5 Influential Female Artists In History

20 Nov 2021 | 0 Comments

Article by Katrina Crouch

In a sometimes male-dominated art market, it is increasingly important that female artists find a space for artistic expression. 

Throughout history, artworks by male artists have demanded the highest prices at auctions around the world, but this should be seen as no reflection on the quality and significance of work by those female artists who have not achieved such astronomical financial value.

Many female artists have transcended boundaries and influenced generations of women to come, creating a space for their artistic expression to thrive. The names on this list should come as no surprise, as all 5 of these women have greatly influenced art history through their iconic works.

These are 5 of the most influential female artists in history!

Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954)

Perhaps the most well-known female artist in history, Frida Kahlo was a true pioneer of the surrealist movement. Born in Mexico City in 1907, Kahlo began to paint seriously following an accident at age 18 - one that left her hospitalized for several months and meant a lifetime of pain. This period in her life inspired the creation of her iconic self-portraits as a way to pass the time. 

However, throughout her lifetime, Kahlo's portraits adapted to feature more surrealistic and realistic components alongside each other, becoming expressions of her innermost feelings and experiences as she grew older. 

Her turbulent marriages to fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera became an inspiration for many of her works, as did her Mexican heritage and chronic pain condition. Her most notable works include Henry Ford Hospital (1931), The Broken Column (1944), The Two Fridas (1939), and her most iconic portrait Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940).

Although referred to in her life simply as 'Diego Rivera's wife', Kahlo has since found her place in history as a feminist and LGBT icon. Today, Kahlo's works are best known for their exploration of gender, identity, and race. She also employed many symbols in her work, alluding to rebirth, lust, and luck through animal symbolism. However, her most recognisable symbol today remains her unibrow, showing her unwillingness to conform to conventional beauty expectations and cementing her place as a true feminist icon.

In recent news, Kahlo's piece Diego and I has sold for an incredible $34.9M! This makes it her most valuable work to date and only further shows her relevancy in today's world.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986)

As the creator of the most valuable female artwork to date, Georgia O'Keeffe remains a force to be reckoned with. 

Born in 1887 in New Mexico, O'Keeffe had decided to become an artist by the age of 10. 

Studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905-1906, O'Keeffe went on to become a pioneer of the American modern art movement and a famed nature artist. She also became one of the first female artists to gain respect in the New York art scene in the 1920s, paving the way for female artists!

O'Keeffe's works feature bold depictions of nature, with the majority of her works favouring flowers, plants or desert landscapes. Notable works of hers include Jimson Weed (1936), Black Iris (1926), Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue (1931), and From the Faraway, Nearby (1938). Her influences included Arthur Wesley Dow, who inspired her to adapt abstract composition into her work and Alfred Stieglitz, who first exhibited her work and became her future husband. 

O'Keeffe's floral paintings are often associated with ideas of sexuality, love, and femininity, reminding us that there is always a space for art both by women and representing women. As the face of American modern art, Georgia O'Keeffe remains today as a symbol of female empowerment.

Yayoi Kusama (1929 - )

A Japanese contemporary art icon, Yayoi Kusama has been a major influential artist for over 7 decades! 

Born in 1929 in Japan, Kusama began creating art as a child inspired by her frequent hallucinations, much to the disdain of her strict mother. Her traumatic childhood and the hallucinations she experienced went on to inspire many of her works, including her signature dots motif which she would hallucinate on mass. In 1957, Kusama moved to the US and gained her place as a major avant-garde figure. 

By the 1960s, she had also begun creating her iconic room installations, featuring great displays of lights, swirls and you guessed it, dots! After struggling with a lifetime of mental health, Yayoi Kusama checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in the 70s and has remained a resident there ever since by choice.

As a contemporary artist, Kusama's works contain elements of pop art and surrealism and depict themes of feminism, psychology, sexuality, and mental health. 

Her most notable works include Dots Obsession (2003), Pumpkin (1990), Infinity Nets (1990), and her Infinity Mirror Room installations. Through producing such works, art has become the ultimate coping mechanism for Kusama and her immersive rooms allow her to gain creative control over her audience, in a way she cannot toward her own life. 

Yayoi Kusama remains a strong advocate not only for mental health but for women in art, with her autobiographical art showing the power of female self-expression. Despite a long career, her relevance shows no signs of disappearing with her Infinity Light Room installations garnering great interest on social media and featuring in popular spaces like the Tate Modern, which you can book and experience yourself today!

Tracey Emin (1963 - )

As the youngest artist on this list, Tracey Emin has already cemented her place in art history. 

Emin was born in 1963 in Croydon and went on to study fashion design at the Medway college of Design, describing this time as the most influential period of her life. 

However, her early years were not without their troubles and she was subject to sexual assault and abuse from a young age. These incidents would go on to inspire her future artworks, which are almost always autobiographical in their nature. 

Emin is associated with the contemporary artist group Young British Artists (YBAs) and works in a wide variety of mediums. Her work is unique in the contemporary field as it creates a personal connection between Emin's life experiences and the viewer who peers into them, as well as establishing strong themes of feminism and intimacy.

Having found fame in the 90s, Emin has since established herself as the feminist voice of British art. Her notable works include My Bed (1998), Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995), and more recently for her neon signs based on love and passing thoughts, such as Always More and Love Is What You Want (both 2015). 

Her most recognisable piece is My Bed, which was a reconstruction of Emin's bed area after a sexual and depressive phase. The piece garnered much controversy due to its use of controversial objects (such as condoms and dirty underwear) but it also became a symbol of vulnerability and societal expectations of women. 

Today, Tracey Emin remains a true icon and after receiving a British Order of Chivalry in 2013 for her contribution to the arts, it is clear that her life's work continues to inspire!

Louise Bourgeois (1911 - 2010)

Last but certainly not least is Louise Bourgeois, whose large-scale sculptures and installations earned her a place as one of the great modern sculptors. 

Born in 1911, Bourgeois was surrounded by art at a young age due to her parents owning an antique tapestry gallery. After initially studying mathematics, her mothers death inspired her to start studying art instead at École des Beaux-Arts and at multiple other Paris art schools. 

Her initial work consisted of painting and printmaking and she only started producing sculptures in the late 1940s. In 1938, she married American art historian Robert Goldwater and moved to New York, where she remained until her death. 

Bourgeois explored a wide variety of themes in her artwork, from childhood trauma and sexuality to portrayals of death and the body. Her childhood was of particular inspiration, with events such as her father's affair manifesting in her work and allowing her to treat art as a form of therapeutic experience. 

Her notable works include Spider (1996), Maman (2002), Janus Fleuri (1968), and Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) (1989-93). Her most well-known image is of a spider, which finds itself imagined in her aptly names piece Spider

The sculpture depicts a giant spider as if it is crawling and is large enough to occupy an entire room. In her poem 'Ode to my Mother', Bourgeois compares the spider to a maternal figure keeping a family together, showing the influence her family held over artist expression. 

Today, Louise Bourgeois stands as an inspiration to female sculptors everywhere and has helped create a space in the art world where feminist expression can thrive, even on a larger scale!