Category: lesbian artists

NOVEMBER 3: Lucie Delarue-Mardrus (1874-1945)


The French journalist, poet, and
novelist, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, was born on this day in 1874.

Lucie Delarue-Mardus photographed by Paul Nadar in 1914 (x). 

Lucie was born on November 3, 1874
in Honfleur, Normandy. She was the youngest of six children born to
the middle-class Delarue-Mardus family. Her father was a successful lawyer,
which allowed for her and her siblings to be well educated in literature and
music. In 1880, the family moved to Paris; the city’s rich artistic community
allowed a young Lucie to decide that writing and art was to be her life’s

Throughout her life, Lucie wrote
over 70 books. She is most well-known for her poem “My Native Land,” which is a
love letter to her homeland of Normandy, and her 1930 novel The Angel and the Perverts. Despite
being married to the wealthy translator J.C. Mardrus, Lucie made no secret of
the fact that she was a lesbian. The most prominent lover of her life was Natalie
Clifford Barney
, who is featured prominently in The Angel and the Perverts as
well as a series of love poem written by Lucie in 1902 and 1903. She was
eventually able to divorce her husband, leading to one admirer of hers to say, “She
is adorable. She sculpts, mounts to horse, loves a woman, then another, and yet
another. She was able to free herself from her husband and has never embarked
on a second marriage or the conquest of another man.”

In 1936, she became the very first
recipient of the Renée Vivien prize for women poets. By the time of her death
on April 26, 1945, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus had secured a legacy as one of the
pioneers of lesbian French literature.


OCTOBER 30: Louise Abbéma (1853-1927)


Born on this day in 1853, Louise Abbéma was a painter, sculptor, designer, and one of the most famous “New Women” of the Belle Époque era. She is most well-known for her relationship with her lover and muse Sarah Bernhardt, who was one of the most well-known French stage actresses of her day. 



photographed in 1914 (x).

Louise Abbéma was born on October 30, 1853 in Étampes, Essonne. The Abbémas were an incredibly wealthy liberal family who were very well-connected to the Parisian art world; when Louise began to show interest in art at a young age, her parents had her train under greats such as Charles Joshua Chaplin, Jean-Jacques Henner and Carolus-Duran.After leaving home to study in Paris, the heart of the French art scene, at just the young age of 15, Louise became an active member in the premier salons of the day. 

She first received widespread recognition for her paintings when she displayed her very first portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. Her trademarks were oil portraits and waters colors, as exemplified in the works of one of her biggest influence, Édouard Manet. Another big influence? The fellow lesbian artist Rosa Bonheur! Louise became known for her portraits, murals, as well as her contributions to Gazette des Beaux-Arts and L’Art. Some of her most prestigious awards throughout her career was the 1887 Palme Academiques and being dubbed the Chevalier of the Order of the Légion d’honneur in 1906

A portrait of Sarah Bernhardt painted by Louise


and dated 1875 (x).

Although many historians have tried to paint Louise and Sarah Bernhardt as simply incredibly close friends, it is undeniable in our contemporary understanding that the two were lovers. Having made her stage debut in 1862 in the play Iphigénie, Sarah was already a household name by the time she met Louise in 1871. Both women were known as Bohemian eccentrics in polite society, especially Louise who wore men’s suits and smoked a cigar wherever she went, so it was a surprise to no one when the two eventually became inseparable. It was Louise’s first portrait of the “Divine Sarah,” as she was called by her adoring fans, that propelled her into superstar status after it became a hit at the Paris Salon of 1876, and throughout their 50-year-long partnership, Louise created multiple portraits and busts of Sarah. 

As a successful, independent painter and a butch lesbian who frequently showed gender non-conforming women in her work, Louise broke the mold of what society expected of its women. She and Sarah stayed together until Sarah’s death in 1923 and ever since Louise’s own death on July 10, 1927, she has been remembered as one of the most groundbreaking of the early 20th century’s “New Women.”


OCTOBER 25: Claude Cahun (1894-1954)


The groundbreaking French artist
and photographer, Claude Cahun, was born on this day in 1894. Her work is known
for its daring disregard for 20th century gender roles, Claude
herself even famously saying, “Shuffle the cards. Masculine? Feminine? It
depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

A self-portrait by Claude Cahun (x).

Claude was born Lucy Renee
Mathilde Schwob on October 25, 1894 in Nantes, France. She was born to a
wealthy Jewish family that boasted the well-known avant-garde artist Marcel
Schwob as one of its brood. Tragically, when Claude was just 4-years-old, her
mother began to show signs of serious mental illness and was put in a
psychiatric facility to live out her days. Claude was then raised by her grandmother.
She suffered a great deal of antisemitic bullying during her time at the local
schools in Nantes and eventually transferred to a private high school in
Surrey. After high school, she enrolled in
the University of Paris, Sorbonne.

One of her most well-known pieces is this surrealist self-portrait titled “What Do You Want From Me?” (x).

It was while she was at college when Claude began to practice photography. She began with
self-portraits and would continue to work in that mode throughout the 1920s and
1930s. In 1919, she officially changed her name to Claude Cahun. She briefly
considered the name Daniel Douglas, inspired by fellow gay historical icon Lord
Alfred Douglas, but Claude Cahun won out in the end for its seeming gender
neutrality. Although she had been working consistently since 1912, she didn’t
find fame until she joined the group of European surrealists in the early
1930s. In 1936, she was featured in both the London International Surrealist
Exhibition and The Exposition surréaliste d’Objets.

Claude and her partner Suzanne invent the mirror selfie in 1920 with the piece “Self-Portraits Reflected in a Mirror” (x).

Claude’s life partner was Suzanne Malherbe, who often went by the name Marcel Moore. In 1922,
they began holding salon meetings inside their home and became known as a power
couple in the artist world. Attendees of their salon were iconic artists such
as Henri Michaux, André Breton, Sylvia Beach, and Adrienne Monnier. At the rise
of World War II, they both fled Europe and settled in New Jersey. Despite being
in America, Claude and Suzanne became active in the Nazi resistance movement
and started to publish anti-German pamphlets. In 1944, Claude was arrested for
her work in the resistance. Although she was eventually released, her health never
recovered from the poor conditions of the jail and she passed away on
December 8, 1954. Today, Claude and Suzanne are buried side by side at St
Brelade’s Church.


OCTOBER 9: Alice Austen (1866-1952)


Ever since 1951, October 9th has been recognized as Alice Austen Day in the state of New York in dedication
to one of the earliest and most prolific woman photographers in American
history. Often shrouded over in history textbooks is the fact not only was Alice
Austen a pioneering feminist, but she was also a lesbian

A self-portrait of Alice Austen taken on September 19, 1892. She would later call this “the very best picture that was ever taken of me” (x).

Elizabeth Alice Munn was born on
May 23, 1866 inside St. John’s Church on Staten Island. Her father abandoned
the family before Alice was born, which affected her to the point of refusing
to go by her baptismal surname of Munn and instead choosing to be called
Austen, the name of her maternal family.  Alice would grow up at the Austen family home
called “Clear Comfort” in the Rosebank neighborhood of Staten Island, a quaint
and loved child as the only young person in a house full of six adults. Her
first camera was given to her by her uncle, Oswald Müller, who was a sea
captain and often brought the family back gifts from his expeditions. Although
she was only 10-years-old, Alice fell in love with the camera and developed a
hobby of taking photos of her family members and her pets in the family garden. Her
family recognized her talent right away and her Uncle Peter, a chemistry
professor, taught her how to develop her photos.

Alice Austen, The Darned Club, 1891. Alice Austen Photograph Collection. Courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society (x).  

Supported by her wealthy family,
Alice spent much of her life traveling with her camera equipment and
documenting her experiences. She spent the summers traveling around Europe and
the rest of the seasons traveling around the New York area. It was on one such
excursion trip that Alice met the love of her life, Gertrude Tate. They met in
1899 at a Catskill hotel known as “Twilight Rest.” Gertrude was 28 to
Alice’s 33 and the photos of that summer are riddled with portraits of
Gertrude. Despite the Tate family’s disapproval of their daughter’s “wrong
devotion” to another woman, the two moved into Clear Comfort together in 1917. Alice
and Gertrude lived out their days at Clear Comfort comfortably as society
women, frequently attending parties and even starting a gardening club.

Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate, Pickards Penny Photo Studio, Stapleton Staten Island, c. 1905. Courtesy of Alice Austen House (x). 

Unfortunately, after the 1929
stock market crash, they fell into hard times financially and were forced to
move out of Clear Comfort and into a small apartment. Alice would live out her last years in poverty, only seeing her photography fully recognized in the last years of her life. In 1950, many of her early
photographs were published in an anthology called The Revolt of Women and an article about her life and
work was published in Life Magazine the same year. On
October 9, 1951 Alice was honored by the state of New York with the declaration
of the date as being Alice Austen Day. While at the opening ceremony of Alice
Austen Day, which was also an exhibition of her work, Alice is quoted as
saying, “I am happy that what was once so much pleasure for me turns out
now to be a pleasure for other people.” She would pass away a year later
on June 9, 1952. Although she and Gertrude had requested to be buried together,
their families refused.


SEPTEMBER 28: Gwen Le Gallienne & Louise Bryan…


On this day in 1929, Louise Bryant’s husband discovered letters between his wife and the out lesbian socialite and sculptor, Gwen Le Gallienne, that outed the women’s secret
affair. The discovery of the relationship lead to the unraveling of both women’s


Louise Bryant (left) and Gwen Le Gallienne (right) (x) (x).

Both women were members of
upper-class society, Gwen being the stepdaughter of famous English novelist Richard
Le Gallienne and the stepsister of popular Broadway actress Eva Le Gallienne, and
Louise being the wife of the wealthy American diplomat William Christian Bullitt Jr. Gwen was born in Paris to the famous sculptor Roland Hinton Perry and his wife Irma, but
was later adopted by her mother’s second husband, Richard, and would become a
sculptor herself later in life. Louise grew up in San Francisco, California
with a journalist and labor reformer father. She would eventually become an
outspoken figure in the first wave feminist movement and a Communist political
activist who hung around the likes of Emma Goldman and Eugene O’Neill.

Gwen Le Gallienne poses next to one of her sculptures (x).

In 1932, Louise wed William
Christian Bullitt Jr., her third husband, and the couple moved to Paris.
The marriage was a rocky one from the start; Louise had convinced William that
she was only 28-years-old when in truth she was 38 at the time of their
marriage. Nevertheless, the two moved about the circles of fellow wealthy
expatriates who lived in Paris in the 1920s and had two children together; their daughter was named Anne Moen Bullitt and they later adopted a Turkish boy named

Refik. The affair with Gwen is believed to
have begun in 1926. Whereas Louise had previously abstained from alcohol and
was a voracious writer, the pressures of being the wife of a wealthy man such
as William, which she had never experienced before, started to get to her and
she stopped writing, began drinking heavily, and fled to her society friend Gwen
for “comfort,” among other things.

In December 1923, Bryant married William Christian Bullitt Jr., former assistant secretary of state. In this photo, Bryant is holding their daughter, Anne, who was born the following February. In 1925 the couple adopted a Turkish boy, Refik, here standing at left (x).

After Louise’s husband discovered
letters between the two women on September 28, 1929, the affair ended and
scandal ensued. William divorced Louise and was awarded full custody of their
children, citing alcoholism and lesbianism as reasons Louise was not fit to be
a mother. Although the affair put strains on Gwen’s marriage, this was not the
first time she was found to have relationships with other women; she had
long been, and would continue to be for the rest of her life, a presence in the lesbian clubs and salons of Paris. After the
discovery, Louise was abandoned by her family and attempted suicide, but she wouldn’t pass away until 1936 from a brain hemorrhage. Gwen maintained her support network of lesbian friends such
as Berenice Abbott and Djuna Barnes before passing away in London several years later. 


SEPTEMBER 17: Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)


On this day in 1907, the very
first black Native-American woman to break into the world of the fine arts
passed away. Edmonia Lewis was a sculptor and an artist who reached
international fame and mastered the Neoclassical style.

Edmonia surprised many of her colleagues by refusing to take on assistants and completing all of the physically demanding acts of sculpting herself, despite being only four feet tall (x).

Mary Edmonia Lewis was born on
July 4, 1844 in the town of Greenbush, New York. Her father was Afro-Haitian
and her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent. Together, the family made up part of the small population of freed black families living in America at that time. Her mother was known to be an excellent weaver and artist
in her own right, while her father worked as a servant. Sadly, both of Edmonia’s
parents had passed away by the time she was 9-years-old and both she and her
half-brother went to live with their aunts near Niagara Falls. She eventually enrolled
at New-York Central College, McGrawville in 1856, but left after three years
and ended up studying art at Oberlin College.

After college, Edmonia moved to
Boston and decided to specialize in sculpting after being struck by the beauty of a public statue of Benjamin Franklin. Finding a mentor was difficult at first
because many of the premier sculptors in Boston were not welcoming to a black Native-American
woman entering their field, but once Edward Augustus Brackett agreed to take
Edmonia on as an apprentice, she began working for some of the most famous
abolitionist of the day, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In
1866, she made the move to Rome, Italy and opened up her own studio. It was in
Rome where Edmonia’s career was able to flourish; by 1873, she was being paid
up to $50,000 for commissions and was even invited to present at the 1876 Centennial
Exposition in Philadelphia.

Death of Cleopatra, which Edmonia presented at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, caught both the public’s eye and their attention; while Cleopatra had been the subject of many other (white male) sculptors’ works, it was shocking to see a black woman take on the task of depicting one of the most famous black women in history (x).

In Rome, Edmonia was a member of a
circle of fellow expatriate artists, more specifically, of Charlotte Cushman’s
circle of women artists. The majority of the women in Edmonia’s circle were
lesbians, with Charlotte and her partner Emma Stebbins as the head of the pack,
and for this reason, most historians have concluded that Edmonia herself must
have been a woman who loved other women. Her proclivity for “men’s clothing” and
dressing against 19th century gender mores is just further proof that
Edmonia was most likely involved in a LGBT culture of some form or another.
Tragically, after finding a lump in her breast, Edmonia was forced to leave her
friends and what little hub of community she had found in Rome and move to England for medical treatment. She passed away from
Bright’s disease September 17, 1907 and was buried at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic
Cemetery in London.


SEPTEMBER 14: Kate Millett (1934-2017)


On this day in 1934, the American writer, artist, and social
activist Kate Millett was born. The author of the classic feminist text Sexual Politics, Kate enjoyed a long career as a speaker and writer on the topic of lesbian-feminism.

Kate Millett photographed in 1979 (x).

Katherine Murray Millett was born on September 14, 1934 in
Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her father was an engineer and an alcoholic and Kate
recalled living in terror of him, as he frequently beat her as a child. He
abandoned the family when she was only 14-years-old, “consigning them to a
life of genteel poverty.” Her mother worked two jobs to help support Kate and
her two sisters. In 1956, Kate graduated from the University of Minnesota and
then went on to study at Oxford University. In
1958, she became the first American woman to graduate from Oxford with a
first-class honors degree in English literature.

Kate on the cover of the May/June 1977 edition of The Lesbian Tide magazine. The headline reads “Millett’s Passions” (x).

After leaving school, Kate became a teacher and taught at
several universities both in American and abroad. It was during her time living
in New York City and teaching at Barnard College that she joined the second
wave feminist movement. Before long, she had become a leading committee member
in the National Organization of Women (NOW) as well as a member of the New York
Radical Women and the Radicalesbians. In 1970, Kate’s PhD dissertation, Sexual Politics, was published and made
a huge splash in the world of feminist theory. The book quickly became a
bestseller and included feminist literary critiques of popular straight male
authors compared to that of gay authors.

Kate Millett reads from her novel The Basement at a meeting of The Woman’s Salon in New York, December 17th, 1977. Photograph: Marilynn K Yee/The New York Times (x).

Kate officially came out when she was giving a talk at
Columbia University and a student asked her, “Why don’t you say you’re a
lesbian, here, openly. You’ve said you were a lesbian in the past.” Kate
responded, “Yes I am a lesbian.” She ended up writing over 10 books during her
lifetime, both about theory and fiction books. She married a man while teaching in Japan in
the 1961, but the two divorced in 1985 and she later married a woman named
Sophia Kier. Tragically, Kate passed away just last week on September 6, 2017
after suffering from unexpected cardiac arrest while celebrating her birthday
with friends and family.


AUGUST 13: Hannah “Gluck” Gluckstein (1895-197…


Known simply as Gluck – in her own words, “no prefix,
suffix, or quotes” – the famous British painter Hannah Gluckstein was born on
this day in 1895.

Hannah “Gluck” Gluckstein photographed by her friend Howard Coster (x).

Gluck was born into a wealthy Jewish family on August 13,
1985. Her father was the owner of Lyon’s Corner House, an upscale chain of tea
shops, and her mother was a formerly popular American opera singer. Her parents
were disapproving of their daughter’s artistic ambitions, but nevertheless, she
went on to attend St. John’s Wood School of Art in London for three years and
still received her sizable trust fund at the age of 21. With a burgeoning art
career and new financial independence from her family, Gluck moved to Cornwall,
bought a studio, cut her hair short, and began dressing in men’s clothes.

Although “Gluck” produced many landscape pieces throughout
her career, it was her self portraits and the portraits of her lesbian friends
that truly gripped the western art world and allowed her name to go down in
history. Romaine Brooks’s painting of Gluck titled Peter (a Young English Girl), for example, was controversial in its
day for its matter-of-fact depiction of Gluck’s butchness. Gluck would “marry” Nesta Obermer. The “marriage,”
as Gluck called it, is depicted in one of her most well-known pieces, Medallion, which shows Gluck and Nesta
in the audience of a performance of Don
. Gluck’s biographer wrote that “she felt the intensity of the
music fused them into one person and matched their love.”

The double portrait of Gluck and her partner Nesta Obermer was finished in 1937 and titled Medallion. Gluck favored it for depicting the moment she “married” her “darling wife” and dubbed it the “YouWe” picture (x). 

When World War II consumed Europe, Gluck fell into hard
financial times and she and Nesta eventually broke off their relationship. In
the 1950s, she would start seeing a woman named Edith Shackleton Heald and the two would stay together until Edith’s death. Although she somewhat retired from painting in
her later years, Gluck’s very last creation was a painting of a decomposing
fish head titled Rage, Rage against the
Dying of the Light
. She would pass away on January 10, 1978.


AUGUST 9: Tove Jansson (1914-2001)


Whether you’ve come across The Moomins through Tumblr or the book series was a staple of your childhood, you have lesbian legend,
novelist, and illustrator Tove Jansson – who was born on this day in 1914! – to
thank for the whimsy of that unforgettable fairy tale world.

The profile photo for the official Twitter account in honor of Tove Jansson’s work (@ToveJansson1914) shows the author and illustrator herself in a bountiful flower crown (x). 

Tove Marika Jansson was born on August 9, 1914 in Helsinki,
Finland. Her family was a part of the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland and
had a history of producing artistic minds; her father was a sculptor and her
mother was a graphic designer and illustrator. Tove wrote and illustrated her
first picture book, Sara and Pelle and
the Water Sprite’s Octopuses
och Pelle och näckens bläckfiskar
), when
she was only 14-years-old, and unlike most people’s childhood creations, it didn’t
dawdle in a forgotten box in her family’s attic, but was actually published
later on in 1933! After graduating high school she attended the University
College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm and would also go on to earn
degrees from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’École des Beaux-Arts in

Tove Jansson and her partner

Tuulikki Pietilä were together for over 40 years and stayed together until Tove’s death. After meeting Tuulikki for the first time, Tove wrote, “I love you both enchanted and very calm at the same time, and I don’t fear anything that might await us…

I have finally come home to that one person whom I want to be with” (x).

From the 1930s to 1952, Tove worked as a political cartoonist
for the Swedish-language magazine Garm
and became known for her comical portrayals of the happenings of World War II,
but she eventually left the magazine when her Moomins series took off. The first Moomins book, The Moomins and
the Great Flood
, was published in 1947. Tove later said that her inspiration
for the white, round-bellied family of trolls came from a childhood story her
uncle used to tell her of a “Moomintroll” who lived in the kitchen
pantry and stopped children from stealing food. Several recurring characters in
the Moomins series are also famously inspired by people in Tove’s real life;
the character of Too-Ticky was based on her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä (you
can read more about the story of Too-Ticky and Tuulikki here!) and the characters
Moominpappa and Moominmamma are adaptations of Tove’s own parents.

The Moomins
eventually became an international sensation and the most identifiable marker of
Tove’s cultural legacy! Throughout her lifetime, the characters were featured
in books, comic strips, short stories, and even stage productions that Tove
herself participated in. The series is the most widely-translated works of
Finnish literature and includes a Moomins theme park and museum. In 1966, Tove
won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for her work in children’s literature with the Moomins. She would eventually pass away on June 27, 2001 at the age of 86. Footage of her
creative journey, life, and travels with Tuulikki was eventually compiled into
the 2010 documentary titled Moominland Tales:
The Life of Tove Jansson


AUGUST 2: Clare Atwood (1866-1962)


Nicknamed Tony by her close friends, the English painter Clare
Atwood passed away on this day in 1962. Known for her portraits, landscapes, and depictions of war scenes, Clare lived openly in what today would be called a
polyamorous relationship with two other women.

Self Portrait in a Hat with a Basket of Vegetables by Clare Atwood, Collection: National Trust, Fenton House (x).

Clare was born on May 11, 1866 in Richmond, London. Her
father was a wealthy architect whose fortune allowed his daughter to eventually
study at the Westminster School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. She
held her very first solo exhibit in 1893 and became a member of the prestigious
New English Art Club in 1912. The outbreak of World War I saw Clare stray from her
niche of portraits and still life when the Canadian government commissioned her
to paint scenes of the Canadian war effort. She also created one of her most famous pieces during the
war, Christmas Day at the London Bridge
YMCA Canteen
. Having been commissioned by the UK Women’s Voluntary Service,
the painting shows Princess Helena Victoria and the famous actress Ellen Terry
visiting soldiers at a YMCA canteen.

One of Clare’s most popular paintings is Christmas Day at the London Bridge YMCA Canteen, which can now be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London (x). 

Although Clare enjoyed a steady and successful career as a
painter, she was more well-known for her rather scandalous “ménage à trois” relationship.
An open lesbian, Clara lived with her two partners, Christabel Marshall and Edith
Craig at Tenterden in Kent. Christabel was a writer and Edith was an actress
and they all three were members of a small theater troupe called the Pioneer
Players. The women were also close friends with Radclyffe Hall, the author of
lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness.
The poly relationship lasted for many
years until Edith’s death in 1947. Christabel
would be the next to pass away in October of 1960. When Clare eventually passed away herself on August 2, 1962, she was buried alongside Christabel at St John the
Baptist’s Church in Small Hythe. Edith’s will had proclaimed that her ashes were
also to be buried with Clara and Christabel, but they were long lost by the
time of her two partners’ deaths. Instead, a memorial was erected at their
burial site in Edith’s honor.

The only photo of Clare, Christabel, and Edith together was taken at 

in the garden of Priest’s House at Smallhythe Place. (From left to right: Edith Craig, Clare Atwood, and Christabel Marshall) (x).