Women artists who are also mothers

 November 5, 2019

Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise
Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise © WikiArt

Differentiating women artists after pregnancy seems to be a past issue now that so many opportunities exist to make choices from. But what about limitations that come from women themselves, that need to be re-evaluated?

In the past women were tied to domestic life, having no access to learning art as a vocation, participating in artistic life and being seen as responsible entirely for the domestic, indoor, behind the walls activities. They were denied to study, to taking part in exhibitions, to go outside and to be inspired by life experiences, unassociated with domestic things. They were limited to society’s expectations, encircled often by the jealousy of their male counterparts and by continuous denials on all levels.

It was very rare for a woman to become an artist and especially to continue to work as one, while having a child and a family. Most of the outstanding examples had already an artistic background in the form of mentorship, either because they had a father or a husband who was an artist himself. Likewise, very few who did breakthrough, are not at all well-known, not studied about and not yet fully valued in the art market today.

There were actually quite a lot of successful female artists who were at the same time mothers. Unfortunately just as in the past today too, they seldom get the credit for doing both. Some of these exemplary women were: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Berthe Morisot, Suzanne Valadon, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Bourgeois, Yoko Ono, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker.

For many of these women, their children became their muse, their models and their inspirations, incorporating motherhood in their works. Some of them even painted self-portraits with their children, like Vigée Le Brun, who’s paintings reflect the love she had for her daughter.

These paintings were considered as scandalous at the time, during the 18th century because of their theme

and spontaneity. Morisot’s daughter was often her model in her paintings. Barbara Hepworth, besides achieving international acclaim, raised at the same time four children. Similarly was Louise Bourgeois’s activities and spirit balanced between her three sons and her studio.

Octavia Brugel, talking about her mother Kara Walker - an internationally recognized contemporary artist - describes the balance between motherhood and being an artist in the best way.

My mother is a mother. And an artist. And the two never felt like they were incompatible.

Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise
Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise © WikiArt
Self portrait with her daughter Julie
Self portrait with her daughter Julie © WikiArt

Women today are not tied to domestic life, with plenty of opportunities to choose from. Nevertheless, another type of challenge and limit prevails today. It is an image of the woman artist who is childless, dedicating her life entirely to art, working and living in solitude. This image that often comes from women themselves creates a stereotype, whereby the artist focuses entirely upon art without any family, children or partnership background.

When Marina Abramović told openly her thoughts about women, motherhood and art to the Germannewspaper Der Tagesspiegel:

In my opinion [havingchildren is] the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children - a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that,” she expressed the deep embedded thoughts and fears of many contemporary women artists.

The difference of expectations and image that exists between women artists and their male counterparts still remains. Why is it that having to sacrifice all and having to choose between children does not come up as a question for the male counterparts? Especially worthwhile to think about is that many “super star” male artists have children and a family, while giving an impression of the loner creative, without hindering their roles or their career.

Read further our exclusive on women artists in the 2nd Issue of the Secrets of Art Magazine.

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