Women in Art: Late 19th Century and Early 20th Century (Revolutions and War)


This module covers the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and deals with some major changes in art and society, aptly visualized by artists such as Susan Eakins, Sonia Delaunay, and Hannah Höch. We will cover women from Post-Impressionism up through those artists who pioneered and advanced the various avant-garde movements.


  • late nineteenth century–gender and social class
  • spaces of femininity
  • early twentieth century–European modernism
  • the avant-garde and fashion
  • war and women’s art
  • the Bauhaus and equality issues
  • the Weimar era and the "New Woman"
  • Dada, Expressionism, and the reaction to WWI:
    • Expressionist Prints: Käthe Kollwitz
    • Dada photo collage: Hannah Höch
  • America and the Great Depression: Dorthea Lange


By end of this module, you should able to

  • discuss women’s positions concerning gender during these periods, and the political and social movements toward change at this time
  • list the women painters, photographers, sculptors, collage, and textile artists and their works
  • describe what made some women artists professionals, while others did not achieve more than amateur status
  • analyze content and technique
  • discuss fashion as art
  • determine how the Great Wars affected art, design, culture, society, religion and gender roles

Fashion as Art

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971)

Coco Chanel was a highly respected and emulated fashion designer. In other modules,representations of the female body, the avant-garde, and fashion of the early twentieth century are important themes when discussing women in the history of art. Although an influential designer, she was affiliated with the Nazi Party

  • Vogue: In this site, produced by Vogue magazine, there are several sections which are relevant to Chanel.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

John Ruskin and William Morris began the Arts and Crafts Movement. This movement was dedicated to bringing craft, aesthetic sensibilities, and emotion back into a world where industrialization had sucked much of these qualities from the products that it produced. Their main belief was that in paying attion to such qualities in objects, value is added. They similarly looked to the Medieval era and artifacts such as manuscript illumination as their inspiration.

For women, the Industrial Revolution provided the concept of a division of labor, and women soon found a place within industry to aid in the development of artistic objects and in arts education. Quickly schools developed with a focus on training women in the arts to fill the demand for skilled craftswomen. Leading the way within the Arts and Crafts Movement in Glasgow were the MacDonald Sisters. In the United States, artists like Alice C. Morse worked with numerous designers and contributed to major events like the World's Columbian Exposition held in 1893.

Further reading:


Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)

Delaunay and her husband, Robert, pioneered a new form of Cubism based on the interactions of colors.


Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial Sheet of Karl Liebknecht, 1919-20

Käthe Kollwitz's emotional and graphic art was stimulated by Gaugin and Munch’s work in woodcuts and prints. She mostly worked in the print media. Her prints recall earlier religious motifs in stark expressive contrast. She demonstrates a personal connection to her themes as she demonstrates the grief that would come of such a situation.


Hannah Höch (1889-1978)

Another artist of the Dada, Hannah Höch, expressed herself though photomontage. Her images are often satirical and chaotic compositions meant as commentaries on the Weimar Republic of Germany.

Cut with the kitchen knife demonstrates the importance of appropriation and use of mass media. She utilizes images of Marx, Lenin and other revolutionary figures to place them into “The great Dada world.”

The Bauhaus Women

Documentary Photography 

Dorthea Lange (1895-1965)

Migrant Mother, Nipomo Valley, 1935

In 1929 the United States Stock Markets crashed beginning the Great Depression. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissioned artists under the Federal Art Project to allow them to continue their creative output. Dorthea Lange was among those hired by the Resettlement Administration to photograph the situation of the rural poor. The images she took in Nipomo depict migrant workers who were starving because the crops had frozen in the fields. Migrant Mother took on an iconic status. As Lange states,

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I remember she asked me no question. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction… There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her and she seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me ("Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother: Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection, An Overview," Library of Congress).

Within days of publication, food was rushed to the area by people touched by the image.


Other Resources

Late 19th Century Womens Dresses

Artists Resource for Early 20th Century Women Artists

Women Artists: Early to Mid 20th Century

Visions of the Orient: Western Women Artists in Asia 1900-1940

Women Artists: Early 1900-60's



First, read the assigned Resources covering turn of the century women.

• Open this web site: http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/women-artists-20th.html--Early-Mid 20th Century Women Artists.

• After looking through a number of these links, choose one artist we have not touched on before. Be sure to select one that another student  has not posted already. 

• With your artist in mind, select 1 topic below to discuss using your readings from the posted Resources: 

1. Gender/social class 

2. European Modernism

3. The Avant-garde and Fashion

• Write a short paragraph (about 75-100 words) about this artist and post 1 of her images.

• After looking at the other students' initial posts, select one that you think would make a good comparative study with your artist's work. 

• Write a simple statement in response to that student's post as to why you think this is so bearing in mind that a comparison discusses the similarities between the 2 works. 

Show php error messages