Showing girls have been running the world. Beyonce-style, for centuries.
There are plenty of reason to bee-line to The Met upon any trip to New York City, and one of them may be to lunch on the steps like Blair Waldorf. But it is absolutely undeniable that some of the world’s treasures are housed in this building, and should be gawked at uncontrollably. It may be easy to bolt to the second floor to see the room full of Van Goghs, or to take some selfies at the Temple of Dandur (turn right upon entry to the main hall!) The building, however, is huge and I am still discovering masterpieces to this day.
For the strong independent women out there, I’ve pulled together this list of inspiring heroines lurking in this magnificent building. Each woman was a powerhouse in her own right, showing that girls have been running the world. Beyonce-style, for centuries.
1. Esther before Ahasuerus
Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, Rome 1593–1651/53 Naples)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 82 x 107 3/4in. (208.3 x 273.7cm)
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
Gentileschi was the first woman accepted into the Florentine Academia di Arte del Disengo, and it was well earned. Following the style of Caravaggio, Gentileschi was a master at capturing light and shadows in her paintings. However, it was not a clear path to success. At age 17, Gentileschi was raped by her tutor, and subsequently pressed charges. She won the ensuing trial, although her rapist never served time. Many historians take this incident as pointing towards her penchant for depicting strong biblical women, such as Judith, or here, Esther. Oh, and as further indication of her awesomeness, she was good friends with Galileo.
Insider tip: There was a boy slave originally at the feet of King Ahasuerus in this painting, but the artist removed it for the final product. Its brief outline can still be seen in person.
2. Young Woman Seated on a Sofa
Artist: Berthe Morisot (French, Bourges 1841–1895 Paris)
Date: ca. 1879
Medium: Oil on canvas
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 824
Berthe Mortisot is one of the very few female Impressionist painters from the well-known boom of late 19th century Parisian artists: Manet, Renoir, and Cezanne. Despite the restrictions on women, she pursued being a full-time painter, even working with Manet during her lifetime for artistic advice and support. Her paintings were chosen for seven of the eight esteemed Salon de Paris, the first being at the age of 23 (she missed one the year of her daughter’s birth.) Considering that she was a woman, many of her paintings depict domestic life, giving today’s world a window into the fashions and hobbies of women at the time.
3. The Horse Fair
Artist: Rosa Bonheur (French, Bordeaux 1822–1899 Thomery)
Medium: Oil on canvas
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 812
Rosa Bonheur’s masterpiece is one of The Met’s prized possessions, and it is always worth sitting in the purposely placed couch right in front of the canvas. At eight feet long, this painting is much to behold as a depiction of sheer force frozen in time. Bonheur visited the Horse Market in Paris for one and a half years, dressed as a man in order to take sketches in peace. The painting was exhibited in the Salon in 1853. It subsequently went on tour throughout Europe and the U.S. Bonheur, known as one of the best animal painters, received the Legion of Honor and even met Queen Victoria.
4. Minnehaha and Hiawatha
Artist: Edmonia Lewis (American, 1844–1907)
Geography: Made in Rome, Italy
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 759
Despite being a woman, African American and Native American, Edmonia Lewis became a famous and sought-after sculptor in the mid-19th century. She was lucky enough to go to Oberlin College in 1859, at the patronage of prominent abolitionists. She began her artistic career there, however, she was soon expelled after being accused of poisoning her classmates (she was acquitted.) Taking her talents to Boston, she sculpted famous abolitionists of the time. In 1866 she went to Rome, where she set up a studio and fine-tuned her neo-classical style. Because of her “exotic” appearance, she enjoyed a certain celebrity in Europe, which helped with various commissions. The two sculptures here depict the protagonists of Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about two lovers from Edmonia Lewis’ tribe, the Ojibwes.
5. Large Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut
Period: New Kingdom
Dynasty: Dynasty 18
Reign: Joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III
Date: ca. 1479–1458 B.C.
Geography: From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Senenmut Quarry, MMA excavations, 1927–28
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 115
For all the art history buffs waiting to call me out, YES this work wasn’t necessarily made by a female artist but is in The Met and depicts a kick-ass woman who is worth mentioning.
Hatshepsut reigned for over twenty years, during which she referred to herself as King instead of Queen. She was depicted in the traditional regalia of pharaohs, including: the false beard. She is known for having a long prosperous reign, with successful trade connections that funded her expansive building projects. Although she is depicted as a woman in some statues and engravings, many show her as a man in order to solidify her claim to the throne. After her death, her nephew ascended to the throne and destroyed many records and works of the ruler. The sculpture depicted here was found smashed into pieces and was reassembled by the museum’s crew.