Women in Art: 19th Century


This module opens with the Victorian Era, a period of much social change. Women artists played significant roles in a variety of ways and there were many of them by this time. The most famous female artist in the nineteenth century was Rosa Bonheur. This was author George Sand's era as well. Her real name was Amandine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin. These two French women were highly celebrated and took to wearing men’s clothes, which then was considered outrageous. Other women in the arts took a more conservative approach. In contrast with Europe, it appears that American women had more rights in the nineteenth century. Needlecraft and textiles, still typically thought of as women’s work, remained the dominant mediums especially during the first half of the 1800s.


  • moral reform
  • American art in the nineteenth century
  • Women in photography–Clementina, Lady Hawarden, Emily Osborn, Rebecca Solomon
  • Rosa Bonheur–painter of animals
  • Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler)--Depictions of war
  • the symbolism of Black Beauty
  • book illustrations
  • abolition and the suffrage movement
  • sculpture–Harriet Hosmer, Anne Whitney, Edmonia Lewis, Vinnie Hoxie
  • public and private spheres
  • sex, class, and power in Victorian England


By end of this module, you should able to

  • discuss women’s positions concerning gender and race during this period, and the political and social movements toward change at this time
  • list women painters, photographers, sculptors, and textile artists of the era
  • determine the differences between the European and American women artists’ works and their unique influences and experiences
  • recognize the styles of the era


Women artists in nineteenth-century France

This Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History site features several Women Artists in Nineteenth–Century France. It includes an extensive thematic essay with supportive links plus a slideshow of several paintings.

Women Artists: 19th Century

Women Artists: Sculptors beginning with the 19th Century


Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

Bonheur was trained by her father and painted mostly animal subjects, such as Plowing in the Nivernais (1849) and Sheep in the Highlands (1857). She exhibited frequently in the Paris Salon, the official exhibition sanctioned by the French Royal Academy and won a gold medal in 1848.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Berthe Morisot Villa at the Seaside, 1874

The impressionists also welcomed several female artists into their circle. The female artists escaped criticism and were said to have “sensibility, grace, and delicacy” associated with their femininity. Berthe Morisot painted many outdoor leisure activities and especially the seaside that had become a popular destination due to the availability by train. Her subjects and style deal with impressionist concerns. Her paintings also demonstrate the plein air, or outdoor painting, and the lighting is typical of impressionist works as they looked to light as regulatory of form.

Cecelia Beaux and Mary Cassatt

Cassatt and Beaux had much in common. They each had French blood: Beaux’s father was from Avignon, Cassatt’s ancestors on her father’s side were French Huguenots from Normandy. Both Cassatt and Beaux spoke fluent French, which might just seem like an interesting coincidence, but then, they both found success in Paris art circles, which is no small thing for an American. (American Girls Art Club In Paris. . . and Beyond)

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Another of the women working within the Impressionist movement, the American Mary Cassatt was greatly influenced greatly by Degas. She exhibited regularly with the Impressionists, but her subjects were limited due to personal restrictions of family. She principally depicted women and children. Her compositions also often incorporated flattened patterning and compositional devices that recall Japanese art.

Eva Gonzales (1849-1883)

Gonzales was from a wealthy background and was trained by Edouard Manet as his only student. Her work, such as A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens (1874), shows her connection to Manet.


Early Photography

Lady Clementina Hawardan

Hawardan was one of the first female photographers in Britain.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)


Julia Margaret Cameron became one of the most famous portrait photographers of Victorian England. She produced portraits of many famous people and also many women. Ophelia Study no 2 creates a theme much like painting. The blurred focus adds to the dream-like quality. As she sometimes sought to photographically produce fictional characters, she tried to keep a visual distance from the idea of exact reality.


Camille Claudel

Claudel was a pupil of Auguste Rodin and although she was a talented sculptor, for many years she was only known as Rodin's model and lover. The Age of Maturity or Destiny, c. 1902 is one of her most impressive sculptures.

Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)

Lewis was one of the first professional African-American sculptors. She studied art at Oberlin College, but had to leave before graduating after being falsely accused of attacking her white roommates. She moved to Boston and then to Europe, setting up a studio in Rome. Very few of her works have survived.




For this week, select 1 artist from our Resources and briefly (1-2 paragraphs) discuss: 

• Social movements and/or home life that influenced her art. 

• How she became a professional artist.

• For interest, please select a different artist from those already posted. Place the name of your artist in the Subject field.

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