Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Recent decades have witnessed an intense interest in the role of women in the art of the past. Scores of museum exhibitions have been devoted to the work of women artists, and scores of monographs have examined the contributions of women to our artistic heritage.
As is common in the humanities, however, the scholarly attention devoted to the role of women artists has been qualitative rather than quantitative. As a result, we now have a large amount of scholarship that analyzes the contributions of individual women artists, or of particular groups of women artists, but we do not have studies that provide systematic evaluation of the relative importance of different women artists. This chapter will begin to remedy this deficiency.
Specifically, this chapter will investigate the question of which women made the greatest contributions to art during the past century. Women played a far greater role in the art of the twentieth century than in any earlier time. So for example the third edition of Nancy Heller's Women Artists, published in 1997, a textbook written “to provide a richly illustrated overview of some of the most interesting professional women painters and sculptors in the Western world, from the Renaissance to the present,” devotes fully 144 pages to the twentieth century, substantially more than the total of only 97 pages devoted to all earlier centuries. This concentration is a product of the fact that the twentieth century witnessed, in Heller's words, “a profusion of women artists.”