(In Brief) Women Among Men
A list of women whose careers were overshadowed by those of the men in their lives.
Perle Fine was an Abstract Expressionist who produced works in multiple modes of abstraction during the 50 years of her prolific career. Fine’s artistic training began in her teens, when she studied illustration and graphic design. Her instructors included Kimon Nicolaides, Hans Hofmann, Robert Blackburn, and Pruett Carter. In her own time, she would often go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy her favorite painters: Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Though she considers herself foremost a painter, Fine also experimented with etching, collage, and drawing. Though her brushwork became looser and heavier with time, Fine was always recognized for her ability to create visual rhythms using geometric forms, colors, and lines.
Dora Maar’s artistic career is often overshadowed by her role in Pablo Picasso’s work, as both his frequent model and muse, and the documentarian of the making of his Guernica (1937). Maar had an active and respected career as a photographer and Surrealist artist. As a prominent member of the Parisian avant-garde, her friends and lovers included Georges Bataille, Yves Tanguy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and André Breton. Maar had originally studied painting but turned to photography after modeling for Man Ray’s photographs. She oeuvre includes portraits, nudes, landscapes, fashion photographs, and photomontages—the last of which frequently featured strong architectural elements and narratives. Among Surrealist circles, she was applauded for her sensitive understanding of the movement’s emphasis on naturalism. Maar also wrote poetry.
The epigraph of Hedda Sterne’s New York Times obituary read, “the Artist of Many Styles.” Sterne, a prolific painter whose career spanned 65 years, was most closely associated with the Abstract Expressionists, although she painted in a variety of styles ranging from Minimalism to Surrealism. She explained that her work oscillated between figuration and abstraction without describing preference for one style over another: “Sometimes I react to immediate visible reality and sometimes I am prompted by ideas.” Grids and visual repetition were recurring motifs in her works, particularly in those that related to themes of urban life. Throughout her career, she also produced portraits of her close colleagues, including Barnett Newman and John Graham. Sterne was the only female artist among the group of 18 Abstract Expressionists known as “the Irascibles.”
ELAINE DE KOONING
The wife of Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning was a prolific and versatile painter, writer, and teacher. Though she was closely linked to the New York School and Abstract Expressionism, de Kooning eschewed developing a singular style and instead painted in a range of modes from realism to abstraction. “Style is something I’ve always tried to avoid. I’m more interested in character,” she said. The subjects in her work also varied, including mythology, landscapes, and portraiture; a later body of work was inspired by the cave paintings in Lascaux. She studied widely with different artists including Milton Resnick, Stuart Davis, and Raphael Soyer. De Kooning also spent time at Black Mountain College, where she designed a stage set for Merce Cunningham and John Cage.