Five works by great female artists

  • 4 March 2016

Celebrate International Women's Day with five brilliant works by female artists, from Pre-Raphaelite Marie Spartali Stillman to YBA Sam Taylor-Johnson.

1

Marlene Dumas, Amy – Blue, 2011

After hearing about Amy Winehouse’s tragic death, Marlene Dumas searched through images of the singer-songwriter on the Internet. Dumas was extremely moved by Winehouse’s fate. In this intimate but widely recognisable depiction of the singer, Dumas explores her status as someone who has been the subject of media fascination. The blue palette was particularly pertinent given Winehouse’s musical influences and also the melancholic moments in her career. 

The portrait was acquired by National Portrait Gallery in 2012 with support from the Art Fund.


2

Sam Taylor-Johnson, Escape Artist (Multicoloured), 2008

The photograph is part of a series of self-portraits called Escape Artist which depict the artist floating above the floor with helium balloons. The balloons’ party colours emphasise Taylor-Johnson’s vulnerability as she wears pale pink and cotton white underwear, and keeps her face hidden. The series was made in 2008 – the year of the artist’s divorce from her first husband, the art dealer Jay Jopling. In the same year, Taylor-Johnson told the Guardian that love feels like ‘an ever-inflating helium balloon in the chest’. As a result, the balloons instil the work with a tension between celebration and poignancy.

The work was acquired by Nottingham Castle in 2009 with support from the Art Fund.


3

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Pair), 1999

Rachel Whiteread was the first woman to win the Turner Prize. She is known for creating sculptures which typically take the form of casts. Six years after winning the prize, Whiteread made Untitled (Pair). The two casts are from a mortuary slab – one the upside-down version of the other. If they were were placed on top of each other, they would lock tightly together. This makes the casts seem like male and female partners. Standing side by side like a knight and lady in a medieval tomb, they refer to death and companionship.

The sculpture was acquired by Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art​ in 2000 with support from the Art Fund.


4

Barbara Hepworth, Full scale model of Winged Figure, 1961-2

Following the war, Hepworth felt an increasing need to be part of Britain’s post-war reconstruction and was all the more keen to take her art out of her studio and into the public view. In 1961, Hepworth was approached by John Lewis, alongside six other artists, to propose designs for their new Oxford Street store. The work needed to channel ‘the idea of common ownership and common interests in a partnership of thousands of workers’. Hepworth was interested in the store’s cooperative ethos and submitted the Winged Figure as her second proposal. The final Winged Figure hangs outside John Lewis on London’s Oxford Street, but you can see the full scale prototype at The Hepworth in Wakefield.

The work was gifted to The Hepworth through the Art Fund.


5

Marie Spartali Stillman, A Wreath of Roses (A Crown of Roses), 1880

Marie Spartali Stillman was born in London to a distinguished family and was widely recognised as one of society’s greatest beauties. She very quickly became a muse to the artists who attended her father’s extravagant dinner parties. But Spartali Stillman wasn’t satisfied as a model – she longed to be a painter. Inspired by Shakespeare and Italian poetry, she rose to prominence within the very male Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The painting is part of the Poetry in Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman exhibition at the Watts Gallery until 5 June, 50% off with a National Art Pass.


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