Images of Women Throughout the Centuries

Félix Vallotton, 1865–1925
Le repos des modèles, 1905
Kunst Museum Winterthur

The image of a woman is a man’s image of a woman. This at first sight simple but in its consequence all the more far-reaching statement, applies to advertising, fashion, and the entertainment industry as well as the position of women in a social and political context and equally as strongly influences the history of art.

Images of women have mostly been projections by male artists, created for a (predominantly) male art public. The depiction of women has always been subject to a canon of stereotypes that distinctly reflected the social conventions at that time and, thus, document the respective aesthetic ideals: Maria or muse? saint or femme fatale? For centuries, the image of women in art has oscillated between these clichés. Thus, a largely male-dominated perspective of women has been preserved from the old masters via Pierre Bonnard and Félix Vallotton until well into the 20th century. Historically, these stereotypical concepts of wishful male thinking were contrasted by a mere few pictorial compositions by female artists.

The thematic presentation of Womendoes not follow a strict chronology but – through styles, genres, and epochs – brings a wide variety of women’s portraits into an exciting dialogue: from the proud women of the bourgeoisie to the lascivious nude models of the 20th century – interspersed with strong interventions by contemporary artists.