Woman Artists from Studio to Collection

Painting by Lila B. Hetzel
Painting by Lila B. Hetzel

I Just returned from an event a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum: The Market: Woman Artists from Studio to Collection. The panelists included Deborah Harris from the Armory Show; Deepanjana Klein from Christie’s; Gallery owner Claire Oliver; Institute for Woman and Art Co-Director Dr. Ferris Olin; Gallery Owner Sue Scott and A.I.R Gallery Director Kat Griefen. Ms. Scott presented some interesting statistics on the value of woman artists compared to men, but it was gallery owner Claire Oliver whose slide with four photos of paintings struck me most. She asked “can you tell which paintings are by women artists?” The answer was all four, and so not a real test of telling them apart from those of male artists. Still, if most people buy their art for it’s visual statement or visual pleasure and it’s not easy to discerne who painted it, who is to be blamed for the price discrepancy? The buyers? Or the dealers? It may be undervalued, but it would seem that it could be women artists are at the greatest disadvantage when art is bought for investment purposes.

Still, as I look around at the paintings in my room, all by little-known artists, only one I know for certain to have been painted by a woman. Her name was Eleanor Simms Black, a Pittsburgh artist from the 1930s. During the discussion I was thinking of other women artists from Pittsburgh, Lila B. Hetzel and Johanna Woodwell Hailman, both who took up art after their relatively, locally at least,  famous parents, George Hetzel and Joseph Ryan Woodwell. I don’t believe either have auction records matching their parents, but neither has George Inness Jr. matched his father in terms of auction records.

Lila B. Hetzel by George Hetzel
Lila B. Hetzel by George Hetzel

It was a very interesting discussion, but it’s very difficult to make sense of much of it. This is because it’s very difficult to compare art or artists, or to factor in what part of a work of art can be attributed to the gender, sex or even personality attributes of the artist. Art, good art anyway, must stand by itself. It was Sister Wendy who said the most enjoyable art is that which has lost the identity of the artist.

Society has in many instances hindered the success of one group or another, but to compare a work by a female artist one by a male contemporary (or to another female artist) is just not practical or useful. Only with averages can we make any such comparison, and then we can only compare groups of artists as comparing groups of paintings is equally rediculous. As much as we like to see the value of art in auction records, fair or not, time is the only real judge of value in the art world. Any statistics from the present day will ultimately be lost.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.


Lila B, and George Hetzel are our direct ancestors. My sister and I are the last to carry the torch of painting in our family. We were always told from our grandfather ”James” that we were to always sign our names with initials only..for if collectors knew we were women it would depreciate the value of the art. We are now in our 40’s and getting established in the art world, and continue to sign with initials!haha I’m glad I ran across this article. To see familiar family paintings, and an issue concerning male/female art value was nice to see and read. thank you
Mary B. Hetzel

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