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Paint Brush Princesses. Art education for women in the 19th century

The Paintbrush princesses & professional paintresses project began in 2008. By conducting extensive art-historical research, The RKD, Het Loo Palace and The Mesdag Collection want to turn the spotlight on the 1100 women artists active in Holland in the 19th century. Over the next few months the results of the investigation will be presented in a publication, an exhibition in two places, as well as in RKDdatabases. In our current vitrine display you can see a selection of material from the RKD collections which relates to art education for women in the 19th century.

A proper art training was of vital importance to women with artistic aspirations. Throughout the 19th century they could make use of traditional forms of art education. Girls born into artistic families were taught by family members, while young ladies from well-to-do families often received drawing lessons at home from local artists. The official art academies, however, did not admit female students, mainly because life drawing from the male nude – the central, essential part of the academic course – was deemed inappropriate for them.

M.H. Laddé, drawing class at the academy with a.o. Lizzy Ansingh and model Mrs Foks, ca. 1900, photo, RKD, The Hague

This changed when in 1871 the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam became one of the first art institutions in Europe to enrol female students. A year later the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague followed suit. Life-drawing classes were initially not part of the curriculum for women, a deficiency that was only put right in the early 1890s, when first The Hague  (1893) and then Amsterdam (1895) allowed women to attend life classes. The rest of the academic programme differed very little from that for male students, although a number of classes were taught separately. The introduction of girls to the academies of Amsterdam and The Hague seems to have proceeded smoothly and by 1900 it was as if female students had always been part of these establishments.

You can read more about art education for women artists in Penseelprinsessen & broodschilderessen. Vrouwen in de beeldende kunst 1808-1913 (Paint Brush Princesses & Professional Paintresses. Women in the fine arts 1808-1913), which is for sale at the RKD Shop. There will also be an opportunity to see the paintings of these women in the double exhibition ‘Paintbrush princesses’. The first exhibition runs from 18 to 28 May at Het Loo Palace and focuses on 19th-century women artists working in and around the Dutch court; following on from this there will be a second exhibition at The Mesdag Collection, running from 30 May to 26 August and highlighting the work of the many professional women artists of the 19th century.

You can find more information and activities at:

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