Three decades after The Guerilla Girls, a feminist art collective, famously asked “Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met.Museum?” a study of major US art museums found that 87% of artists in their collections are men, while 85% are white. Little progress has been made diversifying the art world in the past 30 years – while women earn up to 75% of fine art degrees, only 13% of artists represented in European and North American galleries are female.
At Cynefn we specialise in reproduction art, retouching and restoring each piece to its former glory – but we also strive to promote artists who were traditionally under-represented during their lifetimes. Women especially were often dismissed as amateurs, it wasn’t unusual for their work to be attributed to a significant male in their lives – or completely forgotten after their deaths. Often the artists’ students, husbands or male contemporaries became familiar household names, while the artists themselves remained relatively unknown.
Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist and spiritualist who produced some of the first abstract paintings, pre-dating Kandinsky who is widely considered to be the first abstract artist. Hilma was heavily influenced by spiritualism and geometry, becoming interested in the afterlife when her younger sister Hermina died. She felt that her work would not be understood in her own lifetime and requested that her 1,200 paintings, 100 texts and 26,000 pages of notes not be shown publicly until 20 years after her death. Hilma died of complications after a traffic accident in 1944 (age 81) as it was, her work remained largely unseen until the late 1980's.
Julie De Graag was born in Gorinchem in 1877, later moving to The Hague where she studied art at the Royal Academy of Art – she became the protégé of her tutor and art critic HP Bremmer. In 1904 Julie moved to North Holland where her bold, graphic style evolved under the influence of sculptor Joseph Mendes da Costa. Here she also took up part-time work teaching drawing at a local girls’ school. De Graag was heavily influenced by nature, painting and drawing beautiful flower and animal studies – becoming most well known for her art nouveau style woodcuts. Julie’s life was marred by illness – her declining mental health reflected in her work, which became increasingly morbid. On New Year’s day, 1908 disaster struck and Julie’s house burned to the ground, resulting in much of her work being lost – and just a small collection surviving to this day.
Julie de Graag sadly died by suicide in 1924, at the age of 46
Mary Cassatt was an American painter who was born in Pennsylvania, although she spent most of her life living in France where she befriended Degas and exhibited with the Impressionists. Mary was one of a relatively small number of American women to become professional artists in the nineteenth century when most women, particularly wealthy ones, did not pursue a career. Her father, a banker, said that he would rather see her dead than work as an artist and refused to fund her art supplies. Mary mostly depicted the daily lives of women – especially the bond between mother and child.
Mary suffered from ill health later in life and was forced to quit painting. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1906 and continued to fight for the women's suffrage cause despite having gone blind in 1914. She died in 1927 – her works going on to sell for almost 3 million dollars at auction
Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita (1868-1944) was a gifted Portuguese-Jewish artist whose students included the famous graphic artist, M.C Escher. Mesquita produced beautiful, bold prints of exotic birds, animals, flowers, and a large collection of self-portraits. In the winter of 1944 German forces broke into the Mesquita household in Amsterdam, accosting Samuel and his wife – who were gassed at Auschwitz just days later, and their only son, who died at the concentration camp soon after. Escher was amongst family friends who managed to save some of Mesquita’s artworks from the family home. After his death, Mesquita and his work were largely forgotten.
Reijer Stolk was a Javanese Dutch artist, a student of Mesquita and classmate of MC Escher. Reijer’s teachers described him as the most talented student at the school, but he was not commercially minded. In the 1930s he travelled to Nigeria where he studied fabric prints which hugely influenced his later work. Stolk worked as a teacher and did not exhibit often or produce large print runs, he often only sent one print to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.