AGO exhibition reveals hidden history of women makers in Europe

The exhibition, called Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800, will introduce new artistic heroines, and bring together over 200 objects that demonstrate the ways women contributed to the visual arts of Europe.

Judith Leyster. Self-Portrait, c.1630. Oil on canvas, Unframed: 74.6 × 65.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, 1949.6.1. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington. (Image credit: AGO)

An exhibition which will focus on the history of women artists in Europe will be opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on March 27, 2024.

The exhibition, called Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800, will showcase paintings, textiles, scientific drawings, ceramics, furniture, and metalwork by over 130 women artists and makers.

Labeled as a “must-see” by Vogue and a “sure-to-be-historic” exhibition by the New York Times, the AGO’s original exhibition will feature over 230 objects and explore the “breadth and depth of women’s artistic contributions across Europe” to challenge ideas that women artists of this time period were “rare and unexceptional.”

The exhibition is co-organized by the AGO and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and co-curated by Dr. Alexa Greist, AGO curator and R. Fraser Elliott chair, prints and drawings and Dr. Andaleeb Badiee Banta, senior curator and department head, prints, drawings & photographs, Baltimore Museum of Art.

It will feature loans from private and public collections across six countries and works by over 130 women artists. The exhibition will also bring together traditional fine art in the form of paintings and sculptures by celebrated women artists Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Rosalba Carriera, Rachel Ruysch, and Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun.

The exhibition will feature domestic, religious, scientific, and commercial objects produced by unidentified amateurs, female collectives, religious orders, and workshops and celebrate female artistry across all levels of society. It opens with a large wooden frame, made in London around 1671 by Mary Ashfield. The objects in the exhibition are organized into four thematic groupings: Faith and Power; Interiority; Scientific Exploration; and Entrepreneurial Women and highlight the artistic production happening across Europe over four centuries.“To understand why these women and their many accomplishments have long been underrecognized, we must acknowledge that European art history has always been rooted in biography—notably biographies written by and about men—and by a belief that painting, and sculpture are superior to other artforms,” said Greist. “The diversity and breadth of this exhibition is essential to helping us better understand, not just women’s artistry, but how various forms evolved and flourished. From the Ursuline sisters in Quebec City, we had the great fortune to borrow a devotional object made in France in the late 1700s of rolled paper so exquisitely done as to look like metal. Its existence in Canada is but one proof point of the enduring impact of these artistic efforts. I’m so excited to share this exhibition with our audiences.”

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800  will be accompanied by a 264 page, fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, co-published by the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Goose Lane Editions.
The AGO’s presentation will feature multisensory experiences, including four touch interactives and four scent stations, meant to evoke moments of time and place in Europe between the years 1400-1800. The custom scents by Dr. Melanie McBride, Toronto-based researcher-practitioner, educator, and founder of the Aroma Inquiry Lab, are inspired by the exhibition and correspond to works on view. The four interactive labels will allow visitors to feel the unique materials women makers worked with in this period.On April 5 and May 3, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., a quartet of Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra will present Making Herself Heard, a musical tribute to baroque-era women composers. They will be performing live in Walker Court and enable visitors to listen to the works of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Isabella Leonarda, Marianne Martinez, and the enigmatic Mrs. Philarmonica, performed by violinists Geneviève Gilardeau and Cristina Zacharias, cellist Michael Unterman, and harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger.

On May 4 at 11:00 a.m., the AGO will also present a three-part lecture series exploring the themes of Making Her Mark. Speakers will include Italian art historian and president of the Casa Buonarroti Foundation in Florence Dr. Cristina Acidini, AGO curator and R. Fraser Elliott chair Dr. Alexa Greist, lacemaker and historian Elena Kanagy-Loux and dress historian Dr. Ingrid Mida, author of The Dress Detective and Reading Fashion in Art.

For more information about the exhibition, click here.