New database gives history’s women artists ‘A Space of Their Own’

Advancing Women Artist Foundation Founder Jane Fortune

The Advancing Women Artists Foundation will launch A Space of Their Own, an online database of more than 600 female artists working from the 15th and 19th centuries. The illustrated online space “will become something of a virtual museum, providing the public with access to paintings that might otherwise languish in museum storage,” according to ArtNet contributor Sarah Cascone. “The goal is to eventually have high resolution images of all the works in the foundation’s growing database.”

Working with the Eskenazi Museum of Art and Indiana University for the project, nonprofit AWA has restored several paintings and has collected information about more than 600 featured artists for the database, set to launch next spring. Featured artists that might have been lost to history if not for restoration include France’s Césarine Henriette Flore Davin-Mirvault and Sor Juana Beatriz de la Fuente, according to ArtNet.

The foundation is committed to “identifying, restoring and exhibiting artwork by women in Florence’s museum storage….through education (lectures, books, seminars, and conferences) and by exhibiting these works in Florence and abroad.” They maintain this work through sponsorships and donations.

AWA employs “women restorers, art historians, museum executives, philanthropists and guides” who work “to rescue or promote each artist and her newly restored work,” according to its website. AWA teams up with Florence museum directors to employ qualified restorers – who happen to be predominantly female.

Women have an important place in art history, despite a lack of proper art history education on the female perspective. “My undergraduate degrees are in art history and fine art, and back then we’d study the history of art in these very thick text books. And after finishing Art History 1 and Art History 2 we’d probably only learned about five female artists,” Kusama: Infinity director Heather Lenz told FF2 media in September.

“Women’s liberation in Florence is deeply linked to the art restoration effort,” AWA Director Linda Falcone told this week. AWA will only commit to restoring a project if a museum promises to exhibit it upon completion. “Why fund a restoration if the piece returns to storage, never to be seen again?” AWA founder Jane Fortune asked. The foundation had already restored 61 paintings and sculptures by women in Italy when Fortune died of ovarian cancer in September. She was the author of Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence and cultural editor of The Florentine, providing a space for history’s overlooked women artists long before A Space of Their Own was made possible.

“She taught me that a question can change your life,” AWA Director Linda Falcone told the Wall Street Journal of Fortune. “And her question was, ‘Where are the women artists?’”

A Space of Their Own just might answer that question. 

© Georgiana E. Presecky (11/13/18) FF2 Media

Photos Courtesy of A Space of Their Own

Featured photo: Anna Dorothea Therbusch, Self Portrait (1777); Artemisia Gentileschi, David and Bathsheba (Early 1640s)

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