Liberation and the Modern Era: Women in Modern Art

  • April 15, 2015 13:33

  • Email
Employment Station, New York by Martha Walter, circa 1915
(M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)

This is the third of a three part series of blog posts preceding our exhibition Innocence, Temptation and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art, on view at M.S. Rau Antiques now through May 4. 

A time of tumult both socially and politically, the early 20th century is remembered as an era of upheaval in the Western world. Two world wars, economic hardships and social revolutions affected the course of social history, and the art of the period came to reflect the rapidly evolving landscape of a new modern era. 


The power of the person truly culminated in the art of the period, and with each passing decade, depictions of women came to reflect the emergence of a new liberated woman. Through both an artistic empowerment of women and the then energized Feminist Movement, women became less objects for a viewer’s pleasure and instead independent characters. A remarkable oil on canvas by American Impressionist Martha Walter entitled Employment Station is a powerful and progressive work of social realism that is an evocative illustration of the new image of women in society.  Walter’s vivid color palette imbues her female subject with a wonderful sense of strength and hope, as she presumably awaits her fate in her attempt to join the workforce. The dawn of the 20th century set into motion a colossal social shift, propelling women into the workforce and other traditionally male spheres. Here, Walter depicts her female subject as she faces these changes with strength and pride. 

Excuse Me by Norman Rockwell, circa 1917
(M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)

Even the most traditional of artists contributed to the new complexity of womanhood, proving that women had the power to determine their own place in the world, however radical or conservative. Norman Rockwell’s Excuse Me can be viewed as both a humorous narrative and an early indication of the emerging modern woman of the 1920s. Depicting a fashionably dressed woman choosing a WWI soldier over a man of wealth, the work indicates a power of choice that was unavailable to the young woman just a generation before. Rockwell’s woman stands at the crest of an age of rapidly expanding women’s rights and roles, just on the verge of women’s suffrage in the United States. 

Jacqueline au Chapeau Noir by Pablo Picasso, circa 1962
(M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)

As artists explore new ways of seeing, we see the visual narrative moving further and further away from the academic ideal we see in artists such as John William Godward and Guillaume Seignac. More than any other artist, Picasso defined Modern Art of the twentieth century by his establishment and development of one of its major movements, Cubism. His work Jacqueline au chapeau noir, depicting the young Jacqueline Roque, is a stunning example. Picasso exhibits a warmth toward his model (who was his second wife), and even as he puts her face through his exercises in distortion, she never appears monstrous. Picasso presents here a new way of looking – the human form is deidealized and considered in a new way that forces the viewer experience her more dynamically. With his Cubist works, Picasso paved the way for the pure abstraction that would dominate Western art for the next 50 years, a genre which arguably shifted the art historical narrative into a conceptual, gender-free space. 

To learn more about the story of women in art, please join us for Innocence, Temptation and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art, on view at M.S. Rau Antiques now through May 4. 

About M.S. Rau Antiques:

M.S. Rau Antiques has spent over 100 years earning the trust of discerning collectors world-wide. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, our peerless gallery showcases some of the world’s most extensive and stunning works of important fine art by artists such as Monet and van Gogh, rare 18th-and 19th-century antiques and breathtaking jewelry, including rare colored diamonds.

  • Email

Beauty, Rarity, History: The M.S. Rau Blog

Founded in 1912, M.S. Rau is one of North America’s most respected galleries supported by a team of experts who ensure each piece is vetted for quality and authenticity. A commitment to quality and beauty underpins each of the gallery’s acquisitions; it is a commitment that allows Rau to present only the most exceptional in fine art, antiques and jewels.

More Posts from Beauty, Rarity, History: The M.S. Rau Blog

This ivory-topped Doctor's Cane contains everything needed to make a house call.

The Un-cane-y World of Canes

  • August 26th, 2010 13:51

Canes and walking sticks, upon first mention, sound perhaps like the least interesting objects in the world to ...

A rare and stunning Burmese Imperial jadeite is the star of this striking ring

What’s in a Name? The Splendor of Imperial Jadeite Jewelry

  • September 20th, 2010 14:55

“Gold is estimable; but Jade is priceless.”  –Chinese proverb Shrouded behind a veil of verdant mystery for ...

Deep blue, violet and emerald hues shimmer in this magnificent ginger jar in the "Jewelled Tree" pattern with "Cat and Mouse and Copper Trees" panels

Elves, Nymphs and Fairies–Oh My!: Illustrious Fairyland Lustre by Wedgwood

  • September 28th, 2010 07:50

An over-200-year-old company finds itself on the verge of financial ruin as war rages on. It's only savior an unknown ...

This monumental chandelier is saturated with oversized, luminous prisms and beads of fine Baccarat crystal

Baccarat…Crystal Fit for a King

  • October 13th, 2010 07:58

In response to a wealthy landowner's request to make the best use of the natural resources of the infertile Baccarat ...

Skinner - Fine Art at Auction

ARTFIXdaily Artwire