Of all the famous painters you can think of, how many are women? Four? Five? Well, until my recent visit to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, I could only think of two: Kahlo and O’Keeffe (which is just as well, as their paintings stand side-by-side in the museum).
Housed in an elegant, century-old former Masonic temple on New York Avenue in Downtown Washington and celebrating its 25th anniversary, the museum opened in 1987 as an outgrowth of the private art collection of Wilhelmina and Wallace Holladay, who noticed a dearth of women painters amongst the classical canon of artists revered and studied in America. Over 4,000 paintings, scuptures, and objets d’art from the 16th century to the present are on display or in the vault of the museum, the only one solely dedicated to the work of lady artisans from around the world.
As a man of color, I appreciated learning about how women had been kept out of the field historically, either by deliberately sexist educational policies, social convention, or financial limitations. I also appreciated the museum’s attempt at including the work of artists of color, like Harlem Renaissance painter Lois Mailou Jones, Pamunkey Indian Georgia Mills Jessup, and contemporary black artist Chakaia Booker. It’s a good start.
The museum’s temporary exhibitions are also eye-catching (when I visited, “Royalists to Romantics” honored French artists like the prolific portraitist Henriette Lorimier and impressively-named Adrienne Marie Louise Grandpierre-Deverzy), as is the unique sculpture garden running up the median of New York Avenue. What a way to infuse art into life!
So, on your next trip to DC, guys and gals, make sure you stop through the National Museum of Women in the Arts and brush up on your artsy ladies.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS
1250 New York Ave NW
Washington DC 20005-3970