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The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women's Self-Portraits

Jennifer Higgie

6 Reviews

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History of art / art & design styles

A dazzlingly original and ambitious work of art history, intertwining biography and cultural history, and packed with tales of rebellion, adventure, revolution, travel and tragedy

Her story weaves in and out of time and place. She's Frida Kahlo, Lois Mailou Jones and Amrita Sher-Gil en route to Mexico City, Paris or Bombay. She's Suzanne Valadon and Gwen John, craving city lights, the sea and solitude; she's Artemisia Gentileschi striding through the streets of Naples and Paula Modersohn-Becker in Worpswede. She's haunting museums in her paint-stained dress, scrutinising how El Greco or Titian or Van Dyck or Cezanne solved the problems that she too is facing. She's railing against her corsets, her chaperones, her husband and her brothers; she's hammering on doors, dreaming in her bedroom, working day and night in her studio. Despite the immense hurdles that have been placed in her way, she sits at her easel, picks up a mirror and paints a self-portrait because, as a subject, she is always available.

Until the twentieth century, art history was, in the main, written by white men who tended to write about other white men. The idea that women in the West have always made art was rarely cited as a possibility. Yet they have - and, of course, continue to do so - often against tremendous odds, from laws and religion to the pressures of family and public disapproval.

In THE MIRROR AND THE PALETTE, Jennifer Higgie introduces us to a cross-section of women artists who embody the fact that there is more than one way to understand our planet, more than one way to live in it and more than one way to make art about it. Spanning 500 years, biography and cultural history intertwine in a narrative packed with tales of rebellion, adventure, revolution, travel and tragedy enacted by women who turned their back on convention and lived lives of great resilience, creativity and bravery. This is a dazzlingly original and ambitious book by one of the most well-respected art critics at work today.

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Praise for The Mirror and the Palette: Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women's Self-Portraits

  • A bewitching, invigorating history of women artists, the work they've made and the impossibly hard conditions in which it was produced. I can't think of a more satisfying riposte to anyone who asks why there have been no great women artists than to present them with this incandescent book

  • A fascinating survey of women's self-portraits from the Renaissance to the 20th century. . . Extraordinary - DAILY MAIL

  • Jennifer Higgie puts female artists centre stage with this fascinating biography looking at 500 years of self-portraits - THE i NEWSPAPER

  • An uplifting and dazzling tour through history . . . a breakout book that shifts the spotlight onto the names that the art world has painted over. It's illuminating and essential reading - STYLIST

  • Joyous . . . As Jennifer Higgie argues in this fine, haunting book, women have always made art, despite the discouragement lobbed in their path. The Mirror and the Palette is a redress, and vividly done - so much so that it rustles with the women's presence. You feel them standing behind you, expectant . . . A revelatory study - SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

  • This engrossing book sheds new light on forgotten and disregarded female artists throughout history - and about time too . . . an absorbing story of women's art made in the European tradition - EVENING STANDARD

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Jennifer Higgie

JENNIFER HIGGIE is an Australian writer who lives in London. She has a BA in Fine Art from the Canberra School of Art, and a MA from Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne; her paintings are in various public and private collections in Australia. Previously the editor of frieze magazine, she is now frieze editor-at-large and the presenter of Bow Down, a podcast about women in art history. She is also a screenwriter, the editor of a collection of writings on art and humour THE ARTIST'S JOKE, a novel, BEDLAM, and a children's book, THERE'S NOT ONE.

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