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West, Shearer, and . Gender and Portraiture

2004, In: Portraiture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 144-161.

Summary: The gender of both artist and sitter needs to be taken into account when considering the history of portraiture. Explores how and why women were often portrayed in certain roles (as goddesses, historical or religious figures, allegorical embodiments of abstract notions). Discusses why many women artists before the 20th century were portraitists and considers a few examples. Also highlights changing notions of masculinity in portraiture.

Comment: Useful in aesthetics classes discussing portraiture, depiction and representation, as well as philosophy of gender classes discussing representations of women.

Artworks to use with this text:

Lotte Laserstein, Self-Portrait with Cat (1928) vs Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)

Both portraits were painted in 1920s Germany by artists linked to the New Objectivity art movement. Still, there is a notable difference between the 'objective' view of the male artist and the subjective self-image of the woman artist.

Elizabeth Siddal, Self-Portrait (1854)

There's a marked contrast between the unhappiness and fatigue visible in this self-portrait and the beauty and eroticism in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix (c.1862) in which he transfers the ideal qualities of Dante's Beatrice into the real portrait of Siddal.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as "La Pittura" (c. 1630)

It could be said that the artist is complicit in the tendency of portraitists to generalize their women subjects as she embodied herself as the allegory of Painting. Nevertheless, Artemisia does not show herself in an idealized way and by self-consciously manipulating a set of conventions makes a unique contribution to the corpus of self-portraiture.