NMWA opened officially on April 7, 1987, with the premiere of a major exhibition titled American Women Artists, 1830-1930. Assembled by distinguished scholar and lecturer Dr. Eleanor M. Tufts, the inaugural exhibition featured 124 paintings and sculptures created by American women artists during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Dr. Tufts divided the show into five categories: portraits, genre paintings, landscapes, still lives, and sculptures. She states, “American Women Artists, 1830-1930, is both the inaugural exhibition for the first museum in the United States devoted solely to women artists and the first major traveling exhibition of American women artists. It seems appropriate to open this National Museum of Women in the Arts to show one hundred years of achievement on the part of American professional painters and sculptors. The span 1830 to 1930 has been chosen in order to commence with and feature that leading family of early 19th century artists, the Peales of Philadelphia, and to include the first signs of abstraction in the paintings of Katherine Dreier and Agnes Pelton in the 1920s.”
The exhibition includes such acknowledged masters as Mary Cassatt, the only American ever to exhibit with the Impressionists at the Paris Salon exhibits and Georgia O’Keeffe, considered one of the most prominent and successful American artists of the 20th century. Three paintings by Cassatt, Woman and Child Driving (1881), Susan on a Balcony Holding a Dog (circa 1880), and Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878) will be on view.
In addition, a great number of lesser-known artists are featured, furthering the museum’s goal of recognizing previously overlooked women artists of exceptional stature.