5 Groundbreaking Women Artists

For Women’s History Month we are highlighting 5 of the women whose portraits you can currently see in our exhibit, Groundbreaking Girls featuring the art of Allison Adams.

Frida Kahlo

“Passion is the bridge that takes you from pain to change.”


Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter, known for her surreal and very personal works, many of which were self-portraits. Kahlo suffered from significant health problems for most of her life. At the age of six, Kahlo became ill with polio, which permanently damaged one of her legs. At eighteen, injuries suffered in a horrible bus accident left her immobile. Frequently bedridden, she endured a life of great physical pain while becoming a prolific painter. Two of her most famous paintings, The Two Fridas (1939) and Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), reflect the deep emotional tones she expressed in her art.

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”


Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for her paintings of large flowers, animal skulls, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. She created images using charcoal, oil paint, and watercolor. O’Keeffe was considered an important American modernist painter for her abstract versions of reality. Her focus on shape and color brought attention to tiny details of everyday objects. Her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946 was the museum’s first retrospective of a woman artist’s work. She was known for her independent spirit and was considered a role model in the art world.

Dorothea Lange (1895–1965)

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”


Dorothea Lange was a photographer whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced documentary photography. Lange began her career as an independent portrait photographer in San Francisco. At the onset of the Depression, she focused her attention on documenting living conditions of poor migrants in rural areas. In 1935, she was hired by the Farm Security Administration and, through her photography, brought the struggle of displaced farmers, migrant families, and sharecroppers to the public’s attention. Lange’s most famous photograph, Migrant Mother (1936), effectively portrays the harsh reality for many mothers and their children during the Great Depression.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

“I am independent! I can live alone and I love to work.”


Mary Cassatt was one of the leading artists of the Impressionist movement in the later part of the nineteenth century. At the age of sixteen, she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but found the male professors and students patronizing. She left the program to study at the Louvre in Paris. In 1868, one of her paintings was accepted at the prestigious Paris Salon, an annual exhibition run by the French government. After a time, she joined the avant-garde Impressionist painters and began to enjoy a new success in their group. Her work captured moments of women and children in contemporary life, utilizing oil painting, drawing, pastels, and printmaking. Cassatt was influential in bringing Impressionism to the American art scene.

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)

“You can’t expect things to be smooth and easy and beautiful. You just have to work, find your way out, and do anything you can yourself.”

Imogen Cunningham was a self-taught American photographer. She attended the University of Washington to study chemistry, and eventually the chemistry behind photography. Shortly after graduating in 1907, she received a grant to study photographic chemistry in Dresden, Germany, where she discovered new methods of platinum photo printing. After her time in Dresden, Cunningham settled in San Francisco and focused on her photography career, most notably her close-up, sharply detailed works of plant life and other natural forms. She worked for Vanity Fair magazine, and later ran a portrait gallery and taught at several California art schools.  



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