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The Rise and Struggle of Women in The Art World

30 September 2021 - 2 December 2021

10.45 – 12.45 Thursdays

£63.00 – £416.00

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Coffee, tea and biscuits are included on arrival and during half-time break


Over the centuries numerous artists have disappeared for a number of reasons, usually because they were not fashionable. But some have not only vanished, they have been deliberately excised from the historical record. Their crime? They were women. But if we explore this rich seam, we can see that these artists not only flourished, but were commercially successful.

This series will focus on eight significant women with the aim of reviving their histories. They not only achieved remarkable careers, they did so while battling violence, ridicule, corruption and just being ignored. From the Renaissance through to the modern period, we will explore their fascinating lives, look at their works and the critical reception of these works.

We will also explore the society and context in which they worked, their motivation and inspiration and the demand which drove their careers when the world dismissed them. How they survived is only now being revealed.

“Leslie is extremely good at focusing on relatively unknown artists and placing them in the context of their time”

Course Outline

30 Sept 2021 – Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) Family and the Bolognese tradition in Art

We will look at the life, familial ties and influences as well as the prosperous background which helped develop this female Renaissance artist at a time when women could only aspire to marriage. What set Lavinia Fontana apart from other women and why was she allowed to succeed in a man’s trade? Her work will also be discussed in the light of Renaissance masters such as Raphael and Titian.

7 Oct 2021 – Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625) A Renaissance Heroine, a Baroque Legend

How did the painter Sofonisba Anguissola, from minor nobility, present herself and her work as an artist compatible with her status. We will examine the relationship with her father and family and why they became potent subjects for her art. Early ambition to succeed, even to surpass men, and her constant itineracy will be discussed as well as her association with Michelangelo and recognition by Giorgio Vasari, which made her such a phenomenon.

14 Oct 2021 – Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654) A Life Less Ordinary – The Making of an Artist

In an era of violence, desperation, naked aggression, open and rampant misogyny, we will look at the troubled life and ambition of Artemisia Gentileschi. Growing up in the shadow of Caravaggio and her artist father, this lecture will begin with her early works and the constant struggles against the patriarchy that would eventually lead to her rape. How did this harrowing event impact her paintings and what was her close association with the Caravaggisti style and her treatment of female anatomy. We will also look Artemisia’s time in England and her recently acquired work by the National Gallery.

21 Oct 2021 – No Lecture

28 Oct 2021 – Mary Beale (1633-1699) A Woman Ahead of Her Time in Restoration Britain

Mary Beale was one of the most prolific and commercially successful British portrait painters of the late 17th century. A professional artist who was so successful that she became not only the financial provider for her entire family but also employed them in her business. What was it like to be a woman artist in Restoration Britain? This will be explored through her relationship with other women artists such as, Joan Carlile (c.1606 -1679) and Susan Penelope Rosse (c.1655-1700). We will discover how a woman with no formal training, no connection to an artist guild and no royal or courtly patronage managed to succeed. How did she paint the ‘great and the good’ and why was she recommended by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680)?

4 Nov 2021 – Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) An International Artist in C18th England

Although born in Switzerland, Angelica Kauffman went on to become a great British Neo-Classical artist, with a reputation equal to her male contemporaries. We will look at her training and paintings and also the influence on her of Italian painting, the great Renaissance masters and Dutch painting. Thorough the use of documentary evidence in the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive, we will chart her rise to fame on the Continent, and her association with the most famous figures of the age including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 –1832) and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).

11 Nov 2021 – Mary Moser (1744-1819) A Professional Artist in a Man’s World

Although very successful in her time, there is little in writing about this artist. Her paintings are rarely displayed even at the Royal Academy despite being the other woman founder member of the Academy (along with Angelica Kauffman). We will look at Moser’s background and training and also at the times she lived in, her successes including her great friendship with and commissions of work by Queen Charlotte. Also explored will be Moser’s professional relationship with artists such as Reynolds, Romney, Nollekens and Fuseli.

18 Nov 2021 – No Lecture

25 Nov 2021 – Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) The Radical Modernist

In our modern world of digital photography and digital lectures it is sometimes difficult to envisage just how revolutionary Impressionism was. You will see how radical Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) really was and what can, and always happens when artists, especially women, do not do as we expect. She exhibited in seven of the Impressionist exhibitions and we will explore her move away from traditional subjects and her relationship with the medium of the paint. We will also trace the roots of the opposition to the new with the rampant negative criticism of her work. But what will become apparent is that this shock, or what would later be seen as stunning effects, became the engine of change and a modernity that would eventually be called Impressionism.

2 Dec 2021 – Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) Trail-Blazing Pioneer – The Artists’ Artist

In this final lecture we will bring the series into the near contemporary world by looking at the artist Dame Laura Knight who manged a number of firsts: the first woman to become a full Academician, the first solo exhibition by a woman at the Royal Academy and the first woman to paint a self-portrait that included a nude woman. We will explore her early life and training, her association with the Newlyn school in Cornwall, her interest in and inspiration by marginalised communities and individuals, including Gypsies and circus performers, and her time in America where she experienced harsh segregation. We will also examine the work she produced during the first and second world wars and her association with the Nuremberg Trials. Finally her lifelong association and interest in the theatre will be discussed.


30 September 2021
2 December 2021
£63.00 – £416.00
Course Category:


Leslie Primo


The University Women’s Club
2 Audley Square
London, London W1K 1DB United Kingdom
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