1. Yayoi Kusama – March 22, 1929 – Born in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Kusama is a sculptor, painter, writer, installation artist and performance artist. As a child she experienced hallucinations and visions of polka dots and net patterns, and had severe obsessive thoughts. Early in her career, she began covering surfaces including walls, floors, canvases, household objects, and naked assistants with the polka dots (“infinity nets”) that became a trademark of her work.
In 1957 Kusama moved to New York and quickly established a reputation for herself in predominantly male avant-garde art circles. She was very ambitious and used her position as a non-American woman and her history of mental illness to create a flamboyant public persona.
During her time in New York, her work was linked with both Minimalism and Pop Art, but it was never assimilated by any one artistic movement, as her work constantly evolved during this period. In 1973 she returned to Tokyo, where she began to write fiction.
After leaving New York, Kusama was almost forgotten until the late 1980’s and 90’s when a number of retrospectives renewed international interest. In 1993, she represented Japan in the Venice Biennale and in October 2006, she became the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan’s most prestigious prizes for internationally recognized artists.
2. Kara Walker – November 26, 1969 – Born in Stockton, California, Walker has a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes that examine the underbelly of America’s racial and gender tensions. Her works often address themes such as power, repression, history, race, and sexuality.
In the 1997, Walker was included in the Whitney Biennial at the age of 27, and became the youngest recipient of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant. In 2002 she was chosen to represent the United States in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is included in the collections of major museums worldwide. In 2007 Walker Art Center organized the exhibition Kara Walker: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love – the artist’s first full-scale U.S. museum survey. Walker currently lives in New York, where she is a professor of visual arts in the MFA program at Columbia University.
3. Elisabetta Sirani – January 8, 1638 – 1665 – Born in Bologna, Italy, Sirani was an independent painter by age 19, ran her family’s workshop, and supported supported her parents, three siblings, and herself entirely through her art after her father became incapacitated by illness.
Sirani quickly became known for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that art lovers visited her studio to watch her work. Her portraits, mythological subjects, and images of the Holy Family and the Virgin and Child, gained international fame. Her works were acquired by wealthy, noble, and even royal patrons, including the Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici.
Sirani died-suddenly at the age of 27, after experiencing severe stomach pains. Her father suspected that she had been poisoned by a jealous maid and the servant was tried but acquitted. An autopsy revealed stomach ulcers as the cause of death. In her short career, Sirani produced 200 paintings, drawings, and etchings.
4. Camille Claudel – December 8, 1864 – October 19, 1943 – Born in Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Claudel was a French sculptor, graphic artist, and the older sister of the French poet and diplomat, Paul Claudel. In 1881, she moved with her family to Paris. Claudel studied sculpture at the Académie Colarossi with Alfred Boucher and met Rodin in 1883. She became his studio assistant in 1885. Claudel became a source of inspiration, his model, his confidante and lover.
Claudel ended her relationship with Rodin in 1898 and struggled for artistic independence. Overcome by an emotional crisis, she secluded herself in her studio and destroyed a large number of her works, accusing Rodin of plagarism. In 1913, her brother Paul had her confined to a psychiatric hospital and she lived in institutions for the remaining 30 years of her life.
Camille Claudel died on October 19, 1943. About 90 statues, sketches and drawings survive. She is considered by many to be the first important European female sculptor.
5. Tamara De Lempicka – May 16, 1898–March 18, 1980 – Born Tamara Maria Gorska in Warsaw, Poland, de Lempicka was a Polish Art Deco painter. In 1917, she and her husband Tadeusz Lempicki escaped the Russian Revolution and moved to Paris where she studied at the Academie Ranson and at the studio of cubist artist André Lhote. She quickly developed a style that combined neo-classical colours with cubism in the Art Deco style that was prominent in Paris at the time.
De Lempicka was one of the most sought after painters of the 1920’s and 30’s. From 1923 onwards, she exhibited in the major Salons and in the early 1930’s, American museums began purchasing her work. Focused constantly on her work and social life, Lempicka neglected her husband and daughter Kizette. “Famous for her libido, she was bisexual, and her affairs with both men and women were carried out in ways that were scandalous at the time.” Tamara and Tadeusz divorced in 1928.
In 1933, de Lempicka married her patron and lover Baron Raoul Kuffner and the couple moved to the U.S. in 1939. She continued to live in a lavish style but her popularity as a society painter diminished greatly. She continued to work in her trademark style but also began painting still lifes, abstracts, and started using a palette knife. Her exhibit in 1962 at the Iolas Gallery was not well-received and de Lempicka retired from active life as a professional artist. In 1978 Tamara moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, to live among an aging international set and some of the younger aristocrats. She died there on March 19, 1980.
Sources: National Museum of Women in the Arts (Sirani), Walker Art Center (Walker), MoMA (Kusama), Walker Art Center (Kusama), Wikipedia (Kusama), NMWA (Claudel), Wikipedia (Claudel), 50 Women Artists You Should Know (Claudel, de Lempicka), Tamara-de-Lempicka.org