The Mirror and the Palette
Her story weaves in and out of time and place. She’s Frida Kahlo, Lois Mailou Jones and Amrita Sher-Gil en route to Mexico City, Paris or Bombay. She’s Suzanne Valadon and Gwen John, craving city lights, the sea and solitude; she’s Artemisia Gentileschi striding through the streets of Naples and Paula Modersohn-Becker in Worpswede. She’s haunting museums in her paint-stained dress, scrutinising how El Greco or Titian or Van Dyck or Cezanne solved the problems that she too is facing. She’s railing against her corsets, her chaperones, her husband and her brothers; she’s hammering on doors, dreaming in her bedroom, working day and night in her studio. Despite the immense hurdles that have been placed in her way, she sits at her easel, picks up a mirror and paints a self-portrait because, as a subject, she is always available.
Until the twentieth century, art history was, in the main, written by white men who tended to write about other white men. The idea that women in the West have always made art was rarely cited as a possibility. Yet they have – and, of course, continue to do so – often against tremendous odds, from laws and religion to the pressures of family and public disapproval.
In THE MIRROR AND THE PALETTE, Jennifer Higgie introduces us to a cross-section of women artists who embody the fact that there is more than one way to understand our planet, more than one way to live in it and more than one way to make art about it. Spanning 500 years, biography and cultural history intertwine in a narrative packed with tales of rebellion, adventure, revolution, travel and tragedy enacted by women who turned their back on convention and lived lives of great resilience, creativity and bravery. This is a dazzlingly original and ambitious book by one of the most well-respected art critics at work today.
In The Mirror and the Palette Jennifer Higgie celebrates 20 women artists who defied the odds and broke taboos to present themselves, and their female perspective on the times they lived in, to the world * CHRISTIES * Superbly researched and elegantly written . . . a fascinating study in the defiant and determined creativity of women that was so lamentably actively erased by official art histories . . . gloriously readable and deeply intelligent -- GRISELDA POLLOCK Self-portraits are the most seductive of visual art forms; the control a painter exerts over their own makes it function as a piece of communication, a declaration, or an invitation to take them apart even more interesting. The audacity of female portraitists in an art work historically inclined towards painting them as objects and muses makes many of the works covered in this book - especially pre-20th Century - explosive in their muted, mysterious, inventiveness. The Mirror and the Palette reminded me immediately of the best kind of Antonia Fraser reading experience: knowledgeable and richly researched but written with an intuitive, sympathetic eye for the most humanising details of personalities we know only as cultural icons, or not at all. Higgie's own quiet but persistent presence as a reader and a looker in these sinuous little biographies is also the courage of the researcher who really cares about her subject and can turn dry information into the kind of compulsive read that makes you wish you had your daily commute back. It had me fishing out my smartphone to look up self-portraits from the Northern Renaissance and 1890s Paris to set these beside Higgie's careful descriptions of them. It will revive interest in these works in the most ordinary and spontaneous way because this warmly conversational book is so inclusive, informal, and absorbing -- NIAMH CAMPBELL, author of THIS HAPPY [An] illuminating new study on why women have been largely shut out of art history. Higgie's clever thesis looks at self-portraits as a springboard, giving fresh insights into brilliant artists such as Frida Kahlo, Lois Mailou Jones, Amrita Sher-Gil, Suzanne Valadon, Gwen John, Artemisia Gentileschi and Paula Modersohn-Becker * THE ART NEWSPAPER * Jennifer Higgie puts female artists centre stage with this fascinating biography looking at 500 years of self-portraits * THE i NEWSPAPER * Sumptuous as well as fascinating -- Rachel Cooke * OBSERVER * The stories told by the lives of these women artists and the self-portraits they made comprise a history as compelling as it is shocking. The verve and clarity of Higgie's writing and the range of her research combine to position THE MIRROR AND THE PALETTE as a future classic of art history -- MICHAEL BRACEWELL A bewitching, invigorating history of women artists, the work they've made and the impossibly hard conditions in which it was produced. I can't think of a more satisfying riposte to anyone who asks why there have been no great women artists than to present them with this incandescent book -- OLIVIA LAING
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