Women: 3. THE PRIME OF LIFE before 1900

Representation of of women expanded at the Renaissance from portraits of the Virgin Mary, of women religious and of high-born women to include women in classical myth and legend. 



It was the early-to-mid nineteenth century before  ‘ordinary’ women came into the frame going about their ‘ordinary’ lives, a move to which the Impressionists, the Nabis and others gave momentum.



Analysis in the late 20th century of the unrealistic and freighted depiction of non-white women in European painting is one of  the sources of  Colonial studies which continue apace.



Here some secular paintings of real  women, and women in myth and in genre paintings.







Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic, 170-200 CE, tempera on linen. 

Perhaps from Antinopoulos, Egypt.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



She brought to mind the last Ethiopian empress (Itegue) Menen Asfaw:


 Menen Asfaw, 1889-1962, Ethiopian.  Wife of Haile Selassie I, by whom she had three sons and three daughters; granddaughter of King Mikael of Wollo  Last empress of Ethiopia.

  Undated photo from the web. 

  A pious woman of very great kindness.  Affianced three times and married twice, her life illustrates the institution in which women are the means by which kin groups seal their relationship with each other.

  Worldwide system since time immemorial, this defines the function of a woman’s life to child-bearing alone and sharply limits the development and scope of a woman’s agency years before she can reach her intellectual and emotional maturity. 

The institution is extant still and one aspect of it continues in ‘advanced’ societies in which the right to abortion remains a contested subject.




Mask of a Woman with a Large Coil of Plaited Hair, plaster, plaint, glass-inlaid eyes; reign of the Emperor Hadrian, 117-138.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY






Portrait of a Woman, tempera on wood, thought to be 1430s.

  Paolo Uccello, 1397-1475, Italian (Florentine).  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY






Portrait of a Woman, no date given, tempera on wood. 

Attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo (Piero di Jacopo Benci), 1441/42-1485/96), Italian (Florentine).  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





Portrait of a Lady, oil on panel, 1460.

Roger Van der Weyden, 1399/1400-1464, Netherlandish.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC






Ginevra de’ Benci, oil on panel, and detail, front and reverse, c. 1474-78. 

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519, Florentine.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 

Thought to have been commissioned by a platonic admirer of the lady whose reputation was that she was as learned as she was beautiful.






A Mourning Woman. c. 1480, oil and tempera on panel. 

Attributed to Ercole de’ Roberti, active 1473-96, Italian(Ferrara).  The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore 

Known to be closely related to a fresco, since destroyed, in a church in Bologna of the Crucifixion.






Laura Battifiori, oil on panel. c. 1560. 

Bronzino.  Museo di Palacio Vecchio, Florence loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021


A celebrated poet whose first book of poetry was dedicated to the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Laura Battifiori (1523-1589) had a platonic relationship with Bronzino with whom she exchanged lyric verse. 

This relationship was self-consciously modeled on that of the poet Petrarch and his beloved Laura.







A Lady in Her Bath, c. 1571, oil on panel. 

Francois Clouet, 1522-1572, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





Portrait of a Lady, 1577-80, oil on wood panel. 

Attributed to El Greco, Spanish born Crete, 1541-1614.  Philadelphia Art Museum














The Nine Muses, and details above , 1578, oil on canvas.

Tintoretto, 1518-1594, Venice, Italy.  Loaned by Queen Elizabeth II to an exhibition in 2019 at the National Gallery, Washington DC






Gondola Cup, lead-glazed earthenware, early 17th century, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria, 1606, oil on canvas.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, Flemish.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





Girl with a Flute, oil an panel, 1665-75. 

Attributed to Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-75.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC




Seated Woman Holding a Fan, 1717, red, black and white chalk. 

Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1684-1721, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY




The Red Shoes (Mrs. Harme Gansevoort), oil on linen, 1737-1740.  John Heaton, 1692-1748,  American.  Winterthur, Delaware







The Well-Loved Mother, 1765, pastel with coloured chalks on light golden brown paper. 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 

A preparatory study of a rarely represented pose: a woman taken aback by the expression of love from her children. 

The frame is surmounted by a ‘pelican of piety’, a centuries-old emblem of the self-sacrifice and love of women for their children.




A ‘pelican of piety’  showing a pelican wounding herself in order to feed her brood; embroidered in silk on silk on a bedcover, Britain or France, 1800’s. 

Wintherthur Museum, Delaware







The Love Letter, early 1770s, oil on canvas. 

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1732-1806, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY reminds that this is a genre painting and not a portrait.







Study Head of a Woman, c. 1780, oil on wood. 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY







Elizabeth Farren and detail, (born c. 1759-1829), Irish actress later Countess of Derby, 1790, oil on canvas. 

Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769-1830, British.   Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





Josefa de Castilla Portugal y van Asbrock de Garcini, (1775–about 1850)

Goya, 1746–1828, Spanish.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY







Self-Portrait, c. 1781, oil on canvas. 

  Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, 1755-1842, on long-term loan from the Kimbell Museum of Art to the National Gallery of Art, DC





Comtesse de la Chatre (1762-1848), oil on canvas.

Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, 1755-1842. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





Venus Rising From the Sea – A Deception, c. 1822, oil on canvas.

Raphael Peale, 1774-1825, American. Loan to the Jewish Museum, NY by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MI in 2020. 

A painting so different from the artist’s work that it took 100 years and a thorough cleaning to reveal authorship.











Odalisque with Slave and details, 1842, oil on canvas. 

Jean-Auguste- Dominique Ingres, 1780-1867, French.  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland



Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French




Retreat from the Storm, 1846, oil on canvas

Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY




Breaking Flax, 1850-51, oil on canvas. 

Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French.  The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore from whose website this is




Shepherdess Seated on a Rock. 1856, oil on wood. 

Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY







Autumn Landscape with a Flock of Turkeys, 1872-73, oil on canvas.

Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY




The Goat Girl, c. 1868, pastel on paper (with light interference)

Jean-Francois Millet. Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French.  Philadelphia Art Museum

One of a number of sketches made during a trip to the Auvergne region of France.




Woman Sewing by Lamplight, 1889, oil on canvas.

 Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875, French. The Frick Collection, NY from whose website this photo











African Venus, 1851, bronze and gold. 

Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier, 1827-1905, French.  The Walters Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland







Peeling Onions, 1852, oil on canvas.

Lily Martin Spencer, 1822-1902, American. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester exhibited in 2015 at the Philadelphia Art Museum.






Portrait of Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825-1860), oil on canvas, 1851-1853. 

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres,1780-1867, French.  Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

The last of this artist’s portraits, the subject died of tuberculosis not long after it was painted.






The Third Class Carriage, 1862-64, oil on canvas. 

Honore Daumier, 1808-1878, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





May Margaret, 1865-66, oil on canvas (light interference)

Frederick Sandys, 1829-1904, British.  Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington






Ex Voto Breasts, pigmented wax, late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian. 

This is a surrogate, often cast from the body (parts) of the worshipper, which served as offerings of gratitude or as prayers for divine intervention.  They were deposited in churches and were periodically condemned by the Roman Catholic church as a superstitious remnant.  This example is from Bari in Italy, late 19th century.

On exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2018






Woman Ironing, oil on canvas, 1876-87. 

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, French.  National Gallery of Art, NY






Hanging the Laundry out to Dry, oil on canvas, 1875. 

Berthe Morisot, 1841-1895, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





Reflections, black and red chalk on textured paper, 1871. 

Frederick Sandys, 1824-1904, British.  Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington. 

An actress who became the artist’s common-law wife, mother of his ten children, raised under a different name from his.






Madame Camus, oil on canvas, 1869/70, and detail. 

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, French. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC







A Courtyard in Venice, 1877, oil on canvas. 

William Merritt Chase, 1849-1916, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum







Two Profile Heads of a Young Woman (Naslah), 1878, oil on panel. 

Leopold Carl Muller, 1834-92, Austrian.  Baltimore Museum of Art






Portrait of the Artist, 1878, watercolour, gouache on wove paper laid down on buff coloured wood-pulp paper. 

Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, American. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

One of two self-portraits, this was made a year after Edgar Degas invited Cassatt to exhibit with the Impressionists





Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883-1884, oil on canvas. 

John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925, American.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.  Detail photo is from the net.

Disparaged for the boldness of the sitter’s stance and for her scandalous reputation, the artist sold this portrait to the Met in 1916.








Morning, 1884, oil on canvas. 

Louis-Joseph-Raphael Collin, 1850-1916, French.  Philadelphia Museum of Art





A Woman from Bern, Switzerland, 1887, oil on canvas. 

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, 1852-1929, French.  Philadelphia Museum of Art







Study of Lilia, oil on canvas, 1887. 

Carolus-Duran, 1817-1917, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





La Berceuse (Woman Rocking a Cradle; Augustine-Alix Pellicot Roulin, 1851–1930), oil on canvas. 

Vincent Van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY from whose website this photo. 

The artist painted five portraits of the sitter, the wife of his friend, the postmaster of Arles. He offered her whichever she wanted and when she picked this one, he said she had picked the best.




Intimacy, 1890, Conte crayon. 

 Theo Van Rysselberghe, 1862-1926, Belgian.  ?Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY








The Dawn of Labor, c. 1891, oil on canvas. 

Charles Maurin, 1856-1914.  Loaned by Musee d’art moderne et contemporain, Saint-Etienne metropole, France to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017.

This painting was presented in the first Salon of the Rosicrucians. 

It is about the harsh conditions in and unequal distribution of the profits of mining whose output was fueling the economic growth represented by the factories in the background.  The woman on the horse is Lady Liberty.




Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French



Woman in the Garden of Monsieur Forest, 1889-91, oil on canvas.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





The Streetwalker, c. 1890-1891, oil on cardboard. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Her name is not known.  Her nickname was La Casque d’Or,  She is sitting in the garden of the artist’s neighbour in Montmartre




A Montrouge: Rosa La Rouge, 1886–1887, oil on canvas. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia






In the Salon, 1893, pastel and oil on paperboard. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French. Thannhauser Collection at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York





Emilie, late 1890’s, oil on wood.  

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY












Miss Amelia Van Buren, oil on canvas, 1891. 

Thomas Eakins, 1844-1916, American.  The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC



Amelia van Buren, c. 1893-1897, platinum print taken by a member of the circle of Thomas Eakins. ?Philadelphia Museum of Art






The Seed of the Areoi, 1892, oil on burlap.

  Paul Gaugin, 1848-1903, French.  MOMA, NY





The Children’s Meal, 1895, oil on cardboard.

Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY





The Album, 1895, oil on canvas. 

Edouard Vuillard, 1868-1940, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY


The largest of five paintings together called The Album after the focus of this painting.  The five were commissioned by in 1894-95 by Thadée and Misia Natanson for their Paris apartment which also served as an office for La Revue Blanche, a short lived but influential journal of the arts originated by Thadée Natanson.






Madame Thadée Natanson (Misia Godebska, 1872–1950) at the Theater, oil on cardboard, 1895,

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

Stage hands are bringing down the curtain on a magazine, L’Estampe Originiale (1893-95), on this last edition to be printed.





Rosa Luxembourg, 1871-1919, German of Polish Jewish descent in a  photograph (public domain) from 1895-1900. 

Influential intellectual, socialist, political and anti-war activist for the welfare and rights of the working class, she was imprisoned and tortured for her work and killed, extrajudicially, in prison with Karl Liebknecht, her colleague and comrade in arms.

150 years this year since she was born.





Portrait of Lucy Lewis, 1896, oil on canvas. 

Thomas Eakins, 1844-1916, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum

  An unusually gracious portrait by an artist whose portraiture style was warts and all.






Two Women on the Shore, 1898, woodcut. 

Edvard Munch, 1863-1944, Norwegian.  MOMA, NY






Madame Bonnard, 1895-1900, oil on cardboard. 

Edouard Vuillard, 1868-1940, French.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC





Woman in Pink (c 1900), pastel

Edmond Aman-Jean, 1858–1936, French. Private collection.  This image taken from a post on the blog ‘Eclectic Light Company’.  Wikimedia Commons








5 thoughts on “Women: 3. THE PRIME OF LIFE before 1900

    1. Thank you, Luisa, for taking a look! I hope you noticed that, except for one painting – The Woman at her Bath – I am avoiding nudes, even of beautiful women. There are so few male nudes and until there are more, I think I have had enough of seeing women stripped of clothing!

  1. These are, of course, amazingly diverse readings of women in their variety of moods, functions and past times. I am always struck at how men patiently catch the details of what they consider such a mysterious subject.
    Thank you for this collection

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