Women Artists in the Collection

From the Museum’s Winter 2020 Newsletter

To honor the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, the Museum’s curatorial staff offers insights into some of their favorite works of art by women artists in the collection, many of whom were pioneers in their professions.

Assistant Curator Maggie Bell on Louise Moillon, Still Life with Cherries, Strawberries and Gooseberries, 1630

Louise Moillon

Raised in the dynamic artistic milieu of 17th-century Paris, Louise Moillon (French, 1610–1696) pursued painting from an early age, achieving greatest commercial success with her still-life scenes. This genre was considered suitable for a “womanly hand” because it required mechanical precision akin to embroidery, supposedly demanding less inventiveness than large-scale history paintings. In this painting, however, which Moillon created at age 20, she reveals not only her technical ability in rendering complex effects of light interacting with fruit and water droplets on the table but also her innovative compositional eye. The artist devised an arrangement of bold clarity in which vibrantly colored fruits resist the depths of encroaching shadow—a pictorial strategy Moillon employed throughout her prolific career.

Curator Gloria Williams Sander on Rachel Ruysch, Nosegay on a Marble Plinth, c. 1695

Rachel Ruysch

Rachel Ruysch (Dutch, 1664/5–1750) was the first female Dutch artist to achieve international recognition in the 18th century. She engaged with a rich sociocultural network of scientists and artists, and her fame as a learned painter was confirmed by her appointment as court artist to Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine of Bavaria, in Dusseldorf in 1708. This small bouquet of cultivated and wild flowers is oriented along a strong diagonal: rough, thorny stems on the lower left lead to abundant, full-flowering blooms on the right. Ruysch’s close study of the light, and her arrangement of large, open flowers at the center surrounded by smaller ones in varied degrees of shadow, impart the full spatial presence of the nosegay.

Chief Curator Emily Talbot on Berthe Morisot, In a Villa at the Seaside, 1874

Berthe Morisot

One of the founding members of the Impressionist circle, Berthe Morisot (French, 1841–1895) has recently enjoyed renewed appreciation for her particular take on modern life subjects and quite radical approach to paint handling. In a Villa at the Seaside exemplifies the thematic and painterly techniques for which the artist is best known. At a respectable remove from the beach, a fashionably dressed woman and her child perch on the veranda of a rented villa, as a visitor with a parasol climbs the stairs to meet them. With broad, smooth brushstrokes, Morisot evokes a placid sea and sky, which stand in pointed contrast to the brisk, energetic marks used to render the foreground figure’s costume, ripples of white ruffles conjuring an otherwise absent effect of waves. Although Morisot expressed frustration that she was not taken seriously as a professional artist, she benefitted from the support of her family and admiration of male colleagues, many of whom collected her work (this canvas was once owned by Edgar Degas).

Curatorial Associate Tom Norris on Jay DeFeo, Daphne, 1958

Jay DeFeoImmersed in the San Francisco Beat culture, Jay DeFeo (American, 1929–1989) was one of California’s most notable Abstract Expressionist artists of the mid-20th century. Daphne from 1958 stands out in the Museum’s collections for more than just its size. Nearly nine feet in height, this mixed-media work was created the same year that the artist began her renowned painting The Rose (1958–66) and includes many similar characteristics, such as expressive strokes of pigment and a buildup of layers and materials. Ties to the Pasadena Art Museum’s collection are as compelling as the work itself: former Pasadena Art Museum curator Walter Hopps was an early supporter of DeFeo, and fellow artist Sam Francis donated Daphne to the Museum in 1965.

Academic Intern Camille Brown on Louise Nevelson, Vertical Zag I, 1969

Louise NevelsonBest known for her intricately designed wood sculptures, Louise Nevelson (American, 1899–1988) drew from the range of art styles and movements of her time, effectively synthesizing her own genre. Her striking wall relief Vertical Zag I is emblematic of her practice and a welcome addition to the 20th-century galleries. The sculpture contains a series of compartments housing three-dimensional geometric shapes that appear as beacons in the darkness. The black monochromatic finish enhances the quiet monumentality of the work, evoking the New York City skyline. Vertical Zag I reflects Nevelson’s attempt to capture shadows, transforming them into independent, elemental forms. As the artist put it, “You see shadow and everything else on earth actually is moving. Movement—that’s in color, that’s in form, that’s in almost everything. Shadow is fleeting . . . and I arrest it and I give it a solid substance.”