Edward Charles Pickering, the male director of the Harvard College Observatory, began hiring women in the late 1800's to crunch numbers in his quest to document all of the stars in the sky. These human “computers” have been largely consigned to the footnotes of history, but their contributions to astronomy helped catalog and map over 400,000 stars and helped to build the foundations of modern astronomy.
A look at some of the great female artists of the past is also a timeline of art history, as women have been leading figures in every artistic movement, from the Italian Renaissance to American Modernism and beyond. By weaving our way through art history—from a 16th-century court painter for King Philip II to the 20th-century icon that is Frida Kahlo—let’s take a look at the strength, character, and talent of these exceptional women.
Impressionist artists are known for their avant-garde approach to brushwork and interest in capturing fleeting impressions of the world around them. In addition to these technical developments, Impressionism was groundbreaking for another reason: its inclusion of women. Though the movement was still male-dominated, a few women were able to make a name for themselves among Paris’ premier Impressionists, with Berthe Morisot being the first.
Completed in 1876, the large, 89 × 106 inch Solar System Quilt was made from black woolen fabric and embellished with colorful wool-fabric appliqué, wool braid, as well as wool and silk embroidery. Similar to the solar system illustrations in astronomy books of the time, it features the sun at the center, the eight planets of our solar system, as well as the asteroid belt and a myriad of stitched stars.