Culture December 17, 2016
Not being recognized for your art is bad enough … but what about having to watch your more-famous husband being revered for his?
Museums across the world have opened new exhibits featuring the work of female artists stuck in the shadow of their famous husbands. These women have produced some of the best art of the 20th century but have remained behind the scenes while their husbands received acclaim. “At some point, these women cease to be referred to only as So-and-So’s wife,” says Biography. “Their accomplishments become as defining, or even more defining, than their choice of marriage partner.”
Here are five admirable ladies who supported their husbands’ career choices but were cast aside when their partners gained success.
Elaine’s husband, Willem de Kooning, is known as the best abstract expressionists of his era. Since he received much of the spotlight, Elaine was pushed back in the shadows. For this reason, the National Portrait Gallery released one of the largest exhibitions of her work as a way for her to gain back popularity and create “a new image.”
Elaine was commissioned to paint President JFK – her most important work, and went on to become a significant figure in the expressionist movement.
Already a well-known artist by the time she and Jackson married, Lee had trouble keeping her identity as an artist first and a wife to Jackson second.
Even though she was the one who introduced Jackson to accomplished artists such as Willem de Kooning, people immediately dismissed her work in favor of Jackson’s. Lee, along with Elaine, nurtured her husband’s drinking problem and had to live with the fact that his work got more recognition.
Although Marguerite and William had a more equal partnership, William was more loved by art critics and the public. He was also credited with moving into the Modern era earlier than most expressionist artists at the time.
William admired Marguerite’s “wild” style of art, but her parents did not. Marguerite’s work was poorly received in California, so she and William decided to collaborate and move on to the Armory Show. When William shifted to sculpting instead of painting, he gained even more recognition and moved up the ladder while Marguerite was left behind.
Sally worked as a freelance artist while Milton was able “to paint full time, attend the Arts Students League and find his mature style.” He is considered “one of the most distinguished American modern painters of the 20th century” by many.
The couple worked together in a studio in New York, and Sally’s only solo show was in 1981 at the Waverly Gallery, although there are permanent collections of her work at the Met and other museums.
The couple’s old cottage on Mill Pond proudly announces that the late expressionist artist Arthur Dove one lived there, but does not mention his wife. For decades, Helen had been in the backseat of Arthur’s career as he gained recognition and popularity.
The Heckscher Museum in Huntington, which has long recognized Helen’s work, was looking to fix that. With its exhibit entitled “Out of the Shadows: Helen Torr, a Retrospective,” that focuses on Helen’s brilliant pieces of art, the museum is fixing the popular belief that Helen’s work was just a spinoff of Arthur’s.
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