An Homage to Female Artists: Past and Present

In honor of Women's Month, the team at Waterhouse and Dodd New York would like to celebrate the works of female artists Mary Cassat, Karen Gunderson, Danielle Frankenthal and Aninna Roescheisen. This article is in tandem with our current online show, "The Contemporary Female Artist", a curated selection highlighting the skillful, innovative, and experimental techniques and oeuvre of our female roster of artists. 


The female presence in the arts, though historically neglected, is one to be celebrated. The first heroine in our story is that of Mary Cassatt, an american painter and printmaker from what is now known as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She spent much of her youth traveling throughout Europe, and after having abandoned her schooling at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, disgruntled with the academic environment and glass ceiling they presented, she relocated to Paris. At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts was not yet accepting women into their sphere so Cassatt took up private lessons.


In 1868, Mary Cassatt’s Mandolin Player was accepted at the Paris Salon. After touring Europe from 1871-1874 Cassatt settled in Paris once again. She lost interest in the Salons, claiming them as too conservative, and critiquing the artists involved as producing in aims of profit seeking.  In 1875, Cassatt came to encounter Degas’ work displayed in a gallery. Having eventually befriended the artist, they became close colleagues and collaborators and in 1877, she was invited to join the Impressionist movement. Being the only American painter in the movement, she participated in 4 of the 8 exhibitions. 


Today her work is displayed in many esteemed museums and collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the National Gallery.


Around 1900, Mary Cassatt added a new subject to her repertory: the young girl seated alone or with a dog. Many of the girls, as in Sara Wearing a Bonnet and Coat, wear elaborate chapeaux. Inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish portraits as well as English portraits of the Romantic period, Cassatt updated the genre. While the old master images depicted aristocratic children, Cassatt often drew her models from the families of local servants. Nevertheless, she instilled her sitters with a strong sense of presence and dignity, in keeping with her belief that education and cooperation among women could shape destiny as much as inherited position. 


Shifting to a more contemporary female artist's perspective, the foreground, Cassatt laid for female artists and her contributions to style and printmaking techniques are still seen today. Looking at another artist whose brushstrokes embody a moment and define her work, Karen Gunderson comes to the forefront. Gunderson, born in Racine, Wisconsin, has been the subject of numerous one-person shows throughout the United States and in Madrid, Spain and Sophia, Bulgaria. Her Black Paintings series creates scenes in which the subject matter becomes completely dependent on light and stroke. Concepts not too far off from that of the impressionists. 


Karen Gunderson, in her all black paintings, conjures vast landscapes through what critic Gerard McCarthy described in Art in America as “a deft working in surface texture alone.” Over the past eighteen years she has perfected a technique whereby pictorial illusions result from white light reflected off the raised edges of varied brushstrokes. As a result and as a process, her paintings become incredibly focused on the haptic. The process places Gunderson in a mental space of feeling form with her brush rather than visualizing an image, she is feeling out the contours and shapes throught the volume of the paint and her brush. The result is an illusory depiction which moves with the viewer across the room and changes with the angle of light refraction. 


Gunderson has received many honors and awards, most notably a Lorenzo Magnifico Prize in Painting at the 2001 Florence Biennale, Italy. She has been named by noted critic Donald Kuspit as one of the New Old Masters, and was included in the New Old Masters show at the Abbots Palace in Gdansk, Poland.


In conversation of light as a stylistic technique, Daniell Frankenthal becomes an imperative figure in the reflection. Much like the work of Karen Gunderson, Frankenthal channels light as a technique for movement and varying color effects. Her work is influenced by light in all its form. She describes light as, "the most humanly perceivable form of pure energy which allows us sight". This thesis becomes apparent in her work much through her materials of choice, paint on transparent Acrylite® layers. This material employ allows a challenge of foreground and background in composition and creates a slight effect of movement and color variation which changes as one moves around the room or under different lighting conditions. The use of transparent Acrylite® evokes a voyeuristic sensation, peering in to her abstract gestural scenes.  Her technique is meant to mimic adult perception, the slight reflection of her works becomes introspective. A reflection on cultural programming and the journey of life. 


To conclude our selection, we would like to draw attention to Annina Roescheisen's emotive and highly gestural body of work. A multimedia artist, her work extends beyond painting and drawing to include photography, sculpture, installation, video and more. Like the other artist's in this selection, her work suggests movement and flow. Roescheisen achieves this effect through her layered ink linework and weight variation. This variable establishes a new perception of light and shadow, depth and movement. A shift into a new form and state of artistic and human presence is perceptible underlying Roescheisen’s current works in a new realm of depth and artistic freedom. A direct and bold presence is emerging. Autobiographical themes and trains of such thoughts have moved into the background. Subsequently Roescheisen’s new work transpires a new form of authenticity



Roescheisen’s work has been exhibited in galleries worldwide, including the 56th Venice Biennale, at the GAA Foundation in the context of the European Pavilion where her work was shown among artists such as Daniel Buren and Yoko Ono. Since 2012 she is performing in ”Systema Occam” by highly acclaimed French contemporary artist Xavier Veilhan. This performance was shown at the MAMO/ Le Corbusier in Marseille, the Delacroix Museum in Paris, the Hermès Foundation in Paris, and the French Alliance Institute in New York, to name a few. In 2016, Time Out New York named her as one of the top 10 emerging artists to follow. In their 2015 review of her series, “What are You Fishing For”, Wall Street International emphasized “Her “holistic” approach to art allows for a broad spectrum of activities and has seen the artist become an active participator in the human rights field and a collaborator with fellow artists.”


March 9, 2022