Interview with Isabel del Rio about Women artists in the History
By I Sartosa
In Yareah magazine, you are publishing different old women artists. I know you are being studying the subject for years, and you have already published a book in Spanish called “The Girls of Oil” (“Las Chicas del Oleo”).
Q.- Why does this subject interest you so much?
A.- Well, I have always been very fond of Arts. I have painted and I have I degree in Art History. To me, in my youth, in the University, it doesn’t matter if Velazquez was a man or a woman, or if there were women painting at this time. To me, it doesn’t matter at all, Art was Beauty, Art was my Religion, and I wasn’t a feminist fighter.
However, one day visiting the Prado Museum I saw that a portrait of Philip II (1565) had changed its artist name. I knew the portrait very well, I had seen it a thousand of times before, but it had been painted (they said) by Sanchez Coello. This day it had been painted by a woman, by Sofonisba Anguissola.
The change was not very important in my opinion, I was happy (of course) seeing a woman painter in the Prado Museum but I didn’t feel very confused.
When I started to comment the new with some friends or colleges at work… Yes, I started to be angry and to feel as a feminist fighter for the first time in my life.
Q.- Why for?
A.- Well, people don’t believe me and they said stupid things as ‘that is a joke’ ‘all ancient women were taking care of children and doing nothing more.’
I knew perfectly well (the Prado Museum was my second house) the strict rules they have to catalogue a painting (for instance, they have hidden some Rembrandt’s due to some little doubts about the author). Therefore, if the Museum claimed such a thing, it was true.
Q.- What do you do then?
A.- Well, I looked for information about why and who had discovered the true artist and I started to know the name of a lot of hidden old women artists while people denied my discoveries and, what was worst, I discovered that women started to be hidden after the French Revolution (in the portrait of Philip II by Sofonisba Anguissola, they cover her signature with oleo in the 19th century, and the same happened with Judith Leister, for example).
Q.- Don’t you like the French Revolution?
I think it was not well for women, it equaled us only for the guillotine, any right for us. In fact, the problem was not the French Revolution but the Industrial Revolution and the new society they needed. A society based on social groups fighting.
Q.- Why ‘fighting’?
A.- If you need to pay law salaries, it is better to confront people and the gap between sex is the first and most important confrontation (same with the gay subject. Remember Buonarroti, he didn’t have problems in the Renaissance).
In old times, it’s idiot to thing than women were at home cleaning the furniture (it wasn’t furniture). Women were working in the ateliers together with their parents, brothers or husbands. since all the family had to collaborate to make the paintings (they were not sold as today in the drugstores). Some of them were good enough to get a name, a famous name.
Q.- In your book, you speak about 500 famous old women artists?
A.- Yes, and the list is endless. I stopped the investigation since, to me, it was enough. Now, I am sure in old times a lot of women stood up and got independence and freedom, same as men: life is never easy.
However, with the Industrial Revolution (and the marketing of the French Revolution), women had much more problems living in a lie (I think, I lie is always the bigger problem).
Q.- What lie? Can you explain this point?
A.- Official powers are claiming (constantly) that our current world is the best. They are very interested in convincing us of being quiet and they are against the idea of ‘Past times were better.’
A lot of my old Girls of Oil left their husbands or maintained them or married without asking for permission or lived very well without asking for money to any man. In the 19th century, in the Victorian society, believe me: it was more difficult.
As women, we should study them, because they encourage us, much more than the idea of obedient mothers, doing nothing and always obeying.
My mothers are the Girls of Oil.
See more old women artists: http://yareah.com/?cat=237