“Old Mistresses” Receiving More Recognition

Female artists have not been celebrated as much as their male counterparts in art history. However, according to an article by The Art Newspaper, some of these talented women are starting to be more widely recognized in the art world.

There has been an effort over the last few years to give these “Old Mistresses” a much deserved opportunity to shine. Recently, more female artists, including Vigée Le Brun, Peeters, Carlile, Gentileschi, and others have started having their work displayed in prominent art museums and having their own exhibitions.

Santa Caterina de’ Ricci by Suor Plautilla Nelli Credit: The Art Newspaper

Even though many of these women were successful while they were alive, they have faded into the background, but by failing to acknowledge and study them for so long, the world has missed out on a great deal of beauty that resulted from skill and determination.

An art dealer named Bendor Grosvenor who bought a piece by Joan Carlile at an auction for a low price in 2014 and resold it to the Tate, told The Art Newspaper that “It is sometimes the case that female artists, because they were obliged to operate outside the usual systems of patronage and study, painted in styles that [look] less like their peers.” The fact that they operated outside of those systems also contributed to their lack of recognition.

Currently, there is not a very large supply of known work by female artists before the 20th Century, but the article notes that female artists’ lack of prominence may mean that many have not been recognized yet. There may be much more work by known artists and many new artists to discover.

Linked in this post

The Art Newspaper Article

Featured image (self portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun) credit: The Met

About the Author: Mara Blackwood

Mara Blackwood is the executive editor of RedDotBlog


  1. I think these images are beautiful. I agree wholeheartedly that women artists are not acknowledged as are their male counterparts–either then, or now. I must have missed it somewhere, but what is the attribution of the first painting?

    I have an interesting situation in my own career. I am a woman with a man’s name. If the person viewing my work online doesn’t look further into my history, education, etc., they wouldn’t know I am in fact, a woman!

    Lebanon, OR.

      1. I wish it HAD had some significant positive effect on my career. I do think that men have a slight advantage over women as far as being regarded as a ‘serious ‘ artist, a remnant of earlier time. I’m a figurative painter (nudes) and for some reason people seem surprised when they come to realize I’m a woman. Sexism? I don’t know.

    1. The first painting is a self portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. The photo came from The Met, which is linked at the bottom of the article, but it doesn’t look like they attribute it on the linked image page, so I’ll take a moment and add that attribution. Thank you for pointing out that it was missing.

  2. Old Mistresses??? Either an artist (regardless of gender) masters their art or they don’t… they don’t “mistress” it.

    1. “Old Mistresses” is a term used at The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. There is actually a very interesting reason they use the term, which is explained in the Art Newspaper article linked in this post. I agree that one masters art regardless of gender, but in the context of this news summary article, “Old Mistresses” fits the theme of these talented women who have been forgotten over time.

  3. I’ll read the article but my first thought was that long ago women were sometimes referred to by Mistress. Mistress Smith, Mistress Jones, etc. ?

  4. Women artists were always important, just not usually recognized as being so. I thought the article title had to do with the pun, as in “miss”-tress. i.e. they were foolishly “missed” in being recognized for their skills and talents. They always had the skills and talents, just that “society” missed recognizing their contributions.

  5. I do not use my first name when I sign so people sometimes do not know if a painting is created by a male or female when they look at my work. I do this primarily because my name is so long. I did have an interesting reaction once when I had someone viewing an old truck painting of mine in a gallery ask the question, who is this Wadsworth-Smith guy! I said that guy would be me. Do I think that we as women have a tougher time being taken seriously as artists? Yes, I do think in some cases that is sadly still true, but we need to look at ourselves as the professionals we are and work harder to become known for our creative body of work not our gender.

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