Women Artists of the Nineteenth Century

Armand Cabrera
I teach painting workshops a few times a year. Men and women attend my classes, although the majority of my students are women. Over and over again, women ask me this question:

Why don’t I write more historical articles on women painters?

I would like to offer my opinion and give a little historical background on women artists in the nineteenth century.

Most of the articles I write are about deceased artists. My focus is outdoor painting, which did not become an accepted genre till the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. At that time it was not acceptable for women to make a living as an artist. Even if women could overcome the social stigma of choosing art as a profession, they were only permitted a limited level of instruction— curtailing their chance of producing art at the level at which to compete with men of the era.

In doing research on women painters of the past, I have been confronted with many obstacles. Some are based on a societal bias toward women that still exists today. The biggest dilemma is a failure to represent good women painters in museums. In addition, there is a serious lack of literature about women who successfully overcame obstacles of their time to become the artists they strived to be. I hope as more and more women gain standing in academic circles, society will focus on women painters and bring these women’s stories to light.

As a person who struggles daily with the stigma of being an artist, I find these individual stories compelling. It is unfortunate that many of the texts that are written about women artists seem to carry with them a political agenda. Academically trained women painters seem to get short shrift by contemporary woman authors who want to look at them with disdain for continuing a style the authors consider male-centric.

Another setback in finding information on women artists is my own artistic bias. Because I have little interest in modern art, I find myself indifferent to many of the recognized women masters creating modern art. The style of paintings I am most drawn to are painters who work from life and are academically trained and embrace a sort of Academic Impressionism, if you will.

Many women have bypassed this particular style– which makes perfect sense historically. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th Century that women were allowed to enjoy the full benefit of classical art instruction. If a woman decided to become an artist, she would probably follow modern art, which had won acceptance.

By the early 20th Century, sales of academic work had plummeted—one more reason for young women artists not to embrace Academic or Impressionist styles. I know there were exceptions, but there is very little written documentation to support them.

I have spent the last 4+ years writing for the website, Outdoorpainting.com. Now, on my personal blog, I continue to try to ferret out a sufficient amount of information about women artists whose work I admire. It is frustrating, to say the least. There are very few books devoted solely to an individual woman’s work, which makes my search even tougher. I am given limited resources to research these stories and rely heavily on books, catalogs and magazine articles for my data. Going forward, I promise to include the stories of these talented women as often as I can.

Just for fun, can anyone name the nine women artists that are represented in this article?

I will post their names in a few days.

Valentin Serov

by Armand Cabrera

Valentin Serov was born on January 7, 1865 In Saint Petersburg. His father Alexander Serov was a composer and music critic and his mother Valentina was a pianist. Serov’s father died when he was 6. His family moved to Munich and then Paris and at 9 Serov took lessons from Repin at his Paris studio learning to draw from casts and paint from life.

His family returned to Russia a year later first to Kiev then to Moscow. In Moscow Serov resumed studies with Repin for two more years. In 1880 Repin sent Serov to the Academy in Saint Petersburg for formal training under Pavel Christiakov. Serov studied at the Academy for five years.

In 1889 Serov married Olga Trubnikova.
He won a medal for his portrait of Angelo Masini in 1890 at the Moscow Society of Art Lovers. In 1897 he began teaching at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. In 1900 Serov received the Grand Medal of Honor at the Paris World Exhibition for his portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich.


Serov is considered the first Russian Portraitist to break from academic tradition and adopt a modern style. He worked as an impressionist using his academic training as an anchor for his expressive handling. His paintings captured the character of the sitter with bravura brushwork and strong sensitivity to color and shape over detail. He quickly became a much sought after portraitist.


Serov’s portraits have an immediacy and intimacy to them they seem to be snapshots of a moment in time with the sitter. This seemingly casual approach and required much effort on the artists part and his paintings often took weeks and sometimes months to complete.

Valentin Serov died in Moscow on November 22, 1911 at the age of 46.


Valentin Serov
Dimitri Sarabyanov and GrigoryArbuzov
1982 Aurora Publishing

The Itinerants The masters of Russian Realism
Elena Nesterova
1996 Aurora Publishing



Any human face is so complex and so unique that you can always find in it traits worthy of portrayal be they good or bad. For my part, each time I appraise a person’s face I am inspired, you might even say carried away, not by his or her outer aspect which is trivial, but by the characterization it can be given on canvas.~ Valentin Serov