Women have been the subject of paintings since the beginning of visual art. These paintings, such as Reclining Nude Woman Reading a Book, or girl reading a book painting, have become staples of art history. These paintings cover a variety of subjects and styles, representing all art movements.
1. The Walk Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, Claude Monet
Also known as “The Stroll”, this oil-on-canvas painting was completed in 1875. The work depicts Monet’s wife, Camille, and son, Jean, on a walk in the summer. The painting is an excellent example of Monet’s impressionist works.
The foreground of the painting features Camille Monet with a parasol behind her. Their son, Jean, can be seen in the background, peaking up from the tall grass. The work is painted with a strong upward perspective, as if from below. While not a formal portrait, it has since become one of Monet’s most famous pieces.
2. Lady Lilith, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
This oil painting depicts a fictional version of Lilith, the biblical first wife to Adam. the work was originally painted with Fanny Cornforth as the model, with it being altered in 1882 to show Alexa Wilding as the likeness.
Rossetti depicts Lilith as a beautiful woman brushing long, brown hair. She is shown in a simple gown, seated in an ornate room. It is unknown whether the commissioner or Rossetti initiated the work being altered in 1882. One of Rossetti’s sonnets, Lilith, was written to accompany the painting as it was completed originally.
3. Woman with a Water Jug, Johannes Vermeer
Completed in 1662, this oil painting is an excellent example of Vermeer’s expertise in the Baroque style. This work is part of a series painted by Vermeer that does not use a linear perspective.
The titular woman is seen in the center of the painting, reaching out to a window on the left. The woman’s left hand is clasped on the handle of a water pitcher that sits on a nearby table. Her outfit stands out instantly to the viewer, with a blue dress and gold bodice. The unnamed woman wears a cloth around her head, which serves as a headpiece.
4. The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse
This painting is based on a ballad of the same name by Alfred Tennyson. This is one of three depictions that Waterhouse created for this character, displaying his deep interest in the poem.
Waterhouse’s depiction follows the events of the poem, namely when the Lady escapes her curse and leaves to find her destiny. The character is seen sitting in a boat as it sails away from the dock. The color and style of the painting are similar to others from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group to which Waterhouse was a follower.
5. Lady with an Ermine, Leonardo da Vinci
Lady with an Ermine is one of Da Vinci’s most famous portraits, second only to the Mona Lisa. the work has been analyzed with a variety of interpretations, with little consensus on the subject. The subject of the portrait is an interpretation of Cecilia Gallerani, a mistress of the Duke under whom Da Vinci was in service.
Many view the ermine as a symbolic element within the painting. Ermines are wild predators, making them highly unlikely to sit still in a person’s grasp. Some view the ermine as a symbol of the Duke’s relationship with the young woman, but theories on the painting continue to be discussed even today.
6. Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargeant
This oil painting was completed in 1884 by the American expatriate, John Singer Sargeant. The work was not completed on commission, but rather at Sargeant’s request. It captures Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, the wife of a prominent French banker.
Sargeant depicts Gautreau in a black satin dress against a dark background. The work was painted as a study in opposition, with Gautreau’s light skin tone contrasting against the dress and background. While the work initially stirred controversy in France, it served to help establish Sargeant’s later work in Britain and America.
7. Woman at a Window, Caspar David Friedrich
This Romantic era oil painting was completed in 1822. This painting is similar to Friedrich’s other works as it shows only the figure’s back.
The woman in the painting is Friedrich’s wife looking out of the window in his study in Dresden. This work is often described as a study in the opposition between the highly geometrical background and his wive’s form.
These seven oil paintings are some of the most prolific that feature women as the primary subjects. While they each depict different scenes and styles, they each display the beauty of the female form. These artworks continue to inspire artists across the globe and are visited in museums by art lovers every day.