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Two Female Artists, Two Different Centuries

September 18, 2010

I have been thinking about two different female artists that have a commonality in their work of painting female nudes and being well known for them.  Suzanne Valadon [1865 – 1938] ran with the Impressionists and was in Montmartre quarter of Paris, France.  Contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas [MFA, Yale 2002] has shown her work at galleries and museums in America.  Both artists have painted women they knew or know, expressing women as seen through the eyes of a woman.

Suzanne Valadon went after an art education in painting independent from an academic setting and learned from artists themselves, practicing her work as much as she could for decades.  She had worked as a artist’s model in the days when there was no esteem in doing so; she sought employment in the same areas and modes as prostitutes did.  Renoir, Lautrec and others created paintings of her, so Suzanne Valadon is known for being a subject as well as an artist.  She was able to network with artists known and revered for their skill today, and Degas did a lot to encourage and value her work.  She was aware that men had created the bulk of paintings of female nudes in art and to their tastes, and Valadon dared to represent women she knew as she saw them.

“Afro Goddess with Hands Between Her Legs” [Self-Portrait], 2006

Mickalene Thomas had a formal academic education and has used this in her work to examine her life, interests and her ideas of beauty.  She has said that her work is about a “woman loving women”.  She has used her mother as a model, close friends and herself.  Mickalene Thomas had said in a lecture I attended that the people she does paintings of feel a high level of esteem, glamor and pride in the works she creates.  Her works appropriate the tropes of odalisques and other nudes in the Western canon such as the “Grand Odalisque” by Inges and “Olympia” by Manet, and she said she would like to see her works replace these works.

I find it interesting in that she uses herself in some of her works; this is intelligent for an artist because you cannot be accused of exploiting yourself, although if you use yourself too much you do get accused of narcissism.  [Photographer Cindy Sherman is frequently accused of narcissism.]  I feel like you just cannot win one way or the other, so use your own judgment and do what you want to in respect to being your own subject matter.

“Reclining Nude” [1928] Suzanne Valadon

Suzanne Valadon’s painting style was influence by the Impressionist movement and the artists she was in contact with, learned from and socialized with.  Often, the only female Impressionist painter people can name is Mary Cassat, maybe some people can also name Berthe Morisot; yet Cassat and Morisot stayed within very motherly and ladylike boundaries.  Valadon dared to create nude paintings in the Western tradition but with herself in control of the expression.

A Little Taste Outside of Love” [2007] by Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas’s art is influenced by film sources such as “Cleopatra Jones”, 1970s nostalgia with patterns and wood paneled walls, and craft stores supplies such as sequins and more recently rhinestones.  She works from the photographs she composes to be the basis of the painting rather than working directly from life.

“Woman in White Stockings”[1924]  by Suzanne Valadon

I found this nice blog post that collects together many nudes and portraits by Valadon:


“Something You Can Feel” [2008] by Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas has a very in depth portfolio web page at:




Categories: Art History, Uncategorized
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