The Subtleties of Beauty in Picasso’s Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon

When I think about girls in museums, in the literal sense at least, my art historian brain automatically sees the classic images of the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo. However, my rebellious mind reaches into the depths of Magritte and Picasso where girls are depicted in far stranger and more allegorical ways. Although we can all appreciate the artistry of da Vinci and other such greats, depictions of women in art are far more appealing to me if they stand out. Within the walls of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) stands one example: Pablo Picasso’s Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon (1907) – a...

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Why we still need John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”

A woman is always accompanied, except when quite alone, and perhaps even then, by her own image of herself. … From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. The words above hold true for many. They were spoken forty-five years ago by John Berger. The art critic had turned heads with his radical leftist thinking on the image of women in...

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Kate Greenaway: Girls, Flowers and Fashion

Kate Greenaway’s illustrations from the late 1800s are childhood favourites for many growing up in England. Even if you grew up somewhere else in the world there’s still a chance you will have seen them adorning the pages of a children’s book. The style in which she depicted children – angelic youths with puffed out cheeks, pale skin, red lips and golden hair – is full of energy, nature and cheekiness, if a little over-Romantic for some tastes. She drew a lot of flowers too, along with decorative alphabets and illustrated poems, all intricately detailed. My favourite thing about her drawings...

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Silk Princess Painting

  Princesses are known to follow the rules, wait for the prince, and live happily ever after. Like this votive panel illustrating from the 6th Century however, shows that this isn’t always the case. The votive panel illustration tells the story of smuggling, secret silkworms, and definitely breaking the rules. The votive panel isn’t a beautiful piece of art. Compared to the rest of the British Museum’s collection of works, it certainly wouldn’t stand out. But, it was never intended to be a beautiful art piece. The votive panel was intended to be a storyteller, and the story it tells is...

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The Ancient Egyptian Female Ideal

I’ve always been particularly fascinated by the portrayal of women in Ancient Egypt. Every single Egyptian woman illustrated in tombs or statues is always extremely slim and slender, youthful, and with a beautiful full black wig. This tomb-relief showing Djehutyhotep’s sister is no different. It’s very likely that not all women were truly like this, and that this portrayal is simply an Ancient Egyptian female ideal – but why? The Ancient Egyptians had many different gods and goddesses. The most prevalent Egyptian goddess was Isis. Isis herself was always shown as slim and youthful. She was...

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The Veiled Vestal Virgin

On a recent trip to the Peak District I had the pleasure of staying on the Chatsworth Estate. Its huge private collection includes a Rembrandt and a Renoir. For a long time, this sculpture, The Veiled Vestal Virgin, has beguiled me with its beauty. If you are a Jane Austen fan, you may recognise it from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaption. The piece itself was sculpted by the Italian artist Raffaelle Monti in 1846 on a commission from the Duke of Devonshire, the family of whom still live in the house today. The reason I love this so much is the detail on the face of the statue. Carved in...

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Ballet for Girls: What is the Pointe?

For as long as I can remember, I have been captivated by ballet. The idea of being able to gracefully twirl around on my toes was my greatest girlhood dream. However, far from being the elegant, poised dancer to which many girls aspire, my legs would be wobbling and my arms would be shaking. I never even got so far as wearing those hard-toed shoes allowing me to have a go at twirling around on my toes! Despite this, I will never view my experience of ballet as pointless. Ballet taught me that it is okay to be myself. Kent Forrest Ibsen’s sculpture of a ballerina brought back memories of my...

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Valeria Napoleone and the all-female art collection

Valeria Napoleone is one of Britain’s leading buyers of contemporary art. Working in an art world dominated by male owners and collectors, Napoleone has a distinct aesthetic agenda – she only buys work made by women. Spanning a variety of artistic mediums, she has purchased works from some of the most important artists of the last twenty years, all of them women. When speaking about her collection Napoleone has stated, ‘I collect the artists I collect because they are great artists and the list of women artists that I still want to buy is very long’. The daughter of a wealthy Italian...

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Make the World a Better Place with the ‘World in your Hands’ Art Contest!

The ‘Coalition on Adolescent Girls‘ (CAG) and ‘Together for Girls’ are organising a call to every creative teenager to submit their artwork. Open to contestants between the ages of 12 and 24, the deadline for the ‘World in Your Hands‘ art contest is January the 20th, and the theme for entries is influence. Defined as ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something’, influence makes a big part of our identity. Whether it is on a societal or personal level, no one is immune to it. Talking about the relation between art...

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Queen Christina of Sweden

On a recent trip to Copenhagen I was fascinated by this painting by Kristian Zahrtmann that I saw in the Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark). It was painted in 1908, and is an imagined scene showing Queen Christina of Sweden smoking a pipe and surrounded by her courtiers. What first drew my eye were the Pre-Raphaelite-esque colours and handling of the paint. The intense blue of Queen Christina’s dress is almost jewel-like in the flesh. Secondly, I was fascinated by the subject of the painting. What was going on here? Who was this woman, and why is she smoking a pipe?...

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