Inspirational female designers and artists through history
Throughout history, women have shaped the creative landscapes of art, architecture, literature and graphic design, often doing so in eras where women were less respected than their male counterparts. Their achievements, then, are all the more remarkable.
At JDJ, our agency is a mix of genders, nationalities and ages - a blend made easier through the trailblazing work of some of the women we’ve highlighted in this series. Every one of them has inspired us in some way, and we hope their stories will motivate you too.
Famous female artists and designers
The first female artist of international renown
Italian painter Sofonisba Anguissola is a true trailblazer, being known as the first female artist to achieve international renown. Born into a noble family, Anguissola studied with the esteemed painters Bernadino Campi and Bernardino Gatti.
Later, having travelled to Rome, the great Michaelangelo recognised her talent and offered her guidance even giving her sketches from his own notebooks to draw in her own style.
Well-known for her portraits of her family, she received commissions from across Italy, becoming court painter and lady-in-waiting to Queen Elisabeth of Valois, a residence she held for 14 years.
In her later years, she became the leading portrait painter in Genoa, offering advice to many young artists, including the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck.
Through her success, doors were opened for other female artists to pursue careers in the arts. A true trailblazer and inspiration.
“Life is full of surprises, I try to capture these precious moments with wide eyes.”
– Sofonisba Anguissola
Maria Sibylla Merian
Naturalist and illustrator
Did you know that it was once believed that insects and butterflies spontaneously generated out of the mud?
The work of inspirational women like Maria Sibylla Merian shows us that while challenging accepted norms isn’t always popular, it is the only way to progress.
A naturalist and scientific illustrator, Merian is best known for her documentation of butterfly metamorphosis. Through her observations, she changed our understanding of insects forever, inspired a range of naturalist illustrators and created artworks that are as beautiful as they are educational.
“Art and nature shall always be wrestling until they eventually conquer one another so that the victory is the same stroke and line, that which is conquered, conquers at the same time”
– Maria Sibylla Merian
A pioneer in botanical art
In a time before photography was a practical option, accurate drawings of plant life, like those undertaken by Marianne North, opened up new levels of understanding in science by introducing foreign plants to a new audience. For this reason, North has many species named in her honour, including Areca northiana and Kniphofia northiae.
Already remarkable for the vibrancy and accuracy of her work – she painted using oils when others used watercolours – North’s story is even more extraordinary, given she travelled alone to some of the wildest places on Earth – a trailblazing approach, given Victorian beliefs that women shouldn’t travel without a husband or male chaperone.
With over 800 of her paintings housed in the North Gallery at Kew Gardens, North’s work provides a wonderful snapshot of plants and landscapes in the Victorian period.
“No life is so charming as a country one in England, and no flowers are sweeter or more lovely than the primroses, cowslips, bluebells, and violets that grow in abundance all around me here”
– Marianne North
The first African-American sculptor to achieve international prominence
Discriminated against, for being both female and black, Edmonia Lewis would triumph over the inequalities she faced, by becoming the first African-American sculptor to achieve national and then international prominence.
Moving to Rome from America in 1865 (Lewis told the New York Times that “The land of liberty had no room for a coloured sculptor”), Lewis would create notable marble sculptures, most famously ‘The Death of Cleopatra’, which now resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.
“Some praise me because I am a coloured girl. But I don’t want that kind of praise. I had rather you would point out my defects, for that will teach me something”
– Edmonia Lewis
Creator of Peter Rabbit and others
Every year children dress up as their favourite literary characters as part of #WorldBookDay, a reminder of how inspiring these manuscripts can be for children of all ages.
Instantly recognisable and loved around the world, Beatrix Potter’s creations have invigorated children and adults alike, ever since the first copies of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ were self-published in 1901 – proof that talent mixed with determination can achieve greatness.
“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality”
– Beatrix Potter