Great Women of Art History

Great Women of Art History

Our gallerist, Kenzie, shares a list of her favorite influential, groundbreaking, and trailblazing women artists throughout history. This list goes in chronological order from earliest to most recent artists.

As an undergrad, I quickly declared an art history major and eagerly awaited each class. My university's art history program was set up chronologically to account for each (Western) art movement from ancient times to the present day. As I sat through each class, I was struck by the fact that very few women, queen artists, or artists of color were mentioned in the 'canon' that was taught to me, especially before the 20th century. Then one class changed my life. It was the 'Women in Art' survey course that was offered only once every other semester. I remember sitting there fuming after many a class as my professor struggled breathlessly to cover each and every incredible woman artist who had been brushed over in the story of art history I'd always been told. She went over time almost every single class period just trying to get all their stories in. How was one woman supposed to cover all of this in just a semester?! Each class, I left feeling frustrated at the fact that I'd been robbed of the knowledge of these incredible women, their art, and their stories until I was well into my 20s. So here are some of my favorite women artists that I learned about in that class and in my subsequent study of art history over the years. I hope you, too, can find inspiration and hope from this list of talented creatives who all too often go overlooked. 

  • Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)
    Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter. She produced her first professional work at the age of 15 and rose up the ranks in an era when there were few opportunities for women let alone women artists. She became the first woman ever to be accepted to the Academy of Art and Design in Florence. Her work portrays women in an empowered manner that was unseen in the work of her male counterparts. Her best known work, Judith Slaying Holofernes, depicts the female heroine slaying her foe in a fearless and unemotional manner. When you compare her work to her contemporary Caravaggio, you can definitely see a difference.

  • Elizabeth Vigée le Brun (1755-1842)
    Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) was a prominent French painter known for her portraits of European royalty and aristocracy. Born in Paris, she showed remarkable artistic talent from a young age and received formal training under renowned artists. Le Brun's career flourished during the late 18th century, and she was chosen by Marie Antoinette to be the French queen's official portrait painter. Her portraits of Marie Antoinette were unique because she portrayed her in a positive and forgiving light as a loving and responsible mother. Everything Vigée Le Brun did was for her daughter, Julie, who she loved deeply and worked hard to support. Despite her connections to the royal court, Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun was able to survive the French Revolution and continue painting until an old age. Vigée Le Brun's style was characterized by its softness, luminosity, and attention to detail, leaving a lasting impact on the art styles of her day and securing her place as one of the most significant female artists in 18th century art history.

  • Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)
    Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) was a pioneering British photographer renowned for photography during the 19th century. Born in Calcutta, India, Cameron didn't pursue photography until her late 40s when she received a camera as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. Cameron's experimental and emotive approach to portraiture revolutionized the medium. She often photographed friends, family, and notable celebrities and public figures of her time, imbuing her images with a sense of intimacy and theatricality. She drew inspiration from the Victorian morality and sentiments of her day as well as the Victorian art that she encountered around her. Unlike many photographers of her day who saw photography as a form of documentation and disregarded it as an art form, she was one of the first photographers to recognize the power of the camera as an artistic medium. Cameron's mastery of composition and her use of soft focus created ethereal portraits of her sitters and make her photographs immediately recognizable. Her work continues to inspire contemporary photographers even to this day.

  • Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
    Rosa Bonheur was a French painter of the 19th century who achieved unparalleled success and significance in the art world for her realistic depictions of livestock. Bonheur became the first woman to receive the prestigious Legion of Honour for her artistic achievements. Bonheur blew through gender norms by cropping her hair short and choosing to dress in men's clothing. Rosa Bonheur was one of history's first known openly lesbian artists. She stated that the only males she had time or attention for were the bulls she painted.


  • Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862)
    In most art historical dialogues, Elizabeth Siddal is remembered as a muse of the male artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This Victorian art movement was primarily headed up by men and depicted Shakespearian scenes and scenes from early British history that often portrayed women in a beautiful, yet restrictive manner. Born in London, Elizabeth Siddal initially worked as a milliner's assistant before being discovered by the artist Walter Deverell, who introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Siddal quickly became a muse and model for many Pre-Raphaelite painters, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom she later married. She was the model in many famous Pre-Raphelite works including Millais' Ophelia. Beyond her role as a model, Siddal was a prolific artist and poet in her own right, producing drawings, watercolors, and poems.

  • Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
    Berthe Morisot (1841–1895) was a member of the Impressionist movement, known for her vibrant and intimate depictions of everyday life, particularly focusing on domestic scenes and landscapes. Born to an affluent family in France, Morisot defied societal expectations by pursuing a career in art. She became closely associated with artists such as Édouard Manet, who became her brother-in-law when she married his brother Eugène. Morisot's paintings are characterized by their loose brushwork, luminous colors, and keen observation of light and atmosphere. As one of the few female Impressionists, she played a vital role in challenging traditional gender norms within the art world. While Morisot's work went unrecognized for decades, in recent years more research and attention has been paid to her work as she has been give retrospectives at various prestigious museums and institutions around the world.

  • Mary Cassat (1844-1926)
    Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) was an influential American painter famous for her profound contributions to Impressionism and her depictions of the intimate lives of women and children. Born in Pennsylvania, she studied art in the United States before moving to Paris, where she befriended Edgar Degas and became deeply involved in the Impressionist movement. Cassatt's work often focused on scenes of domesticity, capturing the tenderness and beauty of everyday moments with sensitivity and skill. Her legacy endures as a pioneering figure in both American and European art history.

  • Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)
    Edmonia Lewis was a pioneering American sculptor of the 19th century who was of both African-American and Native American descent. Lewis faced significant challenges as a woman of color pursuing a career in sculpture during a time when opportunities were nearly non-existent. Nevertheless, she saved up everything she had to move to Rome to pursue a serious career as a sculptor. There her career flourished and her work sold for large sums of money. In 1876, she was selected to show at the prestigious Centennial Exhibition where she debuted her most famous piece, the 3,000 pound marble sculpture "The Death of Cleopatra."

  • Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
    Camille Claudel (1864–1943) was a French sculptor. Born into a creative family in rural France, Claudel showed exceptional talent from a young age. She moved to Paris to study art and soon became the protégée, muse, and lover of Auguste Rodin. Despite her immense talent, Claudel struggled for recognition in a male-dominated art world leading to what many perceived as mental health issues. She began to claim that Rodin was stealing and copying her work, so her family institutionalized her in an asylum where she ultimately died at a young age. Whether Claudel's claims were false and whether she was actually mentally unwell are heavily disputed by art historians. The last friend to speak to her alive vehemently asserted that when he had visited her at the asylum just prior to her death, she was completely mentally well. Her sculptures, characterized by their emotional depth, expressive power, and technical mastery, explored themes of sensuality, femininity, and human emotion. Claudel's innovative approach to sculpting earned her critical acclaim, but her career was overshadowed by Rodin's fame and her own personal struggles. Despite this, Claudel's work continues to be celebrated for its artistic brilliance and as a testament to her enduring legacy as a pioneering female sculptor.

  • Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)
    Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) was a pioneering German Expressionist painter. Born in Dresden, Modersohn-Becker pursued art against her family's wishes, attending the School of Applied Arts in Berlin and later moving to Paris, where she was exposed to the works of Cézanne and Gauguin. She developed a distinctive style characterized by bold brushwork, simplified forms, and an intense focus on inner emotion and psychological depth. Modersohn-Becker is best known for her intimate and introspective portraits, particularly those of women and children, which challenged traditional norms of representation.

  • Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
    Hannah Höch (1889–1978) was a pioneering German artist associated with the Dada movement and one of the key figures in the development of photomontage as an art form. Born in Gotha, Germany, Höch studied at the Berlin College of Arts and Crafts, where she developed her skills in graphic design and collage. She gained recognition for her radical and politically charged photomontages, which often critiqued gender roles, societal norms, and the emerging mass media culture of the early 20th century. Höch's work challenged conventional notions of art and aesthetics, blurring the boundaries between high and low culture.

  • Augusta Savage (1892-1962)
    Augusta Savage (1892–1962) was a pioneering American sculptor and educator known for her significant contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and the promotion of African American art. Born Augusta Christine Fells in Florida, she faced numerous challenges due to lack of support from her family and racial discrimination, but overcame them to pursue her passion for sculpture. Savage's talent was recognized early, and she received scholarships to study at Cooper Union and later in France. Her work often depicted themes of racial pride, identity, and the struggles of African Americans. Notably, she created iconic sculptures such as "The Harp" and "Gamin," which garnered widespread acclaim. Beyond her artistic achievements, Savage was a dedicated teacher and advocate for African American artists, founding the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem to provide opportunities for aspiring black sculptors.

  • Na Hye-Seok (1897-1948)
    Na Hye-sok (1896–1948) was a pioneering Korean artist, writer, and feminist activist, renowned for her contributions to modern Korean art and literature. Born into a conservative aristocratic family during the Joseon Dynasty, Na rebelled against traditional gender norms and pursued her passion for art. She studied in Tokyo, where she was exposed to Western artistic techniques and feminist ideas and began applying these ideologies to her own unique artistic style and poetic works. Na's work often explored themes of female identity, empowerment, and societal change, reflecting her own experiences as a woman in a patriarchal society. She was a key figure in the Korean literary and artistic circles of the early 20th century, advocating for women's rights and challenging conventional notions of femininity through her writings and paintings.

  • Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
    Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) was a Mexican painter known for her bold and emotive self-portraits, which often depicted her physical and emotional pain. Born near Mexico City, Kahlo's life was marked by hardship, including a severe bus accident that left her with lifelong injuries and chronic pain. Her experiences profoundly influenced her art, which frequently explored themes of identity, gender, politics, and Mexican culture. Kahlo's unique style combined elements of Surrealism, symbolism, and traditional Mexican folk art, creating visually striking and deeply personal works. Beyond her art, she was a political activist and feminist icon, advocating for indigenous rights and gender equality. Kahlo's uncompromising self-expression and resilience in the face of adversity continue to inspire artists and activists worldwide, solidifying her legacy as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

  • Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1906)
    Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986) was an influential American artist known for her iconic paintings of flowers, New York skyscrapers, and Southwestern landscapes. Born in Wisconsin, O'Keeffe studied art in Chicago and later moved to New York, where she gained recognition for her unique style and bold use of color and form. Her large-scale flower paintings, in particular, challenged traditional interpretations of femininity and sexuality, garnering both praise and controversy. O'Keeffe's deep connection to the landscapes of New Mexico inspired some of her most celebrated works, capturing the essence and spirit of the American Southwest. Throughout her long and prolific career, she remained dedicated to her artistic vision, paving the way for future generations of female artists and establishing herself as one of the most significant figures in 20th-century art history.

  • Dorthea Tanning (1910-2012)
    Dorothea Tanning (1910–2012) was an American painter, sculptor, and writer associated with Surrealism and the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century. Born in Illinois, Tanning moved to New York City in the 1930s, where she became immersed in the vibrant art scene and befriended influential artists such as Max Ernst, whom she later married. Her early paintings and drawings displayed dreamlike imagery, fantastical landscapes, and unsettling juxtapositions, reflecting the influence of Surrealism on her work. Tanning's later career saw her experimenting with various media, including sculpture and poetry, as she continued to explore themes of the subconscious, desire, and the female experience.

  • Chun Kyeong-ja (1924-2015)
    Chun Kyeong-ja (1924–2015) was a South Korean painter known for her vibrant and emotive depictions of nature, landscapes, and traditional Korean motifs. Born in what is now North Korea, Chun fled to South Korea during the Korean War and later studied art at Hongik University in Seoul. Her work often incorporated elements of Korean folk art, such as traditional brushwork and motifs inspired by nature and daily life. Chun's paintings are characterized by their dynamic brushstrokes, rich colors, and a sense of harmony between the human and natural worlds. Throughout her career, she garnered widespread acclaim both domestically and internationally, becoming one of the most respected figures in Korean contemporary art. During her career, she traveled the world and incorporated elements form American, African, European, and South American art. Often referred to as "Korea's Frida Kahlo", Chun created a body of work that explored and portrayed her inner-world and was established around symbology that she created around her own difficult life experiences as a woman in modern Korea.

  • Betye Saar (1926-)
    Betye Saar (born 1926) is an American artist known for her evocotive work in assemblage and collage, addressing themes of race, gender, and spirituality. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Saar's art often incorporates found objects, family photographs, and cultural artifacts, creating powerful and thought-provoking compositions that challenge societal norms and historical narratives about the black experience in America. Throughout her career, she has explored the complexities of African American identity and the African diaspora, infusing her work with symbolism and personal experiences. Saar's groundbreaking contributions to contemporary art have earned her widespread recognition and numerous accolades, solidifying her legacy as a an artist whose work provides impactful social commentary.

  • Faith Ringgold (1930-2024)
    Faith Ringgold (born 1930) was an acclaimed American artist, author, and activist known for her pioneering work in the fields of painting, quilting, and storytelling. Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, Ringgold's art often explored themes of race, gender, and identity, drawing from her own experiences as a black woman born and raised in the United States. She gained prominence in the 1960s with her politically charged paintings and protest art, advocating for racial and gender equality during the Civil Rights and feminist movements. Ringgold is perhaps best known for her innovative "story quilts," which combine narrative storytelling with quilting techniques, blending traditional craft with fine art. While her story quilts initially received criticism and many critics refused to accept the "lowly", "craft" of quilting as a valid art form, eventually her work rose to become some of the most sought after and important art in contemporary America. Her work has been exhibited internationally and has inspired generations of artists, educators, and activists.

  • Atsuko Tanaka (1932-2005)
    Atsuko Tanaka (1932–2005) was a pioneering Japanese artist associated with the Gutai group, a postwar avant-garde art collective known for its innovative and experimental approach to art-making. Born in Osaka, Tanaka played a significant role in redefining the boundaries of art in the aftermath of World War II. Her work encompassed a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, performance, and installation, often incorporating unconventional materials such as electrical wires and everyday objects. Tanaka's best-known work is her "Electric Dress" (1956), a garment constructed from blinking light bulbs and electrical cables, which symbolized the intersection of technology, consumer culture, and the human body. When she debuted the piece, she risked personal injury by wearing the dress made of lights and electric cables. However, it was her way to asserting her existence and place amongst the male-dominated Gutai movement.

  • Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
    Lee Krasner (1908–1984) was an American abstract expressionist painter and one of the most significant female artists of the 20th century. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Krasner studied at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design before working on murals for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. She later became associated with the New York School, where she met and married fellow artist Jackson Pollock. Despite facing gender discrimination in the male-dominated art world, Krasner developed a distinctive style characterized by bold, gestural brushwork, and intricate compositions. Her abstract paintings often explored themes of nature, mythology, and the human condition. While her work was often overshadowed by Pollock's during his life, she was able to gain artistic acclaim and separate herself from her husband's work after his death.

  • Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
    Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) was an American abstract expressionist painter known for her innovative "soak-stain" technique, which involved applying thin washes of paint to unprimed canvas, allowing the colors to blend and create luminous, atmospheric compositions. Born in New York City, Frankenthaler studied under influential artists such as Hans Hofmann, whose teachings encouraged her to explore color and abstraction. She gained prominence in the 1950s with her breakthrough work "Mountains and Sea" (1952), which epitomized her signature style and marked a significant departure from the gestural abstraction of her contemporaries. Frankenthaler's paintings often drew inspiration from nature and landscape, evoking a sense of movement and emotion through her use of color and form.

  • Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
    Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) was a French-American artist known for her contemporary sculptures and installation art. Born in Paris, Bourgeois moved to New York City in the 1930s, where she became associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement and later the feminist art movement. Her work often explored themes of trauma, memory, and the human body, drawing from her own experiences and emotions. Bourgeois gained widespread recognition for her large-scale sculptures of spiders, such as "Maman," which symbolized maternal protection and strength as well as the often complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Her art transcended traditional boundaries, incorporating a diverse range of materials and techniques, from fabric and wood to marble and bronze. Bourgeois's currently continues to be one of the top selling artists in the contemporary art market, setting records and breaking through barriers that once held women artists back.

  • Yayoi Kusama (1929-)
    Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) is a Japanese artist known for her immersive installations, vibrant paintings, and striking sculptures that span decades of creation. Born in Matsumoto, Japan, Kusama moved to the United States in the late 1950s, where she became associated with the avant-garde art scenes of New York City. She often led outrageous and controversial performances that critiqued the fetishization and stereotypes she faced as a Japanese woman. Her later work often explores themes of infinity, repetition, and the cosmos, with her iconic polka dots becoming a signature motif. Kusama's installations, such as "Infinity Mirror Rooms," offer viewers a surreal and immersive experience, inviting them to contemplate notions of space, time, and the self. Throughout her career, she has also been an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, drawing from her own struggles with mental illness and traumatic childhood. Kusama has undergone various transformations throughout her life and reinvented herself and her style countless times.

  • Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002)
    Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) was a pioneering French-American artist known for her vibrant and monumental sculptures, as well as her contributions to the feminist art movement. Born in France, Saint Phalle's early career saw her working as a fashion model and later as a painter. However, it was her innovative use of unconventional materials such as fiberglass, mirrors, and mosaics in her sculptures that brought her international acclaim. She secured her name in the art world through her "Shooting Picture" a relief work made by the artist shooting at bags of paint in front of a canvas using a gun. This blurred the line between painting and performance art and drew much attention to the artist. Saint Phalle's best-known work is perhaps her series of large-scale public sculptures, including the iconic "Nanas," whimsical and voluptuous female figures that challenged traditional notions of femininity. Throughout her life, she used her art to address social and political issues, advocating for gender equality, civil rights, and peace.

  • Barbara Kruger (1945-)
    Barbara Kruger (born 1945) is an American conceptual artist known for her bold and provocative works combining text and image to address themes of power, consumerism, and identity. Emerging in the 1980s amid the feminist and civil rights movements, Kruger's art often employs found photographs overlaid with declarative slogans in bold, black-and-white typography. Her confrontational style challenges viewers to interrogate the influence of mass media and advertising on contemporary culture. Kruger's background is in magazines, and she was never traditionally trained in art. Through her work, Kruger critiques societal norms and power structures while highlighting the complexities of gender, politics, and social justice. Her iconic visual language and incisive commentary have cemented her as one of the most significant artists of her generation.

  • Ana Mendieta (1948-1985)
    Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) was a Cuban-American artist known for her groundbreaking work in performance, sculpture, and earth art. Born in Havana, Mendieta fled to the United States as a child due to political unrest in Cuba, later becoming a prominent figure in the feminist art movement of the 1970s. Her art often explored themes of identity, displacement, and the connection between the body and the earth. Mendieta's "Silueta" series, in which she created outlines of her body using natural materials such as blood, flowers, and mud, remains among her most iconic and powerful works. Mendieta was tragically killed in a fall from the window of her New York apartment when she was only 36. Her death was one of the greatest conspiracies in the 1980s art world, as many (myself included) suspect that her jealous and violent husband, artist Carl Andre, pushed her outside of the window as Ana was planning to move out and file for divorce on the day she was killed. Mendieta's tragic and untimely death remains a rallying cry for feminists and artists against domestic abuse and violence against women.

  • Jenny Holzer (1950-)
    Jenny Holzer (born 1950) is an American conceptual artist known for her pioneering work in text-based art. Emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Holzer gained recognition for her provocative and thought-provoking installations, which often feature truisms, aphorisms, and political slogans displayed in public spaces. Utilizing mediums such as LED signs, billboards, and projections, her work challenges viewers to engage critically with language, power, and societal norms. Holzer's art confronts issues of violence, oppression, and social justice, reflecting her commitment to raising awareness and inciting dialogue about pressing global concerns.

  • Cindy Sherman (1954-)
    Cindy Sherman (born 1954) is an American photographer renowned for her groundbreaking work in self-portraiture and conceptual art. Emerging in the late 1970s, Sherman gained international acclaim for her "Untitled Film Stills" series, in which she portrayed herself in various roles inspired by Hollywood B-movies and film noir archetypes. Throughout her career, Sherman has continued to explore themes of identity, gender, and representation, often using costumes, props, and elaborate staging to challenge stereotypes and question the nature of identity in contemporary society. Her work has been celebrated for its wit, subversiveness, and profound commentary on societal norms, stereotypes, and gender roles.

  • Mariko Mori (1967-)
    Mariko Mori (born 1967) is a pioneering Japanese contemporary artist known for her innovative multimedia installations, sculptures, and photographs that explore themes of spirituality, technology, and cultural identity. Emerging in the 1990s, Mori gained international recognition for her futuristic and otherworldly artworks, often incorporating elements of Japanese mythology, science fiction, and pop culture. Her immersive installations, such as "Wave UFO" and "Dream Temple," create ethereal and transformative experiences, inviting viewers to contemplate the intersections between ancient traditions and modern technology. Mori's art reflects a deep engagement with themes of interconnectedness and transcendence, envisioning a harmonious relationship between humanity, nature, and the cosmos. Many of her works also explore feminist themes, gender roles, and notions of female sexuality. Mori has established herself as a top-seller in the contemporary art work, and her work (though expensive) continues to be a great investment for art collectors.

  • Mickalene Thomas (1971-)
    Mickalene Thomas (born 1971) is a contemporary American artist known for her vibrant and empowering mixed-media works that challenge traditional representations of beauty and identity. Through her paintings, collages, and photographs, Thomas explores themes of race, gender, and sexuality, often depicting black women in bold and celebratory compositions adorned with rhinestones, acrylics, and colorful patterns. Her art draws inspiration from art history, pop culture, and her own experiences, reimagining classical depictions of beauty.

  • Guerrilla Girls (1985-)
    The Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous collective of feminist activists and artists known for their provocative and satirical works that expose gender and racial inequalities in the art world and beyond. Formed in New York City in 1985, the group uses guerrilla-style tactics, including posters, billboards, and public interventions, to call out institutions for their lack of representation and diversity. Wearing gorilla masks to conceal their identities (because it was dangerous for an artist's career to speak out in the 80s and 90s), the Guerrilla Girls employ humor and irony to challenge the status quo, highlighting disparities in museum collections, exhibition opportunities, and art market representation. Their fearless advocacy has sparked important conversations about sexism, racism, and discrimination in the arts. While the Guerrilla Girls were at first extremely controversial, they've now joined the art historical canon as a prolific group of artists who were brave enough to talk back.

 Clearly, I've been forced to gloss over much of art history in order to keep this list short and digestible. I couldn't even continue into contemporary and ultra-contemporary art without making this list exhaustive. If I've left out your favorite woman artist, tell me about her in the comments! I'd love to know!

-Kenzie Johns, gallerist & brand manager for LX Artworks