Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Back to the Future, Part 10: Gilead--Are We There Yet?

Back to the Future, Part 10: Making Motherhood Deadly Again (or, Gilead--Are We There Yet?)

In the ongoing effort to "make America great again," here we are with more dismal horrific terrifying what-else-can-we-expect? news for women.

"The U.S. has the highest maternal death rate among the world's developed nations." So, yay?

This great news comes from a study just published by USA Today--but it's probably fake news, right? (You can read the complete story by clicking here.)

The numbers are shocking. In the United States, the rate of maternal mortality is 26.4 deaths per 100,000. Compare that to the rates in Germany, 9 per 100,000; the UK, 8.8 per 100,000; France, 7.8 per 100,000; Canada, 7.3 per 100,000; and Japan, 6.4 per 100,000.

And in those countries, the maternal death rate has been falling since 1990. In the US, by contrast, the rate has been rising. Noticeably.

USA Today graphics

Looking beyond the "most developed" nations, as reported in The Hill, "The United States is home to some of the most advanced obstetric and emergency care found on earth, yet we still rank only 47th for maternal mortality rate globally. . . . "

But wait! There's more: 
While the world has made tremendous strides to improve health outcomes for women and mothers, resulting in plummeting global maternal mortality rates, the United States has actually seen an increase in maternal deaths between 2000 and 2014. We are not in good company—the U.S. is one of only eight nations, and the only industrial nation, that have seen rising maternal mortality rates in recent years [emphasis added].
You can check out data for yourself by looking at UNICEF maternal mortality statistics (updated January 2018).

Update, 25 November 2018: As an important follow-up to these statistics on maternal mortality, I recommend Kim Brooks's New York Times op-ed, "America is Blaming Pregnant Women for Their Own Deaths," which asks the provocative question, "What is it like to face dying during childbirth in the richest country in the world in the 21st century?" (There is a series of terrific responses to the op-ed here.)

(For more fun stories about the current state of affairs, click on the label "Back to the Future," below.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mary Linwood and "Needle Painting"

Mary Linwood, Teacher and Artist (baptized 18 July 1755)

The daughter of a failed wine merchant who died young, Mary Linwood was an independent woman who became famous for her needlework, invited to court by the royal family and exhibiting her work publicly throughout Europe.

Needle-Painting artist Mary Linwood,
portrait by John Hopper, c. 1800
Mary Linwood was born in Birmingham, but in 1764, after Matthew Linwood's bankruptcy, he moved his family to Leicester. After her father’s early death, Mary’s mother, Hannah Linwood Turner, opened a boarding school at The Priory, Belgrave Gate (Leicester), which she ran successfully until her death in 1804, after which Mary Linwood took over the school--which she ran for more than fifty years. 

In the mean time, Mary began to practice the art of  needle-painting that would bring her international acclaim. Her earliest work is said to have been completed when she was thirteen. Two more works were completed by time she was twenty. Her medium, "needle-painting," uses crewel embroidery--needle and thread--to "paint," stitches in silk wool reproducing brush strokes. In Linwood's case, she reproduced the work of old masters with her needle-painting.

At about the age of twenty, she seems also to have moved to London and begun exhibiting her work at The Pantheon in Oxford Street. In 1776 and 1768, her needle-paintings were included in exhibitions of the Society of Artists. In 1785 (or 1787, sources vary), when she was thirty-one years old, she had attracted the attention of George III, who invited her to Windsor to show her work, and she was praised by Queen Charlotte for the quality of her work. The queen also visited Linwood's later exhibitions in Hanover Square. 

Following the Hanover Square exhibition, Linwood's collection traveled to Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Limerick, and Cork. But her needle-painting was also appreciated beyond Great Britain. As textile specialist Meg Andrews notes:
[Linwood's] fame spread and the Empress Catherine of Russia in 1783 was pleased to accept an example of her work, the King of Poland was amongst her most fervent admirers. In 1808 Talleyrand introduced her to Napoleon, whose portrait she embroidered twice. He wanted her to take her exhibition to Paris, but was prevented by the outbreak of war between the two countries. She received the Freedom of Paris from him in 1825 for her portrait of him.
In his description of her method of working, the composer William Gardiner wrote:
Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter; she first sketches the outline, then the parts in detail, and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work accoutred as she was with pincushions all round her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and after having touched the picture with a needle, instead a brush, she would recede five or six paces back to view the effect.  
 As for the effect of her needle-painting, one observer noted that it is "unique and exquisite. . . . [I]t is absolutely impossible for the eye to detect the fact that it is gazing upon the production of the needle, and not of the pencil."

Mary Linwood's gallery,
exhibiting her needle-painting collection
Linwood continued needle-painting until she was seventy-eight years old (although she worked as a schoolmistress until the year before her death at age ninety).  Her entire collection consisted of some one hundred works, copies of works by artists such as Raphael, Rubens, and Gainsborough. While she is most famous for her needlework copies of oil paintings, her largest work is an original, The Judgment upon Cain, which took her ten years to complete.

Perhaps the most famous of her works is a  copy of Carlo Dolci’s seventeenth-century Salvator Mundi  At one point she was offered 3000 guineas for this needle-painting, but she  refused to sell it, leaving it in her will to to Queen Victoria.

Linwood's collection continued to be shown in a permanent gallery, at Savile House (Leicester Square), until her death--it remained an extremely popular attraction.  But interest in her work did not last, and the collection that Linwood hoped to maintain was not kept together. After Linwood's death, as Andrews writes, the collection "was offered to the British Museum," but it was not accepted because the BM "could not accommodate it."

Instead, most of the collection was auctioned by Christie's on 23 April 1846. Although she had been offered three thousand pounds for her copy of the Dolci painting, the auction by Christie's of the "whole collection fetched a disappointing £300." 

Included in the Christie's sale was Linwood's The Judgment of Cain--the piece that had been completed when she was seventy-five, after ten years' of work. It sold for a mere £64 1s. 

The Bowes Museum (County Durham) has three works by Mary Linwood, including a needle-painting self-portrait. The Tate Gallery (London) included a work by Linwood in a 2014 exhibition on British Folk Art. Linwood's 1825 needle-painting portrait of Napoleon is part of the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

A detail from one of Linwood's paintings

Mary Linwood’s Salvator Mundi is now part of the Royal Collection Trust. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Qiu Jin, the "Woman Knight of Mirror Lake"

 秋瑾, Qiu Jian, Revolutionary, Feminist, Writer (executed 15 July 1907)

The Chinese revolutionary and writer Qui Jian was born on 8 November 1875 in Fujian Province to a respected but downardly mobile family during the Qing Dynasty period.*

Qiu Jian, in an undated photograph
Her father, Qiu Shounan, was a government official, her mother, surnamed Shan, from a distinguished family of writers and government officials.

Qiu Jian's parents supported her academic interests by providing her with an education, though she also dreamed of becoming a heroic female figure, like the legendary warrior woman, Hua Mulan. To that end, she studied sword fighting, martial arts, and riding in addition to history, poetry, and music.

Despite their willingness to educate their daughter, her parents expected her to conform to the expected roles for women--her feet were bound,** she had to study needlework, and, at age nineteen, she was married to a wealthy merchant, Wang Ting-jun, a husband of her parents' choosing. She gave birth to a son and a daughter, but the marriage was unhappy.

In 1903, her husband gained an official position at the imperial court, and the couple moved to Beijing. where her husband seems to have devoted a great deal of his time to drinking, gambling, and enjoying himself in brothels. 

While her husband was thus occupied, Qiu Jian found the companionship of other women with similar reformist ideas and ambitions and began writing poetry. She also witnessed the backlash against the Boxer Rebellion--the Yihequan (義和拳), or Fists of Harmony and Justice, the "Boxers," in English--an anti-foreign, anti-colonial, anti-Christian uprising that aimed at expelling Westerners from China.

In 1903 or 1904 (accounts vary), Qiu Jian left her husband and children and went to Tokyo, where she studied at a school for Chinese students. According to one account of her life, "she changed her name from Qiu Guijin to Qiu Jin (removing the character 'gui,' which means 'boudoir,' a daughter’s or woman’s inner space), and enrolled in Shimodo Utako’s Women’s Practical School."

In Tokyo she also connected with other Chinese students who were interested in revolutionary change in China. She organized students, spoke and wrote on feminism and revolution, and joined revolutionary societies like Guangfuhui (Restoration Society), led by Cai Yuanpei and Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance), led by Sun Yat-sen.
Qiu Jian in Tokyo

It was in Tokyo that she seems to have unbound her feet, and she also decided to dress like a man. She began publication of  Baihua Bao (Vernacular Journal), where she wrote about ending Chinese feudalism, the need for gender equality, and against the practices of forced marriages and foot-binding.  

In 1906, Qiu Jin returned to China, focused on bringing down the Qing dynasty. She began publication of the radical feminist journal, Zhongguo Nu Bao (Chinese Women), linking feminism and revolution: “The young intellectuals are all chanting, ‘Revolution, Revolution,’ but I say the revolution will have to start in our homes, by achieving equal rights for women."

In 1907, she took up a position as head of the Shaoxing Datong Sports Teachers School, which, although it seemed to be a school training physical education and sports teachers, actually trained military leaders for the revolution.

Along with her cousin, Hsu His-lin,  she began working with revolutionary groups to organize and train revolutionaries. But on 6 July 1907, Hsu was arrested and tortured by Qing authorities; he was executed the next day.

Despite warnings that authorities were searching for the woman who was believed to be Hsu's co-conspirator, Qiu Jin did not flee. On 12 July, she was arrested and tortured, though she refused to admit her role, her own writings proved her guilt.

She was beheaded on 13 July 1907. She is often remembered for her final line of poetry: "秋風秋雨愁殺人, Autumn wind, autumn rain, they make one die of sorrow.” (Her surname, "qiu," means "autumn.")

Six months after her execution, friends buried her beside West Lake in Hangzhou.  

Statue of Qiu Jian in Hangzhou
Four years after her death, the Chinese Revolution began, and by 1912, the Qing dynasty was overthrown.

Here's a poem that knocks me out, "Capping Rhymes with Sir Shih Ching from Sun's Root Land" (trans. Zachary Jean Chartkoff):
Don't tell me women are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea's winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand, like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands, all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels, guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing; not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat. Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me; how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds? 

For a great place to start, see Amy Qin's "obituary" of Qiu Jin in the New York Times, published as part of the series "Overlooked."

*There are many transliterations of Chinese names in English, and I have followed those in my sources. I add apologies here for any inconsistencies or errors.  

**Several online sources indicate that Qiu Jian's feet were bound when she was a very small child, five or six years old, and that she "unbound" them herself, when she was a grown woman, in 1903 or 1905 (for one example, click here). Yet others indicate that her "indulgent parents" may not have bound her feet tightly, since she seem to have been able to continue to continue her martial training. Online images of an adult Qiu Jian do show her feet.

Whatever she experienced personally, Qiu Jian's objections to foot-binding are evident from her own writing:
We women, who have had our feet bound from early childhood, have suffered untold pain and misery, for which our parents showed no pity. Under this treatment our faces grew pinched and thin, and our muscles and bones were cramped and distorted. The consequence is that our bodies are weak and incapable of vigorous activity, and in everything we do we are obliged to lean on others. . . . Sisters, let us today investigate the causes which have led to this want of spirit and energy among women. May it not be because we insist on binding up our girls’ feet at an early age, speaking of their “three-inch golden lilies” and their “captivating little steps”?  

Sunday, July 8, 2018

On Not Finding Women Artists--Again with Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemesia Gentileschi and "Finding" Women Artists

I've posted more than once about the magnificent Baroque painter, Artemesia Gentileschi--the first time, on 8 July 2015, during my year of writing about a historical woman every day, and then again in late 2016, when a major exhibition of her work opened in Rome. 

Artemesia Gentileschi, self-portrait,
St. Catherine of Alexandria

Today is the 425th anniversary of Artemisia Gentileschi's birth, 8 July 1593, and so it seemed only appropriate, after learning yesterday that the National Gallery (London) had just acquired a recently identified painting by Gentileschi, that I would write about her again today. 

As it turns out, the painting is not only by Gentileschi but is of her, a self-portrait as St. Catherine of Alexandria, probably painted around 1615. 

Something of its provenance is outlined by Jonathan Jones, writing for The Guardian: the painting had been in the possession of a French family, "for centuries," its authorship long "forgotten." But the painting was recognized as one of Artemisia Gentileschi's when it was auctioned in Paris in December 2017.

Then, as Gareth Harris notes, it was purchased by the London-based dealer Robilant + Voena. It was subsequently acquired by the National Gallery:
The £3.6 million acquisition has been made possible thanks to the support of the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund (through the legacy of Sir Denis Mahon), Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, and Hannah Rothschild CBE, and other donors including those who wish to remain anonymous. The conservation of the painting has been made possible with Art Fund support.
So what could I possibly complain about? Because, you know, I am bound to complain about something . . . But I was all primed to be overjoyed, until I read this (from Harris's piece in The Art Newspaper): 
The National Gallery’s remit covers Western European painting from around 1250 to 1900, says Gabriele Finaldi, the gallery director. “However, for a great deal of this period women were largely denied the same opportunities that were afforded to men and as a result only a handful were able to succeed in the art of painting. Therefore, works by women artists of this period are very rare compared to works by male artists, and our collection reflects that historical fact,” he says.
You fucking asshole! That's about as calm and measured as I can be when I read what Mr. Gabriele Finaldi--"the art director" of the gallery!--had to say about women artists! (A more extended quote appears in The Florentine, which adds this to his remarks: "However, although it is far more difficult for us to purchase great works by women artists, the National Gallery regularly works with women artists for its exhibitions and other programmes—most recently with Tacita Dean. We have more exciting plans for the future that we will be announcing over the coming months." I'm sorry, I am not mollified.)

Yes, women were denied the same opportunities as men, and yes, there are far fewer women artists in this SEVEN-HUNDRED YEAR PERIOD. But, give me a break--while fewer women painted, and there are fewer paintings by them, his comments are despicable. 

His attitude must account, at least in part, for this: the National Gallery has more than 2300 works in in its collection. Of their "over 2300 works," only 21 are by women. (The twenty-first is the new Gentileschi.) Yes, you read that correctly--my math is really bad, but even I can calculate that 21 is less than 1% of 2300+ works! This is far worse than even the terrible numbers for major museums around the world (see below). 

This Gentileschi painting is the first work by a woman that the Gallery has acquired since 1991!!! More math here: it has been 27 years since the National Gallery's last acquisition of work by a woman artist--and the 1991 acquisition was a gift of five works by Paula Rego. So, of the 21 works by women artists, 5 are from a single artist? And they were a gift, not a purchase?

The National Gallery doesn't make it easy to find the works by women artists in its collection, much less to count them. In fact, if you search the site for "women artists," the only bit you get is this, appended to its announcement of its acquisition of the Gentileschi painting:
THE NATIONAL GALLERY has 20 works by female artists in its collection and four works by female artists on loan to the Gallery (artists include: Henriette Browne, Berthe Morisot, Rachel Ruysch, Rosa Bonheur, Catharina van Hemessen, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Judith Leyster, Rosalba Carriera, Marie Blancour, Vivien Blackett, Madeleine Strindberg, Maggi Hambling, and Paula Rego).
I certainly can't figure out the order of their listing here, because it isn't alphabetical or chronological. Whaaaaat? What is going on? 

But trying to make sense of the listing's tally of paintings by women in its collection is even more confusing. The Gallery claims to have "20 works by female artists in its collection," and that does not seem to include the new Artemesia Gentileschi acquisition. If you search the National Gallery's collection, you'll find these artists listed: Marie Blancour (mid-seventeenth century, 1 painting), Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899, 1 painting), Henriette Browne (1829-1901, 1 painting), Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757, 2 paintings), Catharina van Hemessen (1527/8-after 1566, 2 paintings), Judith Leyster (1609-1660, 1 painting), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895, 2 paintings), Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750, 2 paintings), Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842, 2 paintings).

But that's only 15 paintings (by 9 artists). If you add in the 5 paintings by Rego acquired in 1991, that does bring the total to 20. 

But the NG "Artist A to Z" doesn't list Paula Rego or any of her 5 paintings in its collection.  Nor does it include any work by Vivien Blackett, Madeleine Strindberg, or Maggi Hambling, all of whom are named in the National Gallery's brief paragraph about the women artists in their collection, so maybe the work isn't part of the collection but "on loan." (Note: This information was correct on 8 July 2018, when this post was written--for updates, see below.)

And it looks like, even if you go by their list, the NG has work in its collection by only 14 women artists--that's including Gentileschi as well as Blackett, Strindberg, Hambling, and Rego--who, as I have said, are named in the bit I've quoted from the NG website (above), but who are NOT included in the website's index of artists in its collection. 

So who knows? The National Gallery doesn't make it clear.

But what is clear? It's clear that despite its recent acquisition of the Gentileschi painting and the statement of Hannah Rothschild, chair of the Gallery's Board of Trustees, that the "acquisition of this great painting realises a long-held dream of increasing the National Gallery's collection of paintings by important women artists," this is pretty shameful.

Shameful, maybe, and actually a worse record than many other major museums, but pretty much to be expected. From the National Museum of Women in the Arts post, "Where Are the Women?":

  • Work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe, and 34% in Australian state museums.
  • Of 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in the U.S. from 2007–2013, only 27% were devoted to women artists. 
  • Only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries are women. In Australia, it’s about 40%; in Germany, less than 20%. 
  • The good news is that, while in 2005, women ran 32% of the museums in the United States, they now run 47.6%—albeit mainly the ones with the smallest budgets. 
  • Women still lag behind men in directorships held at museums with budgets over $15 million, holding 30% of art museum director positions and earning 75¢ for every dollar earned by male directors. 
  • The top three museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870) have never had female directors.

Update, 27 August 2018: Writing for BBC Culture, Holly Williams discusses a new play about Artemisia, focusing on her rape trial (and using original trial transcripts, when possible), created and performed by Breach, an experimental theater company. The play, It’s True It’s True It’s True, directed by Breach co-founder Billy Barrett, debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at the Underbelly, Cowgate, venue and will be at New Diorama in London from 16 October to 10 November 2018. For an extended review in The Guardian, click here.

Update, 19 September 2019: It's not really news, but it's an "update" in the sense of nothing has changed . . . The title of Julia Jacobs's piece in the New York Times says it all: "Female Artists Made Little Progress in Museums Since 2008, Survey Find" (click here). 

Contrary to the sense in the art world that "gender equity was on the horizon," progress was more a "perception of change" than "reality." 

A little data from the piece: "between 2008 and 2018, only 11 percent of art acquired by the country’s top museums for their permanent collections was by women." And "Over the past decade, just 29,247 works by female artists were acquired by 26 top museums in the United States, out of 260,470 total works."

Update, 30 November 2019: Here I am again, writing the same old thing. In her New York Times story, "Museum Showcases a Neglected Segment of the Art World: Women," Aimee Ortiz details a new initiative of the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 2020 Vision, the museum announced plans for "a year of exhibitions and programs dedicated to presentation of the achievements of female-identifying artists. The initiative will encompass 13 solo exhibitions and seven thematic shows beginning in fall 2019, with additional presentations still being planned."

In covering the Baltimore Museum of Art announcement, Ortiz cites figures from a recent study published by PLOS One, "Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums." The study "surveyed the public online catalogs of 18 major U.S. museums," examining some "10,000 artist records" relative to "over 9,000 unique artists." Their results show that 87% of the artists represented at these institutions are men. To put it another way, only 12.6% of the "identifiable artists" in those 18 major museums are women.

Update, 30 January 2022: Turns out, given the global COVID pandemic, the Baltimore Museum of Art's "vision" had to be "deferred" (here). The museum did issue a statement in December 2020 announcing its acquisitions, "made as part of its 2020 Vision initiative, which includes a commitment to only purchase works by female-identifying artists this calendar year" (here).

Update, 1 July 2022: The National Library's A-Z list now includes 2 portraits by Paula Reggo and 13 by Maggi Hambling.

Update, 25 September 2023: A rediscovered "lost" Artemisia! Once owned by Charles I of England, One of Artemisia's Susannah and the Elders paintings has been identified, restored, and is now on display. Seems it was just stuffed into an old corner of a storeroom at Hampton Court . . .