Women Picturing Women

Online Special Loan Exhibition with the Loeb Art Center, Vassar College

Highlights from the forthcoming exhibition 

Women Picturing Women : From Private Spaces to Public Ventures


Organized by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, the forthcoming exhibition Women Picturing Women: From Private Spaces to Public Ventures studies the key themes that emerged when selecting only images of women by female artists. In this exhibition from the permanent collection, women artists from the seventeenth century to the 1960s frequently communicated the idea of an intimate or sheltered enclosure, even though they participated in a more public arena to show or even make their work. Other women artists relayed the idea of venturing into a public place, or into the public, intellectual world of a narrative found in religion, mythology, or social critique. The exhibition looks at works through these private and public lenses, with the circumstances of the artist, her training, and the content of the work in focus. The display includes drawings, paintings, samplers, prints, sculptures, and photographs, and is featured here with the drawings in the exhibition.

Portraits appeared frequently in this survey, as did domestic scenes. Indeed, the idea of the domestic sphere held great sway from the eighteenth century into the twentieth century, subverting an earlier regard and interest in women’s intellect. Female artists imagining harmonious episodes in the outdoors propelled them to make peaceful, sometimes fantastical landscapes, a genre that was almost always tied to domestic situations. On the other hand, some artists embraced opportunities for entering into the fray of contemporary discourse, areas considered to be more suitable for the interests of men. Women Picturing Women ends just before the 1970s, when the feminist movement began casting a brilliant light upon art made by women. The exhibition and forthcoming catalogue receive support from the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Exhibition Fund.

Patricia Phagan
The Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

...women artists from the seventeenth century to the 1960s frequently communicated the idea of an intimate or sheltered enclosure, even though they participated in a more public arena to show or even make their work.





In 1907 American illustrator, cartoonist, and painter Hilda Belcher rendered this Gibson Girl-like figure, showing that the artist was well aware of the college-educated, ambitious, young single New Woman of the era. Belcher showed the drawing at the New York Water Color Club to much acclaim, and it won her membership into the club. To compose the work, she used her memory of the pose and dress of a Mrs. Hagan, the face was that of her friend Georgia O’Keeffe, and she imagined the hair and setting. Belcher trained at the New York School of Art with American Impressionist William Merritt Chase and realist Robert Henri.

....it would be a revolution, I would even say a catastrophe."





French Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot masked a portrait of her niece Paule Gobillard (1867-1946) with strokes of brilliant white pastel, insinuating a shower of dazzling outdoors light. In the mid-nineteenth century, French girls and young women of the upper classes learned how to draw through a private drawing master.

Joseph-Benoît Guichard (1806-1880) taught the young Morisot and cautioned her mother that she and her sister would become “painters, not minor amateur talents. Do you really understand what that means? In the world of the grande bourgeoisie in which you move, it would be a revolution, I would even say a catastrophe.”

A painter associated with postwar Rome and 1950s New York, Titina Maselli used flat poster-like colors, minimalist images from nature and pop culture, and suggestions of pulsing artificial light to create brilliantly painted, large, patterned abstractions in the 1950s and 1960s that are antithetical to this smaller, quieter drawing. Actually, the full face and crown of curled dark locks compare well with images of the artist, and so this drawing may be a self-portrait. Born in Rome, Maselli painted as a young girl, encouraged by her parents and family friends. In 1952 she moved to New York and showed at Durlacher Brothers shortly afterward with exhibitions there in 1953 and 1955.





The young Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller (1909-1992, on the left) and her sister Helen Hooker O’Malley Roelofs (1905-1993, on the right), pose as torchbearers for a pageantry-filled dedication ceremony in a study from 1924 for The Donors, a painting by Violet Oakley commemorating the funders of Vassar’s Alumnae House. A rare female amid American beaux-arts muralists, Oakley painted and decorated the Alumnae House living room in Trecento fashion. She trained at the Art Students League, Académie Montparnasse, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Drexel Institute, all during the 1890s.

Female artists imagining harmonious episodes in the outdoors propelled them to make peaceful, sometimes fantastical landscapes, a genre that was almost always tied to domestic situations.





Alice Neel experienced a tug-of-war between painting or focusing on a family. Here she painted a moment between herself and her baby daughter Santillana in this self-portrait from 1927. The infant was born in Havana in late December 1926 to the newly wed Neel, and died in New York almost one year later in a period of dire poverty for the artist. Embracing her like a sixteenth-century Madonna, Neel painted her child in an almost lifeless state. Only two-and-a-half years out of art school when she rendered this work, Neel had trained in Philadelphia at the School of Industrial Art and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Working in the art colony of Woodstock, New York, after World War I, painter Rosella Hartman made drawings, lithographs, and oils of cozy encounters between animals in the local countryside, adding people infrequently. In 1933 a couple has joined their Siamese cat in a drawing she made of the threesome in front of rushing falls tumbling into a small pool. Makeshift walls of rocks enclose them in a shelter-like niche. Born in Kansas, Hartman trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League. She married sculptor Paul Fiene in 1923 after meeting him at the League’s summer workshop in Woodstock.





Before the twentieth century, academies and art schools restricted most women artists from drawing the male nude, a cornerstone of history painting, for a long time the highest category of art. To counteract this, Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman, an avid student of history while growing up in Italy, took advantage of rendering the female form and referencing female subjects in her neoclassical works. Drawn in London, this supple sheet is a preparatory study for her painting, Electra Giving Her Sister Chrysothemis Her Girdle and a Lock of Hair from Orestes for the Grave of Agamemnon (private collection), of ca. 1778.





In her letters home from Vassar in 1869-70, Elba Huffman wrote frequently about Dutch painter Henry Van Ingen (1833-1898), the head of the Art Department. Van Ingen recognized Huffman’s artistic talent, and praised her “good eye for proportion, light and shade.” In the spring semester she described being “promoted” by him to the Art Gallery where she set up an easel one day and was busy “putting on crayon with one hand while stumping with the other.”  This drawing, believed to be from her school days at Vassar, pictures what appears to be a cast of the goddess Diana. The young student drew carefully with feathery crosshatches, light outlines, and shadowy smudges of charcoal.

Marion Greenwood drew this study in New York with thick sweeps of conte crayon for a mural at a new market in Mexico City. With its polemical imagery, the drawing belongs to the era of proletarian art of the early 1930s. Greenwood found uncensored artistic freedom in Mexico with this and earlier mural projects there. However, when she engaged first-hand with the project in Mexico City, she ultimately revised her mural design. Born in Brooklyn, Greenwood studied at the Art Students League and the Academie Colarossi, an art school formed in the late nineteenth century in Paris where women could attend by 1900.

Women Picturing Women will be on view at The Loeb Art Center from February 6 – June 13, 2021. 

Visit the Exhibition Page on the Loeb Art Center Website

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
124 Raymond Ave
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

All images included in this Special Exhibition Viewing Room were provided courtesy of The Loeb Art Center at Vassar College.


The Loeb Art Center would like to thank Delaney Caballero, Karen Casey Hines, Sheryl McMahan, Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, and Margaret Vetare for their contributions to these virtual exhibitions.