Cover image for Painting professionals : women artists & the development of modern American art, 1870-1930
Painting professionals : women artists & the development of modern American art, 1870-1930
Swinth, Kirsten.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xv, 305 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

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ND210 .S93 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Thousands of women pursued artistic careers in the United States during the late nineteenth century. According to census figures, the number of women among the ranks of professional artists rose from 10 percent to nearly 50 percent between 1870 and 1890. Examining the effects of this change, Kirsten Swinth explores how women's growing presence in the American art world transformed both its institutions and its ideology.

Swinth traces the careers of women painters in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, opening and closing her book with discussion of the two most famous women artists of the period--Mary Cassatt and Georgia O'Keeffe. Perhaps surprisingly, Swinth shows that in the 1870s and 1880s men and women easily crossed the boundaries separating conventionally masculine and feminine artistic territories to compete with each other as well as to join forces to professionalize art training, manage a fluid and unpredictable art market, and shape the language of art criticism. By the 1890s, however, women artists faced a backlash. Ultimately, Swinth argues, these gender contests spilled beyond the world of art to shape twentieth-century understandings of high culture and the formation of modernism in profound ways.

Author Notes

Kirsten Swinth is assistant professor of history at Fordham University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Swinth (Fordham Univ.) establishes the ways that women painters achieved parity with men from 1870 to 1930. In formulating the identities of women artists, Swinth's discourse reveals women's ties with the academic tradition, art schools in France, and with the Gilded Age as barometers to judge their expanding careers. As women conflicted with well-established male hierarchies (in the trade, in exhibitions, and eventually in creativity), the author follows another path. She demonstrates that the liberating effects of modernism, with its emphasis on "self-expression," led women to break away from gentility or the straitjacket of the academic tradition to reveal their own identities. Swinth's clearly written text, developed from a doctoral dissertation, ably charts the way two generations of women painters evolved in the US. In obtaining critical attention, in gaining access to the art market, women demonstrated, in increasing numbers, that they were determined to pursue active careers. Though the book often does not consider specific works of art--it would have been twice as lengthy to do so--it provides a significant cultural history that identifies the parameters for further study by cultural and art historians. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through professionals. E. K. Menon Purdue University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1. Thousands upon Thousands of Girl Art Studentsp. 12
Chapter 2. Illustrious Men and True Companionship: Parisian Studyp. 37
Chapter 3. Selling Art in the Age of Refinementp. 63
Chapter 4. The Gendered Making of a Modern Market Systemp. 99
Chapter 5. Wielding the "Big Stick" in Art: The Rhetoric of Art Criticismp. 131
Chapter 6. Modernism and Self-Expressionp. 163
Epiloguep. 201
Appendix Tablesp. 207
Notesp. 213
Bibliographyp. 263
Indexp. 289