Review

A Perfect Present: Great Women Painters

Isla Phillips-Ewen 8 December 2022 min Read

Whether for a birthday, Christmas, or Hanukkah, Phaidon’s Great Women Painters is an ideal present for any art lover. Stunningly presented in a large colorful hardback, this book is not just a pretty cover. It has an academic and insightful introduction by Alison M. Gingeras and is a perfect A-Z list of women artists to explore. Of course, Great Women Painters has a purpose⁠—to be part of the revisionist mission to ensure that women get a place in the canon of art history, which, for me, is simply the cherry on the cake of an already fantastic tome.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.20-1. Courtesy of the publisher. 

Entries on Nina Chanel Abney and Tomma Abts in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 20-21. Courtesy of the publisher.

Great Women Painters is a groundbreaking book that reveals a richer and more varied telling of the story of painting. Featuring more than 300 artists from around the world, it includes both well-known historical women painters and today’s most exciting rising stars.

Phaidon Editors

Publisher’s website.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.72-3. Courtesy of the publisher.

Entries on Leonora Carrington and Mary Cassatt in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 72-73. Courtesy of the publisher.

An Impressive Introduction

Written by the New-York curator and writer Alison M. Gingeras, the introductory essay is both academic and accessible. It tells the story of how women come to be re-included in the story of art. This excellent contextualization elevates the book from being simply a glorified listicle to an informed guide. So, although this will be a cool coffee-table companion for an Instagram reel, it is also a brilliant book-shelf addition for anyone studying art.

The introduction takes you through Linda Nochlin’s seminal essay to Guerrilla Girls and Griselda Pollock on differentiating the canon. It persuasively explains the case for reshaping art history to include women painters and artists. Why not test yourself on what you already know in our quiz on women painters [link to be added]?

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.98-9. Courtesy of the publisher.

Entries on Eguchi Ayane and Nicole Eisenman in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 98-99. Courtesy of the publisher.

Why Painters?

The preface is also perfect at setting out the other premise for the book⁠—the focus on women painters. The book complements Phaidon’s other publication, Great Women Artists. The editors convincingly argue that painting is in itself a special category.

In an age where art can be anything and anything can be art, painting remains fundamentally simple and direct. It is the medium most people think of when hearing the word “art.”

Rebecca Morrill, Simon Hunegs and Maia Murphy

Preface to Great Women Painters by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, p. 8.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.162-3. Courtesy of the publisher. 

Entries on Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Laura Knight in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 162-163. Courtesy of the publisher.

The Glorious Glossary

Aside from the impressive introduction, the other element of this book that blew me away was a wide-ranging glorious glossary. We all know that art terminology can be a bit off-putting, and this is the ideal remedy. As well as obvious inclusions such as Minimalism, it also covers general terms (like animal painting), concepts (like “the gaze“), and events (like the Venice Biennale). Although it is thorough and informative, it is also not too long and could actually be read as a stand-alone piece in itself as a whistle-stop tour of art history.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.230-1. Courtesy of publisher. 

Entries on Pan Yuliang and Gahee Park in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 230-231. Courtesy of publisher.

Fascinating and Functional A-Z

Ultimately, it goes without saying that the actual content is fabulous. In alphabetical order, this book offers a chance to dip and dive into a vast array of mini-introductions to women artists. A large image of the selected artwork fills most pages with a short paragraph that offers insight into the artist and the painting above. It would be impossible for anyone to come away from its pages without finding an artwork or artist that pleases and inspires them to investigate further.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, pp.326-7. Courtesy of the publisher. 

Entries on Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Flora Yukhnovich in Great Women Painters, by Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022, pp. 326-327. Courtesy of the publisher.

Great Women Painters and a Great Present

Overall, I think that this book is excellent. It can be a fabulous gift for yourself, your family, or your friends. If it is within your budget, then this book is money well spent!

You can get a copy of Great Women Painters on the publisher’s website.

Great Women Painters, Phaidon, 2022, book uncovered. Courtesy of the publisher. 

Book cover without the dust jacket of Great Women Painters, Phaidon Editors, published by Phaidon, 2022. Courtesy of the publisher.

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