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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeMistresses of the Graphic Arts


Mistresses of the Graphic ArtA selection of artists’ prints from 15th – 20th centuries, including landscapes, tree studies, the sea and coast, flowers, birds, animals and the human figure.Famous & Forgotten Women Printmakers c1550 – c1950

Though it comes as no surprise to discover that European women have been engaged in artistic activity from time immemorial, it is perhaps remarkable that they have been printmakers almost since the inception of woodcut and engraving in the late 14th century. Printmaking, especially the intaglio techniques (and the later invention of lithography) requires highly specialised equipment and materials such as presses, tools, acid, and involves manhandling heavy sheets of copper (or weighty blocks of limestone).
The distaff side of the history of printmaking is shaped by these requirements.

The earliest women printmakers were nuns. Life in a convent, without the personal commitments of family life and household organisation of the lay woman, allowed time and financial support to produce prints. The need for illustrations in religious books and for duplicated holy images to sell to pilgrims supplied a motivation that encouraged the making of woodcuts. Fruit wood blocks are soft enough to cut with a knife and hand pressure is sufficient to print them. The resulting simple outline images could then be hand-coloured. By the 15th century convents, like that of Marienwater in the Netherlands, are known to have acquired screw printing presses to print both text and pictorial woodcuts.

It was not till the 16th century that women apparently became involved in intaglio copperplate engraving, but from the beginning they are recorded by name rather than being anonymous like their wood cutting sisters. Diana Scultori working in Italy in the latter half of the 16th century was the first significant female engraver. In general, like Diana Scultori, women engravers were all daughters from printmaking families and like as not married to engravers or painters too. They had grown up in printing studios and the equipment and technical assistance was to hand. Most of the early women engravers were collaborative or interpretative engravers, assisting the male members of their families or reproducing the designs of their fathers, brothers, husbands or other artists. The engravings of women at household tasks by Geertruyd Roghman in the early 17th century are perhaps the first original engravings by a woman being carried out to her own designs. However, until the 19th century, the majority of women continued to work as reproductive engravers.

On the other hand women etchers, in keeping with the freer more painterly traditions of the medium, are more generally original printmakers. Etching did not have a wide following until the 17th century and had its roots in Italy, so that it is fitting that the first important woman etcher is the 17th century Italian painter Elisabetta Sirani.

Through the 18th century several women, like Angelica Kauffmann, became celebrated artists and the number of women involved in printmaking increased considerably. In addition to professionally trained artists and craftswomen it became a fashionable pursuit for the educated leisured classes, among aristocratic and royal dilettanti, who had sufficient money to pay for professional help and guidance. Angelica Kauffmann was one of only two women elected to the newly founded Royal Academy in London, though she would contribute paintings rather than her prints to the Academy exhibitions. In Revolutionary France the Salon was opened to women and by 1808 one fifth of the exhibitors were women so that it was nicknamed the Woman’s Salon.

In England the painter Joseph Farington commented on knowing a circle of women artists who made their living copying, painting miniatures or engraving and teaching engraving, though Letitia Byrne complained to him that “there is a prejudice against employing women engravers”.

Mistresses of the Graphic ArtsWomen were amongst the earliest exponents of lithography when it was invented in 1798. Lithography allows the most natural drawing of any of the traditional printmaking techniques, whether on stone or even more so, on transfer paper. Lithographic printing on the other hand is complex and commercial lithographic studios were set up from the start to which amateurs and trained artists alike, whether male or female, could repair to have their images printed.

By the later 19th century it was not unusual for women to take up art professionally. In England The Society for Female Artists was founded in the 1850’s and had a school to train women. The Etching Revival gave impetus to original printmaking and specialist intaglio printers, such as Goulding in London, Delâtre in Paris and Felsing in Berlin, opened printing studios. This and the establishment of Art Colleges with printing facilities and tuition enabled a wider range of women to take up printmaking, though they tended largely to come from the professional middle and upper classes, who could afford the fees. London University’s Slade art school was the first London art school to admit women on equal terms.

From the 1880's women artists of international stature, such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot in France interested themselves in printmaking and in Germany Käthe Kollwitz made it her primary mode of expression.

England, more than any other country, saw a surge in output of graphic art among women art students in the early years of the 20th century. Through the Etching Boom, 1900-1930, successive generations specialised in etching at the Engraving School of the Royal College of Art under the guidance of first Frank Short and Constance Pott and later Malcolm Osborne and Robert Austin. The Slade School produced more Modernist painters who also had a related interest in etching. The Central School, with the classes of Noel Rooke and Leon Underwood’s school, had a bias towards wood engraving.

Women students took to wood engraving in seemingly huge numbers; many of the greatest names in British wood engraving are women, Gwen Raverat, Clare Leighton, Gertrude Hermes. In the 1920's and 1930's the alternative relief printing technique of colour woodcut had several leading women practitioners. With the Etching Crash at the end of the 1920's the disappearance of a market for black & white prints encouraged the making of colour prints not only from wood blocks, but in etching (Elyse Lord, Winifred Austen) and particularly in linocut. In Claude Flight's classes on linocut at the Grosvenor School the majority of his students were women. Fewer women (as indeed fewer artists at all) took up lithography.

Many women only exhibited while they were still students or in the years immediately following their studies and then disappear without a trace.

Published 1995
124 pages. 361 prints described and illustrated in b/w
(30 also reproduced in colour on the front and back covers)

(UK Price: £15, International orders: £20)

Special Offer
Purchase the two catalogues; Mistresses and Unsung Heroines, together for £27 (UK) or £35 (International).

See also the catalogue entitled Eve.

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Alderton E
  • Anderson K
  • Andrews S
  • Annesley Lady M
  • Austen W
  • Bauerle A M
  • Bayley M E
  • Beauvarlet C F
  • Bell V
  • Berger K
  • Bertram M
  • Birley H
  • Blakely Z
  • Blanchard M Gutterriez
  • Blatherwick L
  • Bloxam J
  • Bolingbroke M
  • Bonaparte Princess C
  • Boreel W
  • Bormann E
  • Bourlier A
  • Bracquemond M
  • Breslau L
  • Bresslern-Roth N von
  • Broadhead M E
  • Brocas-Clay M
  • Brookes N
  • Brown D
  • Brown E C Austen
  • BucktonE
  • Burleigh A
  • Butcher E
  • Byrne L
  • Cameron K
  • Campbell M
  • Caro A de
  • Casbolt W
  • Cassatt M
  • Chalon C
  • Clark A Le Gros
  • Coates A M
  • Coke D J
  • Colston M
  • Coster G M de
  • Cosway M
  • Coucke B
  • Crawford S F
  • Crepin S
  • Cunz M
  • David H
  • Delleaney G
  • Denman M
  • Deschamps D F
  • Desmond R
  • Eagleton A
  • Elliott A M
  • Ellis I A
  • Englefield C
  • Fairley D
  • Fell E
  • Findlay A R
  • Firth M
  • Flint S W
  • Fookes U M
  • Frank E
  • Frood H
  • Funk H
  • Fyfe E
  • Gabain E
  • Gang M A
  • Gatty M
  • Ghisi D
  • Gibbons A
  • Girdwood S
  • Gontcharova N
  • Gosse S
  • Grant B
  • Greatorex E
  • Greave A Mackenzie
  • Green F M
  • Greg B
  • Gribble V
  • Grierson E
  • Groom M
  • Hall Lady E Clarke
  • Hallward P
  • Harewood Lady H
  • Harper J
  • Harrison H W
  • Hassall J
  • Hastings, Marchioness of
  • Haudebourt-Lescaut A
  • Hayes G
  • Haythorne M Curtis
  • Henderson E
  • Heriot R
  • Hermes G
  • Hirst D
  • Höch H
  • Holbein T
  • Hollyer M
  • Hope R Somerville
  • Howard M C
  • Hughes M K
  • Huntley V Hutson
  • Hyde H
  • Jefferies K G
  • Jacques B
  • Johnson P I
  • Jordan P
  • Journet E
  • Kapp H
  • Kasimir-Hoernes T
  • Kauffman A
  • Kay E
  • Keith E
  • Kemp-Welch M
  • Kirkpatrick E
  • Knight Dame L
  • Knighton Lady D
  • Kollwitz K
  • Laing M J
  • Laurencin M
  • Legrand M L
  • Leighton C
  • Lindner D
  • Lock H
  • Lockyer I de Bohun
  • Long A
  • Lord E
  • Luksch-Makowsky E
  • Martyn E K
  • Marval J
  • Medici M de
  • Meidner E
  • Merritt A M Lea
  • Moran M N
  • Morgan G
  • Morisot B
  • Nathan P d’Avigdor
  • Neumond D
  • Niel G
  • Oakman J
  • O’Connell F
  • Ord R
  • Orovida
  • Osmond-Smith C
  • Owen M
  • Ozanne J F
  • Palgrave Lady E
  • Palmer E
  • Parker A Miller
  • Parsons M
  • Passe M van de
  • Paterson V
  • Patterson M J
  • Peterson K
  • Piranesi L
  • Pissarro O
  • Ponce M
  • Poole M
  • Possoz M
  • Pott C
  • Poxon E
  • Prestel M C
  • Raverat G
  • Ray E
  • Rawlins M
  • Reckitt R
  • Regnault G de Nangis
  • Ritchie E Constable
  • Ridderbosch J F
  • Robinson H D
  • Robinson M C
  • Roghman G
  • Romanes M C
  • Royds M
  • Sandrart S M von
  • Saunders R H
  • Schaumann R
  • Scultori D.
  • Sebright H
  • Shrimpton A
  • Silvestre S E
  • Simmonet J
  • Sintenis R
  • Sirani E
  • Slaney N
  • Sloane M A
  • Smee S
  • Smith M A
  • Soper E
  • Sproule S
  • Stacey D M
  • Stein M
  • Stella C B
  • Stevenson L
  • Steyn S
  • Stiles S
  • Stoney N
  • Talbot V
  • Thomson L
  • Tournour Sister M
  • Tüpke-Grande H
  • Turberville M
  • Turner E
  • Valadon S
  • Victoria, R I
  • Vieillard A de Caro
  • Vyvyan D M
  • Waddington V
  • Waldron B
  • Walters P
  • Warren E M B
  • Watson C
  • Wethered M L
  • Whitehead L
  • Wilkinson R
  • William B Moray
  • Williams M
  • Woollard

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