History’s Heroines

Berthe Morisot – la Grand Dame of Impressionist Art

Bethe Morisot
photo courtesy: theartstory.com

Bertha was born in France to a wealthy family of great artistic abilities. Her father was a skilled architect and her mother hailed from one of the greatest Rocco painters of the time; her great-uncle, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Education was greatly valued in her family, though, while her brother could go to school, Berthe and her sister were educated at home by a tutor. As part of their studies, the girls had lessons in art and went weekly to the Louvre Museum to paint copies of the master works there. Bertha would continue this through adulthood eventually becoming a certified “copiest” with the museum. 

While there, Berthe met many upcoming artists including: Corot, Monet, Degas, (who would become a close, life-long friend,) and Eduard Manet, whose brother, Eugene, would later become her husband. Her later work was greatly influenced by these new friends, though she would come to create a style all her own by incorporating oil paint, watercolors, and pastels in combination with the long brush strokes and unfinished edges of the Impressionists. Ms. Morisot sketched extensively before painting, and, unlike her peers, would use transfer paper to “transcribe” the image to her canvas before painting. The technique allowed her to paint whole faces and bodies in one brushstroke. 

Berthe Morisot’s, The Cradle
photo courtesy: britanica.com

Though she had shown her early work to great acclaim in the highly esteemed Paris Salon, by 1874 she was showing exclusively with the Impressionists and became not only known as one of three “grand dames” of the movement, but in certain art circles, “the only Impressionist with any talent.” 

Berthe Morisot’s, Summer’s Day
photo courtsey: nationalgallery.org.uk

Her subjects included scenes of daily life and the people who lived them. She also favored landscapes, gardens and flowers as she liked to paint “en plein air”  (outside). 

Some of her paintings include; The Cradle, The Reader, and A Summer’s Day 

Bridget Riley – “Op” Artist

photo courtesy: theartstory.com

     Bridget Riley 1931 – Present

Bridget Riley is considered one of the founders and leaders in the genre of Optical Illusion art, otherwise known as, “Op Art.” Born into a family who supported her from an early age, Bridget had an extensive art education and later worked as an art teacher. She was  greatly inspired by Seurat. Much of the work she produced early in her career is in the style of Seurat’s Pointillism. 

     By the 1960’s, however, she began to experiment with line, shape, and color. She wanted to develop her own, unique artistic style that would evoke an emotional and physical response in those who viewed her work. Using her background in Pointillism, Bridget painted pieces that created movement and dimension so that her work seemed to “vibrate” on the canvas. 

photo courtesy: studiointernational.com

In 1968, her black and white Op Art paintings won the coveted Venice Biennial Prize. She was the first female to attain the award. After that, she began experimenting with color, again referencing the complementary colors used by Seurat. Her success lead her to be considered the most prominent painter in the American Op Artist  Movement. Her work greatly inspired the fashion and art worlds of 1960’s London. 

“Blaze” – photo courtesy: The Guardian

Ms. Riley continues to work today, splitting her time between London and France. Her work can currently be seen at the Tate Modern in London and The MoMa in New York.  

Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe 1887-1986

    Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her oversized paintings of flowers, animal skulls, and colorful dessert landscapes. The natural world was one she quite familiar with, having grown up as one of seven children on a Wisconsin farm. Taking art classes after school, she loved to draw the natural world around her. 

     By the age of twelve, she knew she wanted to pursue art as a career. After completing high school, Georgia attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but had to leave, due to illness, after only one year. Upon her recovery, she continued her education in Virginia, and later New York. Her early career was fraught with so many disappointments and challenges, however,  that O’Keeffe gave up painting for four years. It was her professor at Columbia University, Arthur Weasley Dow, that encouraged her to come back to art. He taught her to develop a style all her own; one that incorporated both the abstract style she loved with the realism of the subjects she painted. He encouraged her to recognize the importance of composition, telling her to “fill the space in a beautiful way,” and to use shapes and colors in unexpected, emotion-filled ways. By the late 1920’s she moved, with her husband, famed photographer, Alfred Stieglitz to New Mexico, where she connected immediately with the beauty of the landscapes there. She would live in the dessert oasis for the rest of her life. 

     Her contributions to abstract and modern art were so significant that she is consider the “Mother of Modern Art,” and was the first female to gain respect as an American Artist in New York’s art circles of the early Twenty-First Century. 

Some of her paintings include: Oriental Poppies, Soul with Calico and Roses, Red Canna, and Black Iris. 

photo courtesy: crfashionbook.com

Maya Lin – Artist, Sculptor, Designer


Maya Lin

1959- Present

     Maya Lin was born in Ohio to a family immersed in the arts. Her father was a ceramic artist, and dean of the Ohio University College of Fine Arts, and her mother, a poet, and professor of Literature at Ohio University. Like their mother, Maya’s brother, is also a poet, while her aunt, a skilled artist herself, is considered the first female architect in contemporary China.

With an undergraduate degree in the Arts and a Master’s in Architecture, Maya’s own artistic sensibilities seem a natural balance of her family’s talents. Each sculpture and monument she creates tells a story, meant to draw the viewers attention to the narrative she has set forth to tell and to evoke an emotion resulting in inward reflection or, with her more recent pieces, action. The concepts of her work, like the pieces themselves, are significant in size and purpose and have been from the start of her career. 

In 1981, Lin entered a blind design contest for the creation of a memorial in honor of Vietnam Veterans and won. When her identity as a young, inexperienced woman was revealed however, her victory was contested. Maya defended her design in front of the United States Congress eventually winning the right to proceed with her design for the memorial. She went on to design a number of other memorials, including the Civil Right Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and The Women’s Table on the Yale University campus. 

In recent years, her work has focused on climate change and its effects upon the depletion of waterways, the natural environment, and the endangerment of animals. In each piece, she uses recycled, upcycled or sustainable materials. 

Her work can be seen around the world as near as San Francisco’s de Young Museum, on the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Oregon and Washington,  and as far as Sweden where she did an earthwork entitled “Eleven Minute Walk.”

She currently lives and works in New York. 

photo courtesy of myhero.com


Maria Merian – Entomologist and Botanical Illustrator


Maria Sybell Merian 

German Scientific Illustrator 


     Maria Merian is considered to be one of the greatest entomologists and botanical illustrators of all time. Her discoveries in the field of entomology were groundbreaking at the time and dispelled many popular misconceptions about the lifecycle of insects. Her classifications of caterpillars and butterflies are still used today. 

     Maria’s father was an engraver and book publisher. He taught his children all he knew about the art of engraving, a skill Maria would use later as an adult. When he passed away, Maria’s mother re-married an artist who taught Maria how to paint still life’s. Maria loved to paint and draw, especially the natural world around her. 

      As a young girl, she was very interested in plants and insects. She caught and raised as many silkworms and caterpillar varieties as she could recording the way they transformed through each stage of their life cycle. She would eventually record the lifecycles of 186  different species. As an adult, she would travel the world with her two daughters drawing and painting many plant and insect species previously unknown to scientists at the time. 


Maria published four books on her scientific observations of the lifecycles of both plants and insects; two of which centered upon the metamorphosis of caterpillars. Of her designs, she made 60 copperplate engravings, over 250 paintings, and numerous books of botanical embroidery patterns. Her paintings are held in the Royal Collection, her likeness was featured on the 500 Deutschmark bill, and on a stamp. Numerous school in Germany are named in her honor, as are a ship, a spider, a bugle-lily and a butterfly.  

This post was taken from my “Famous Female Artist” series for primary grade art students.

Madame de Pompadour – Artist, Mistress, Trend Setter

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, may be best known as King Louis XV's Chief Mistress. But she was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson a.k.a Madame de Pompadour ; 1721- 1764

photo courtesy WYPR


She was born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson but is most recognizable by the name given her by King Louis XV; Madame de Pompadour. Groomed since childhood for the job, Jeanne gained a position in the court of King Louis XV in 1745, rising through the ranks to Duchess in 1752 and eventually to “lady-in-waiting to the Queen” by 1756. The latter was the highest, most noble position a woman could attain in the court. She was also a close friend, advisor, and confidant to the King, and held so much influence over him that many considered her the prime minister. In that capacity, she was responsible for hiring and firing within the court, and also held much influence in domestic and foreign policy decisions.

Apart from politics, however, Jeanne was a great champion and patron of the arts. It is she, who is considered responsible for making Paris the cultural capital of the world. As a “minister of the arts”, she hosted parties, plays, musical performances, and outings for the royal family and court. She was also responsible for the construction of the famed Sévres porcelain factory, sponsored a number of court painters and lobbied for the publication of the first encyclopedia. She decorated the Versailles palace with such opulence that many considered it a flame that would stoke the coming French Revolution. 


“Amour” engraving Photo courtesy britishmuseum.org

She was herself was also an artist. Bringing drills and other implements of her trade into her Versailles apartment, she at first, drew suspicion. Later it was learned that she was actually making art in her room! Jeanne sketched, engraved, and make jewelry. Overall, she made 52 engravings of miniature scenes and of animals, which she then carved into cameos and semi-precious gemstones many of which were then made into necklaces and bracelets. A portfolio of her original etchings was recently found and are now on display at the Walters Museum in Baltimore, MD.

photo courtesy of npr.org

                       photo courtesy of npr.org

Caroline Weldon – Painter and Sioux Advocate



Susanna Faesch (Caroline Weldon)

Dec. 4, 1844 – March 15, 1921

Photo courtesy of Greenwood Cemetary

The Industrial Revolution brought significant cultural, geographical, and technological change to the United States in the latter half of the 19th Century. At the same time, the discovery of gold in California pushed white settlement across the vast, Native, continent.

While some benefitted greatly from both these situations, minorities of gender and race would be denied the respect of equal treatment under the law for decades, if not more than a century, to come.

It was this very cultural premise that was the catalyst for the choices that would shape Caroline Weldon’s life. Susanna Fasch (who would later changer her name to Caroline Weldon)was born in Switzerland in 1844 and would immigrate to the United States with her mother a few years later. The two settled in Brooklyn, New York, where her mother married a doctor. In the years to come, Susanna, too, would also marry a doctor. Her marriage, however, was unhappy and short-lived. After Susanna “ran away” with a married man, Susanna’s husband divorced her. To compound a problematic situation, Susanna became pregnant and bore her lover a son named Christie. After the child’s birth, however, the lover went back to his wife, leaving Susanna to raise the child alone.

At this time in history, for Susanna to bear the dual societal labels of “divorcee” and “single mother” made her a social outcast. Laws of time, forbade her the right to re-marry, a power her ex-husband retained and which also prevented her from obtaining any support in raising the child. During this time, Susanna combined her talent as a painter, with her interest in the recent political movements regarding the Lakota-Sioux Tribe.

As white westward migration progressed, a social debate ensued about the rights of Native Americans. The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 had created and pushed Native Americans onto government-controlled lands. The country became split in their support of this action; some believed it to be a threat to the U.S. to allow these tribes to maintain their culture and traditions. In opposition to this belief, the National Indian Defense Organization (NIDO) was founded. The foundation of the group was to protect and uphold the tribes’ sovereignty through U.S. law.


sitting-bull-4Sitting Bull by Caroline Weldon

photo courtesy of history.com

In 1887, the Dawes Act was passed into law. This Act divided native lands into individual plots which were then given to individual indigenous families. In exchange for the land, the individuals/families had to register on the Dawes Rolls and allow their children to be assimilated into white culture and educational systems. That same year, settlers living in the Dakota Territory sought to enact a similar law. Seeing the devastation it had wrought upon the Cherokee Tribe, and by then herself a member of the NIDO, Susanna contacted Sitting Bull, Chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux Tribe. Through a series of back and forth communications, Susanna sent the Chief letters and maps explaining the Sioux Bill proposal and the effects it would have upon the tribe.

After two years of communicating with Sitting Bull, Susanna and her son boarded a train bound for South Dakota. The Chief was sick when she arrived, now bearing the name Caroline Weldon. Ever gracious; however, he left his sick bed to meet her. Throughout the following years, she became his assistant, tribal representative, advisor, and interpreter. Though they were never romantically involved, she and Sitting Bull became quite close. During her time on the reservation, she painted four portraits of the leader, two of which still exist today. Her work with the tribe and active opposition to the Sioux Bill gained her many enemies within the U.S. Government. Local government officials vilified her in the press. She had become as much an outcast among white settlers in South Dakota as she had been in New York.

Tensions between the government and the tribe were at an all-time high when a religious movement called Ghost Dance swept through the area. It was purported that the songs and dances of Ghost Dance would make the white men disappear. Suspicious, Caroline (Susanna) warned Sitting Bull that in allowing the tribe to do the Dance, they would become considered agitators in open defiance of the U.S. and would, therefore, would become targets of aggression. The two disagreed and Sitting Bull allowed the Dance to continue. Caroline and her son left the reservation in a painful farewell. Within a year, Caroline’s foretellings came true when the government attacked the tribe in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Sitting Bull was arrested and killed. Around the same time, Caroline’s son, Christie died in a riverboat accident in South Dakota.

Alone, she returned to Brooklyn, where her social acceptance had not improved, and thus she fell into obscurity. The Sioux Bill passed, and the tribe was devastated. Through it all, Susanna risked her life to do what was right for others despite the effects it had on her own life. She spoke out for those whose voices were, at the time, seen as negligible.

Her life’s work has been written about in poems and plays, as well as a movie, Woman Walks Ahead, released in 2018. The North Dakota Historical Society holds one of her surviving Sitting Bull paintings, while in Little Rock, AR, the Historic Arkansas Museum, holds the second.


#carolineweldon #womanwalksahead #sioux

Louise Lemaire Chéruit – First Lady of Fashion


Louise Lemaire Chéruit 

1866 Paris – 1955

photo courtesy of alchtron.com

     Louise Lemaire Chéruit was born in Paris to a seamstress mother, just before the onset of La Belle Époche, a time of great optimism and prosperity. Louise’s mother taught both her and her sister, Marie Lemaire Huit, the fine art of dressmaking – a skill that would later lead Louise to be considered to be one of the greatest female courtiers of all time.

Coming of age in the 1880’s, at a time when the great Impressionists, Monet, Degas, Renoir, et al, were revolutionizing art, Louise and her sister were doing the same in fashion. It was then that the sisters took positions at Raudnitz et Cie, a prominent courtier fashion house in Paris. The two rose quickly through the ranks and by 1895, the sisters’ names were embroidered on the labels sewn into the house’s clothing. Just five years later, Louise and Marie took over the company, and thus the labels were again changed to read: Chéruit and Huit, Srs, formerly Raudnitz and Co.

With a company with over 100 employees and a prominent location in the Hotel Fontpertuis, Paris, Madame Chéruit was well on her way to success. Her client lists bore society’s top names and her shows were among the first to feature live runway models.
Her design style was fashion forward and lead the trend from Victorian to Belle Époche to the Jazz Ages, including her creation of the famous “Flapper Dress.” The House of Chéruit thus became one of fashion’s preeminent designers. Along with her contemporaries, in 1912, Louise worked collaboratively to create La Gazette du Bon Ton, the industry’s first fashion magazine, featuring Art Nouveau illustrations of the designers’ latest creations. She is also credited with launching the career of the now famous Paul Poirot.

La Gazette du Bon Ton photo courtesy of Circaa

           La Gazette du Bon Ton
          photo courtesy of Circaa

When war hit, in 1914, Madame Chéruit was one of the only houses to remain open. It was during this time that she met an Austrian man of noble birth with whom she fell in love. It was an affair that not only destroyed her almost twenty-year marriage to Prosper Chéruit, but would also cost her reputation, and empire. Her lover, being a high-ranking officer in the Austrian military was accused of being a spy for the German’s. Rumors soon spread of Chéruit’s involvement with the Austrian, and she too was thus accused of being a spy.

While the accusations were eventually proven false, Chéruit’s career was over. By 1915, she had sold the House of Chéruit to Madames Wormser and Boulanger who brought their own perspective to the company’s design style. Louise continued to design for the company for the next ten years behind the scenes, however, her taste for the opulent was no longer the leading trend in the post-war City of Light. She retired in 1923 fading into somewhat obscurity after being one of fashion’s greatest icons. In 1935, designer Elsa Schiaparelli took over the House of Cheruit’s 98-room studio and showroom.

Though the magazine is long out of print, La Gazette du Bon Ton can still be found in many local libraries. Louise’s legacy also lives on in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Vile Bodies.
Madame Chéruit passed away in 1955.


Salon at House of Chéruit

By unidentified photographer – L’Illustration (magazine)

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