It took nearly 200 years for Madrid’s Museo del Prado, the national art museum of Spain, to mount its first solo exhibition devoted to a female artist. The Art of Clara Peeters, a one-room exhibition featuring 15 works by the pioneering still life painter of the Dutch Golden Age, opened today; the Prado will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019. As the Art Newspaper‘s Hannah McGivern — who pointed out this very belated first — notes, Peeters is one of only 41 women represented in the museum’s collection — it owns four of the works in the exhibition — compared to its holdings of works by over 5,000 male artists.
A survey of the last 13 years of exhibitions at the Prado confirms what seems like a startling gender bias for a museum operating in the 21st century. While this Peeters exhibition appears to be 197 years in the making, since 2003 the institution has mounted six exhibitions devoted to Francisco Goya, four on El Greco, and three each about Diego Velázquez, Titian, and Picasso (the latter of whom, it’s worth noting, was the museum’s director from 1936 to 1939). In the same period, the Prado’s seven forays into contemporary art have also all been solo shows for men, including Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly, Richard Hamilton, and Thomas Struth.
For comparison’s sake, national museums elsewhere in Europe have done only slightly better. Over the past decade, the Louvre has held exhibitions devoted to several female contemporary artists, including Candida Höfer, Eva Jospin, Monique Frydman, and Michal Rovner; it also mounted a historic show devoted to Princess Marie of Orléans and co-organized the recent Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun retrospective (though it was hosted off-site during its Paris run). Over the last nine years, the UK’s National Gallery has given two women solo shows: in 2014 it opened a one-room exhibition devoted to Maggi Hambling, and in 2010 it held a Bridget Riley exhibition. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum has not had a single solo exhibition by a female artist since it reopened three and a half years ago. It did, however, host an exhibition featuring three female artists’ portraits of the Netherlands’ new king.
These depressing figures confirm the Guerrilla Girls’ recent comments on the occasion of their aptly titled show at the Whitechapel Gallery, Is it even worse in Europe? “The numbers are very low, they’re not diverse,” a Guerrilla Girl going by Käthe Kollwitz told ARTnews. “Many museums are trying to play catch up but they have a long way to go because they’re stuck with their collection which they started many years ago and it’s mostly white guys.”