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Heroines Yesterday, Heroines Today, and Heroines Tomorrow

Bessica Raiche (1875-1932) Pioneer Pilot, Aviation Inventor, Dentist, Doctor

Bessica or Bessie Raiche was an American woman who distinguished herself shortly after the turn of the 20th century in terms of versatility.

She was not only a dentist and a doctor, but is also accredited by the Aeronautical Society as being the first woman to fly an airplane in a solo flight.  She had no flight instruction or experience before taking to the sky alone. Bessie was  a woman before her time who loved to shoot guns and drive fast cars right alongside the boys.

Her and her husband built their airplane in their living room and assembled it in the yard. She flew the biplane in 1910. Bessie would live another 22 years, most of which she devoted to women’s health care as a distinguished specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the US.

Heroines of Art

Hiding the women artists in history is a strange thing to do, but we’ve been doing it since the dawn of time. Here’s where we correct that mistake!

Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1532-1625

Anguissola was the eldest of seven siblings and was born into a wealthy family. She was an Italian renaissance painter. Her father was encouraged by the words of Baldassare Castiglione in II cortegiano, who recommended that women be properly educated.

So in 1546, both Sofonisba and her sister were sent to board in the household of Bernardino Campi, a prominent local painter, and they stayed there for three years.

Sofonisba also received encouragement from Michelangelo, who sent her a drawing which she copied and sent back to him for appraisal.

As her reputation spread, she began earning a living from her work, and was invited to Madrid in 1559 to the court of Philip II, where she painted portraits. Unfortunately, Sofonisba’s work was often attributed to male painters of the period.

However, she was among the most accomplished painters of the late Renaissance period. Giorgio Vasari wrote in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects that: “she worked with deeper study and greater grace than any women of our times at problems of design, for not only has she learned to draw, paint and copy from nature, and reproduce most skillfully works by other artists, but she has her own painted some most rare and beautiful paintings.”

Around 30 of Sofonisba’s paintings from that period survived into the 21st century.

Angelica Kauffman, 1741-1807

This Swiss Neoclassical painter had a successful career in London and Rome. She is remembered as a historical painter, but she was also a skilled and sought-after portraitist, landscape and decoration painter and one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London.

Angelica was actually a child prodigy who produced commissioned portraits in her early teens. She was trained by her father Johann Joseph Kauffman, and travelled through Switzerland, Austria and Italy during the early 1760s working alongside her father as his assistant.

Thanks to her travels, Angelica was able to see and copy lots of classical and Renaissance masterpieces and to meet the leaders of Neoclassicism.

During a three-year period in Italy, Angelica established her reputation as a portrait painter. She was elected to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1765. A year later, she moved to London, and was immediately successful. She exhibited regularly at the prestigious Royal Academy and worked for an amazing array of aristocratic and royal customers. She was so famous and highly respected that her funeral was directed by the Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who based the ceremony on the funeral of the Renaissance master Raphael.

Victorine Meurent

This French, red-headed painter is remembered for being Manet’s muse, and the 18-year-old face of a radical new aesthetic displayed initially in the 1862 painting Street Singer. Manet went on to paint Victorine nine times in total.

But Victorine Meurent was actually a painter in her own right, and regularly exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon. Her paintings were selected for inclusion in the Salon’s juried exhibition in 1876, when even Manet’s were not.

Victorine’s career began as an artists’ model at the age of sixteen, when she posed for artist Thomas Couture, an influential French history painter and teacher. At that time, she played the guitar and violin, gave musical lessons and sang in café-concerts.

During the 1870s, Victorine started taking art classes and took to the more academic style of painting that Manet was against. But in 1875, she began studying with the portraitist Étienne Leroy. In 1879, her painting was hung in the same room as Manet’s entry at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. She exhibited in the Salon six times.

Although a lot of Victorine’s work was lost after her death, a painting by Victorine, Le Jour des Rameaux was recovered in 2004 and now hangs in the Colombes History Museum.