Ahead of their Time: Remarkable Women of American Art

Ahead of their Time: Remarkable Women of American Art

T raditionally, women's contributions to the canon of American art have been largely overlooked by art historians. But the tide is changing. Works by several remarkable female artists are included in Sotheby's American Art Online auction, closing 26 July at 12:00 PM EDT. Below, learn more about how these women grew their craft during a time when the obstacles often outnumbered the opportunities – and be sure to check out these works in-person at the Sotheby's New York public galleries.


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ESPHYR SLOBODKINA, Seagull, 1939. Estimate $8,000 – 12,000.

Esphyr Slobodkina (1908 – 2002)

Born in 1908, Russian-American artist Esphyr Slobodkina was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, which began in 1936. While Slobodkina was born in Russia, the majority of her life was spent elsewhere; her family emigrated to Harbin, Manchuria (China) during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and nine years later Slobodkina immigrated to the United States. Upon arrival, she enrolled in the National Academy of Design. Over the next two decades, Slobodkina developed a signature style that consists of flat, abstract planes interlocking in space. At the recommendation of the Museum of Modern Art's legendary first director Alfred Barr, Peggy Guggenheim included Slobodkina's work in her 1943 Exhibition by 31 Women at New York's Art of This Century gallery. Today, the artist's works are part of the permanent collection of numerous notable museums, including MOMA and the Smithsonian. What's more, her work has been included in exhibitions at numerous museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The present work, titled Seagull, was once owned by American businessman and socialite Edward Downe Jr., before being acquired by the present owner in 1989.


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Susan Macdowell Eakins, Peonies. Estimate $2,000 – 3,000.

Susan Macdowell Eakins (1851 – 1938)

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Portrait of Susan Macdowell Eakins, painted by her husband, Thomas Eakins [Thomas Eakins, The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog, circa 1884 – 1889]

Susan Macdowell Eakins was an esteemed American painter and photographer best remembered for her portraits and still lives. Born to William H. Macdowell, an engraver, photographer and painter, Macdowell Eakins was encouraged to pursue painting from an early age. Later on, she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where she was awarded the Mary Smith prize for best painting by a matriculating woman artist. Despite this, Macdowell Eakins's talent was often overshadowed by her husband's, artist Thomas Eakins. Following his death in 1916, Macdowell Eakins devoted herself to her painting, becoming a prolific artist in her own right. According to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts' exhibition catalogue from 1973, the present work is the only surviving flower still life by the artist. The painting was mistakenly exhibited under her sister's name in the Art Club Gallery exhibition in Philadelphia in 1936.


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From left: Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, Crest of the Wave , 1925, estimate $12,000 – 18,000; Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, The Vine 1921, estimate $8,000 – 12,000; Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, Laughing Waters , 1929, estimate $10,000 – 15,000.

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880 – 1980)

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth was one of the most prominent female sculptors of the 20th century. Born in 1880 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Frishmuth later studied sculpture under the tutelage of renowned artists, including Auguste Rodin, Cuno von Uechtritz-Steinkirch, Gutzon Borglum and Hermon Atkins MacNeil. Frishmuth is known for her captivating bronzes of females dancing – Desha Delteil, a Slovenia-born dancer, became the artist's favorite model – with collectors and museums alike seeking to acquire her work. One of her larger pieces, a monumental version of The Vine (positioned center in the compilation above), is in the permanent collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The three present sculptures are fine examples of Frishmuth's smaller bronze works; the largest, Crest of the Wave (left, above), stands at 20.75 inches, Laughing Waters (right, above), is 16 inches and The Vine (center, above) is 11.5 inches.


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Ann Bedford Goodman, Pearline (No. 3), 1934. Estimate $300 – 500.

Ann Bedford Goodman (1896 – 1988)

Born in Ionia, Michigan in 1896, Ann Bedford Goodman was part of the Detriot artist's community in the mid-20th century. Bedford Goodman attended the Ligett School, now the University Ligett School, in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, graduating in 1917. Later, she became a member of the Detriot Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Detriot Historical Society's Archives of American Art, the Founders' Society of the Detriot Institute of Art and The Fine Arts Society. The present work, titled Pearline (No. 3), is dated 1934.


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Clementine Hunter, Funeral Procession, estimate $6,000 – 8,000.

Clementine Hunter (1886 – 1988)

Clementine Hunter is a celebrated, self-taught black folk artist famous for her depictions of plantation life in the early 20th century. In her lifetime, Hunter achieved significant recognition for her contributions to the American folk art movement, including being the first African-American artist to receive a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art (then the Delgado Museum). Her work is in the collections of the Savannah College of Art and Design, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, among others.

The present work, titled Funeral Procession, is a distinctive example of Hunter's signature style, which incorporates flat, two-dimensional planes with bold colors and simplified shapes.


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Julia McEntee Dillon, Pink Roses in a Glass, estimate $3,000 – 5,000.

Julia McEntee Dillon (1834 – 1918)

Julia McEntee Dillon was an established American painter in the mid-19th century, known especially for her floral paintings. McEntee Dillon was born in 1834 in Kingston, New York, and attended the Clinton Liberal Institute in nearby Clinton (today the home of Hamilton College); there, she was encouraged to grow her artistic talents. Later, she married foundry owner John Dillon – his death a decade later afforded her the opportunity to pursue her painting fully. Subsequently, the artist traveled to Europe to study the work of the Old Masters and spent time with her cousin, the artist Jervis McEntee of the Hudson River School. Her work became well-exhibited, showing at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the National Academy of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The present work, titled Pink Roses in a Glass, is sure to brighten any room.

American Art

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