18th–19th Century

Sarah Bernhardt, Après la tempête (After the Storm), ca. 1876; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

To succeed as professional artists in 18th- and 19th-century Europe and the United States, women still had to navigate gender-specific artistic and social hierarchies.

For most of the period, art education and professional recognition for women remained separate and unequal to that of their male peers. In late 18th-century France, the prestigious Académie des Beaux Arts limited female membership to four; the Royal Academy of Arts in England had only two female founding members. Nonetheless, many well-trained and sought-after women artists flourished in this period.

Not until the second half of the 19th century did women artists make significant progress, especially in France. More art schools opened their doors to women, prominent dealers represented them, and public institutions acquired their work. 

In the United States, women gradually became a force on the American art scene, winning prestigious commissions and awards. They participated in notable exhibitions, taught in art schools, and wrote as art critics. Many traveled abroad, and their works served as conduits for new styles in painting, printmaking, and the newest artistic medium, photography. 

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