Throughout the centuries, women have been making fascinating works of art but often remained in the shadows of their male counterparts. Many famous female painters of today had to fight against gender biases and opposition from the chroniclers of the art history. From various training and education restrictions to difficulties in selling their work and gaining recognition woman had to face many challenges on their way to stardom. And yet somehow they managed to gain the recognition they deserve and secure their place in art history. Despite numerous obstacles still present today, Contemporary art has more than its fair share of famous female painters. Women contributed to every major art movement and had a leading role in developing various art styles and techniques. From the magnificent Leonora Carrington often dubbed "the last great surrealist", to whirlwind paintings of Julie Mehretu each woman on the following list had an outstanding role in making art as versatile and as fascinating as it is today.
One of the leading figures of American Abstract Expressionism Joan Mitchell explored the potential of aggressive brushstrokes and their ability to convey emotion. Optical illusions by Bridget Riley made her one of the leading figures of OP art movement that used black and white lines to create the feeling of motion. Riley once stated that:
Right up to, and in some ways including the stripe paintings, I used to build up to sensation, accumulating tension until it released a perceptual experience that flooded the whole as it were.
Calm photorealistic peaces by Vija Celmins depict the inherent beauty of our natural elements and evoke the feeling of serenity. Bleak nude images of Marlene Dumas, full of the pains of modern existence serve as a powerful counterpart to the nude magazine covers of today, often photo-shopped beyond perfection. Storybook inspired art by Paula Rego turned children tales into fascinating narrative visuals, while extensive plastic surgery studies of Jenny Saville revolutionized the way artists depict human flesh. Colorful mountains by Etel Adnan changed the way we feel about paint while Elizabeth Peyton kept the image of a human face in the focus of the art world by adding a feminine touch to celebrity portraits.
A surreal universe of Leonora Carrington is based on a variety of influences including Celtic literature, Renaissance painting, Central American folk art, alchemy, and intensely personal symbolism. The prolific painter's art features and an array of half-human and half-animal figures and combinations of various fantastic beasts that are sometimes eerie and other times humorous. As one of the most famous Surrealist female painters, Leonora Carrington uses surreal imagery to explore human transformations in a constantly changing world.
Featured images : Leonora Carrington via pinterest
We continue our list of famous female painters with Joan Mitchell whose work is praised for the compositional rhythms, and bold color tones applied with energetic gestural brushstrokes. Her body of work resides somewhere between the meticulously prepared, structured composition and raw, untamed improvisation. The painter's large-scale multi-paneled paintings are marked with abstract, richly colored calligraphic elements that are the key characteristics of her unique style that made her one of the most prominent figures of American Abstract Expressionism.
Featured images : Joan Mitchell, via arthousefilmsonline com
Lebanon-American poet and painter Etel Adnan creates her abstract artworks by administering thick layers of paint with the use of a palette knife. The artist uses blocks of paint and firm strokes to portray various natural and urban areas she encountered during her life. The painter considered colors to be both objects and unique metaphysical beings which is why she tries to include a variety of tones into her art.
Featured image: Etel Adnan, photo by Simone Fattal courtesy of the artist
Composed of strong contrasting black and white lines, the artworks of Bridget Riley convey the notion of movement within the static image. Her recognizable paintings are known to produce a disorienting effect on the viewers that sometimes feel as if they are experiencing seasickness and skydiving falls. As one of the most famous female painters, Bridget Riley is a true master of using gradients and variations of tones to explore the boundaries and the effects of contrast in her work.
Featured image : Bridget Riley - Portrait ; Bridget Riley - Study for fleeting moment, 1986 ; Bridget Riley - Untitled, 1970 ; Image via pinterest.com
Known for the psychologically charged presentations of human dramas, Paula Rego often uses comic like strips to tell her spontaneous visual narratives. The painter achieved her first success in her native Portugal with her semi-abstract paintings with collage elements culled from her own drawings. In the late 1970s, the artist started drawing directly in acrylic on paper and made fairytale-inspired peaces marked with an array of strongly modeled figures and a variety of light source.
Featured image : Paula Rego via pinterest
Vija Clemins is among the most famous female painters from Lithuania. She's widely acclaimed for her photo-realistic paintings, drawings, and prints that depict deep oceans, distant galaxies, and intricate webs. The painter also draws inspiration from her deeply personal, childhood memories and often depicts school related objects including maps, pencils, erasers, or globes.
Featured image : Vija Celmins, via pinterest com
Amsterdam-based South African artist Marlene Dumas creates fascinating and expensive figurative works often inspired by private memories and printed materials such as newspapers and magazine cuttings, polaroid photographs and letters. Her art features a variety of subjects in various stages of life including newborn babies, young strippers, and models but also murdered people and bodies in morgues.
Featured image : Marlene Dumas - Photo of the artist - Image via theguardian.com
One of the most famous portraitist in the world, Elizabeth Peyton creates sexually ambiguous Warholian portraits that often resemble fashion illustrations. Unlike many artists, who paint their models while engaging in some sort of activity, Elizabeth Peyton usually portrays her subjects while standing, sleeping or sitting. Her main characters include close friends and boyfriends but also an array of celebrities like pop and rock stars and members of European monarchy.
Featured images : Elizabeth Peyton - David Bowie, Elizabeth Peyton. Photo by Roe Ethridge via thegentlewoman.co.uk
Powerfully drawn by the formal possibilities of the human body, one of most famous women painters from Britain Jenny Saville, creates a highly tactile impression of surface and mass in her striking oil on canvas artworks. Though created in the figurative manner, her subjects are infused by sculptural and ephemeral dimensionality that resembles the works of celebrated abstract artists. In her more recent work, the painter revived her figurative explorations by depicting an array of embracing and intertwined human bodies.
Featured image : Portrait of Jenny Saville in her studio in Oxford, via theguardian.com;
Last but not least on our list of famous women painters is Julie Mehretu whose artworks depict accelerated and overpopulated urban metropolises of the 21st century. The painter uses images of cities, histories, and regions to create new narratives and imagined realities. By overlaying a variety of architectural features like facades and porticoes with geographical charts, building plans and city maps the artist powerfully portrays the speed of the modern city and its inhabitant's lifestyles.
Featured image: Julie Mehretu, photo by Teju Cole via ethiogrio.com