by Jerry Botton, pan Macmilliam 2006)

The war of the sexes is as alive today as it ever was. Australians are never nervous to call something by its “proper” name. Germaine Greer describes graphically Artemisia’s colourful life in another book I acquired recently.


Artemisia shows a great deal more form and colour than a local who’s bed we were “privileged” to view a year or two ago!


It must be said that the Lady Sculptors of America of the 19c and 20c are worthy of study. I will list them and may put some images up when I find them, but, I must listen to Vasari below and allow others to write about them.

No one should think it strange that Michelangelo loved solitude, for he was deeply in love with his art, which claims a man with all his thoughts for itself alone. Anyone who wants to devote himself to the study of art must shun the society of others. In fact, a man who gives his time to the problems of art is never alone and never lacks food for thought, and those who attribute an artist's love of solitude to outlandishness and eccentricity are mistaken, seeing that anyone who wants to do good work must rid himself of all cares and burdens: the artist must have time and opportunity for reflection and solitude and concentration.
(Giorgio Vasari, 1568)

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Blogger chris miller said...

I can't find the quote now -- but somewhere I remember reading that Ms. Farnham wanted to be known as a sculptor - not a sculptress (or sculptor lady) -- and yet I think it's exactly as a lady sculptor that she's the most successful -- i.e. presenting a feminine, rather than masculine, vision.

Of my many unpopular theories -- perhaps the most unacceptable has been my proposal that historical sculpture is the expression of masculine feeling.

We know that it was made by men for men -- but so often it also feels masculine to me -- with the virtues of the energy that pushes/explores/overpowers rather the energy that receives/entices/nurtures.

And when it doesn't feel that way -- to me it usually feels less worthy.

I've even heard the great American sculptor of that era referred to, in derision, as "Lady French" -- because his work had a soft, feminine kind of elegance which seemed to characterize much of the Victorian period -- and against which the brash planes of modernism seemed to be in masculine revolt.

Of course, no derision could be implied by referring to "Lady Farnham", since she was a lady in the full aristocratic meaning of that word - and as her statues seem to have a "woman's touch" it seems so very appropriate.

(even if St. Gaudens followed a few decades later by Manship - remain my favorite American sculptors from that period)

8:21 pm  
Blogger Robert said...

I am just discovering them all, really interesting. Of course I know Casett and a couple of others (names escape me for the moment) but were there an equal number of female, American painters of the same era and what of their subject matter?

10:22 pm  
Blogger Michael said...


I appreciate your viewpoint, but must say that I do not agree at all. To label the work of Farnham, or any of her contemporaries, as that of a "lady sculptor" goes against everything these sculptors fought for in the field they choose, one rigidly dominated by men. Like Anna Hyatt Huntington, Farnham's work is anything but "motherly" or "nurturing". Their unique outputs centered around acquiring public commissions, a task often politically impossible for women during this period. I do not see " a woman's touch" in her work. This back-handed argument was often used by critics who somehow praised the work, but only as the work of women. Certainly Abastenia Eberle's bronzes of tenement children can not be viewed as done with a "nuturing" hand, as they are strong representations on the forefront of the emerging modernist aesthetic. Given the difficulty faced by these women, your stance that "historical sculpture is the expression of masculine feeling" has to be erroneous in that women were not allowed to partcipate in this area of the medium, so the only historical sculpture known to man could only be produced by man.

9:56 pm  
Blogger Robert said...


"Lady" sculptor is used by me only to differentiate from the other gender and I used it on purpose to see if it sparked any debate!

The female sculptors and painters in Europe of the same time could be compared as well and will make a rather good post. Oh that I had more time.

11:20 pm  
Blogger Michael said...


Ah ha! You tricked me and certainly began a debate! Nice work!

After posting my response I began thinking about these period references to the work of women scupltors. I began thinking about the war memorials by Anna Coleman Ladd, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Evelyn Longman and Bashka Paeff compared to some of their male contemporaries. The work of these sculptors are incredible, perhaps they were more sensitive to the human condition (nurturing??) because their work is incredibly powerful!

12:54 am  

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