1. Beatrix Potter – July 28, 1866- December 22, 1943 – Born in South Kensington in London, England, Potter is best known for her illustrated children’s books. She was an author, illustrator, mycologist, farmer, and conservationist. In her 20s, Beatrix developed into a talented naturalist. She studied plants and animals at the Cromwell Road museums and learned how to draw with her eye to a microscope.
In her thirties, Potter published the highly successful children’s book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. She began writing and illustrating children’s books full time and became financially independent of her parents
Potter died on 22 December 1943, and left almost all of her property to the National Trust. She wrote and illustrated a total of 28 books, including the 23 Tales, the ‘little books’ that have been translated into more than 35 languages and sold over 100million copies. Her stories have been retold in various formats including a ballet, films, and in animation.
2. Kiki Smith – Born on January 18, 1954, in Nuremberg, Germany and raised in South Orange, New Jersey, Smith studied at the Hartford Art School in Connecticut from 1974 – 1976. “Since 1980, Smith has produced a variety of work including sculpture, prints, installations and others that have been admired for having a highly developed, yet sometimes unsettling, sense of intimacy in her works’ timely political and social provocations. These traits have brought her critical success.”
The Kitchen in New York hosted Smith’s first solo exhibition in 1982. She has exhibited annually from 1982 at the Fawbush Gallery in New York. In 1990, Smith received significant acclaim for her exhibition in the Projects Room at the Museum of Modern Art. “By manipulating everyday materials such as glass, ceramic, fabric and paper, Smith’s work examined the dichotomy between the psychological and physiological power of the body.”
Smith has also had major solo showings at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva (1990), Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts (1992), Whitechapel Art Gallery in London (1995), Museum of Modern Art in New York (2003), and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2006).
In 2009 Smith was awarded the Brooklyn Museum Women In The Arts Award. She currently lives and works in New York.
At the age of 15, Vigée-Lebrun was earning enough money from her portrait painting to support herself, her widowed mother, and her younger brother. For a decade she was Marie Antoinette’s favorite painter. European aristocrats, actors, and writers were also her patrons and she was elected a member of the art academies in 10 cities.
Vigée-Lebrun married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun, a painter and art dealer who helped her gain access to the art world. In 1783, Marie Antoinette appointed her a member of Paris’s Royal Academy. As one of only four female academicians, Vigée-Lebrun enjoyed a high artistic, social, and political profile.
With the onset of the French Revolution Vigée-Lebrun fled France with her nine year old daughter. For the next 12 years she was commissioned to create portraits of the most celebrated residents of Rome, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Berlin. Vigée-Lebrun returned permanently to France in 1809.
Scholars estimate that Vigée-Lebrun produced more than 600 paintings. Her memoirs were published in 1835-37 and have been translated and reprinted numerous times.
4. Judith Leyster – July 28, 1609– February 10, 1660 – Born in Haarlem, Netherlands, Leyster was a Dutch Golden Age painter. She was one of three significant women artists of this period. Little is known of Leyster’s early training but the degree of professional success she achieved was remarkable for a female artist of her time. By 1633 she was the first woman admitted to the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke and in 1635 she is recorded as having three students.
“Stylistically, much of Leyster’s work resembles that of Frans Hals. She favored the same types of subjects and compositions, notably energetic genre scenes depicting one or two figures, often children, engaging in some kind of merrymaking. In addition to these compositions, Leyster also painted still lifes.”
In 1636 Leyster married fellow artist Jan Miense Molenaer, and moved to Amsterdam, where the couple lived until 1648. She painted very little after her marriage. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the early works of Leyster and her husband, as they often shared studio props and models, and may have worked on each other’s pictures.
5. Remedios Varo – December 16, 1908-October 8, 1963 – Born in Anglés, near Girona, Spain, Remedios Varo is often overlooked as an important surrealist painter. Varo studied art in Madrid and moved several times between Paris and Spain where she met and exhibited with other leading Surrealist artists. In 1941, Varo and her husband Benjamin Péret fled the Nazi occupation in Paris and moved to Mexico City where many other Surrealists had sought exile. Her first solo exhibition in Mexico at the Galería Diana in 1955 was a great success and earned her international recognition.
Varo’s palette consisted mainly of somber oranges, light browns, shadowy grays and greens. Her paintings were carefully drawn, and depicted stories or mystic legends. She often painted heroines engaged in alchemical activities. Varo was influenced by artists such as Francisco Goya, El Greco, Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Braque, pre-Columbian art, and the writing of André Breton. She also borrowed from Romanesque Catalan frescoes and medieval architecture, mixed nature and technology, and combined reality and fantasy to create paintings that defied time and space. Varo was also influenced by a variety of mystic and hermetic traditions. She was interested in the ideas of C. G. Jung and the theories of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Helena Blavatsky, Meister Eckhart, and the Sufis. She was also fascinated with the legend of the Holy Grail, sacred geometry, alchemy and the I-Ching. She saw in each of these an avenue to self-knowledge and the transformation of consciousness.