Wow, hello! Thanks for being here at my first blog post. Come on in and get comfy. As the title of this blog post suggests, we are going to talk about female painters you may not have heard of but are rockstars in their own right. Looking for a little inspiration? You've come to the right place.
To be clear: this is not to say male artists are any less talented - some of my favorite painters of all time include John Singer Sargent for his portraiture and Edgar Degas' ballerinas - but women artists have often taken a backseat in history and their work is worth celebrating. Many female artists spent their careers striving to be recognized at the same level of their male counterparts. For the purposes of this post, I've limited this list to just five female artists known for their painting work, but there are countless others I encourage you to explore.
1. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1654)
I first learned of Artemisia Gentileschi in an Italian art history course in Florence, Italy. Arguably the most important female painter of her time, Artemisia was a master of strong contrast between light and dark in her work, known as chiaroscuro.
Her paintings are dramatic, often centered around female protagonists, identifying her an early feminist. She was the first woman to become a member of the Academy of Fine Arts and also received commissions from King Charles I and the Medici family. She achieved the seemingly impossible by reaching a level of success during her lifetime unattainable by other women. Her work remains powerful in the 400 years since she lived.
2. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803)
Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, 1785
A talented portrait painter for the Royal family during the French Revolution, Adélaïde was one of the first women to be allowed into the French Royal Academy (a maximum number of four women were allowed at the time). Further impressive still, she used her status as a member of the academy to advocate for women artists to receive the same opportunities as men.
Adélaïde was also a dedicated teacher to other aspiring female artists, and the first woman permitted to set up a studio for her students at the Louvre. The painting above, a self portrait with two of her pupils, is her most famous painting. By painting herself with her female students, she attempted to normalize the concept of women in academic settings.
3. Marianne North (1830-1890)
View of the Jesuit College of Caracas, Minas Geraes, Brazil, 1873
Marianne North spent her life painting exotic plants. While travelling the world. Solo. In a Victorian Era dress. What a woman!
Marianne had no formal artistic training and it was an unusual (and probably cumbersome) choice for a travelling artist to paint in oils instead of watercolor. Even more unusual was that she painted the background scenery; Conventional botanical illustration backgrounds are usually white.
She created over 800 paintings during her lifetime and is credited with discovering at least four new plant species. Her contribution to the world of botany is incredible.
4. Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
Ploughing in Nevers, 1849 Rosa Bonheur, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
An unconventional woman, Rosa Bonheur donned men's clothing, kept her hair cut short, and smoked. Dressing this way was more practical, as she preferred to paint outdoors. It also offered her a disguise since it was discouraged for a woman to be painting in public at the time. Rosa Bonheur dared to be different; she did not allow social norms dictate how she lived her life.
Her favorite subject and best known works are of animals. She repeatedly visited farms and animal markets to study form and anatomy. Her love of animals knew no bounds; she kept horses, birds, pigs, goats, and even lions.
Rosa had great success during her career, her work often winning awards for her adeptly rendered paintings in male-dominated competitions. She is considered a precursor to feminism and was the first woman to receive the Legion of Honor in 1865.
5. Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)
Dorothea and Francesca, 1898
Her work often compared to John Singer Sargent's, Cecilia Beaux's portraits are elegantly composed and skillfully rendered. After establishing herself as a reputable artist in cities such as Philadelphia and New York, she went on to have a prosperous career across much of the United States. Her sitters were mainly comprised of the upper middle class, as well as other prominent figures, such as First Lady Edith Roosevelt and Georges Clemenceau.
In 1895 she became the first female instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She was awarded membership to the National Academy in 1899. In 1933 First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt presented her with a gold medal from the Chi Omega organization for her contributions to art. A phenomenally brilliant artist, Cecilia's life and work merit study.
All of these women were bold and revolutionary for their time, true rockstars. Their triumphs paved the way for other female artists to pursue careers in the public eye. Unsettlingly, aside from Artemisia, I had not heard of these women before researching information for this blog post. There are many others and it is important to educate ourselves of their stories. If any of the above artists have resonated with you, or if there's a female artist whose work you admire that is not mentioned here, please share in the comments below.
“Artemisia Gentileschi Biography.” Edited by Biography.com Editors, The Biography.com Website, A&E Television Networks, 2 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/artist/artemisia-gentileschi
Baetjer, Katharine. “Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000– https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lagui/hd_lagui.htm
Tyrrell, Katherine. “About Marianne North.” BOTANICAL ART & ARTISTS, 2015,
Rockefeller, Hall W. "Biography of Rosa Bonheur, French Artist." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020,
Kuiper, Kathleen. "Cecilia Beaux". Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Sep. 2021,