Review of “Women Painters: Four Centuries of Struggle” (2015)

Moving picture, 52 minutes

Seen in 2020.

The careers of Sofonisba Anguissola (1532–1625), Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1652), Rosalba Carriera (1673/1675–1757), Angelika Kauffmann (1741–1807), Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803), Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768–1826), Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) and Bertha Morisot (1841–1895).

It’s very well presented by a series of expert interviewees and repro, full of gorgeous art and juicy facts, like Bonheur’s official permission to wear pants. There’s humour in it, too; just watch the opening vector animation over da Vinci. Alas, the usual weaknesses of this type of documentary are present. The artists are mainly French, because this is not a documentary about women painters ca. 1500–1900; it’s a documentary about women painters who were the most famous among the secular upper classes of France in that period. Focusing on the oppression of sex, the makers preserve the oppression of class and nation, mentioning the oppression of race only in regard to Benoist’s Portrait of Madeleine (1800), and then only as the technical problem of painting dark skin.

In 1905, Walter Shaw Sparrow edited Women Painters of the World. He may have been the first to cover the same topic as this documentary over the same period, starting just a hundred years earlier, in the 15th century. Every single one of the artists covered in any depth by this documentary was covered by Sparrow. The documentary doesn’t mention this, nor does it go into detail on how it is that women were and stayed marginalized despite efforts practically identical to the documentary itself.

References here: Faktafel på SVT Play.

moving picture non-fiction