One of the few self-portraits I saw of a woman during my visit to the Prado was of Aurelia Navarro. Her portrait was standing amidst the other illustrious painters accepted into the Association of Painters and Sculptors. Indeed, one of the most extraordinary nudes of Venus was painted by her. Hers is a story that highlights the discrepancies afforded women in all fields because of gender bias. Hers is a fitting one to bring to light today International Women’s Day.
Aurelia Navarro Moreno (Pulianas, Granada, 1882-Córdoba, 1968) was born into a wealthy family, training as a painter in the studios of José Larrocha and Tomás Muñoz Lucena. At the age of 22, he participated in the National Exhibition of Fine Arts, obtaining an honorable mention, achieving Third Class Medals in 1906 and 1908 and the applause of critics and the public. The artist challenged the dominant sexist stereotypes in the artistic field, calling for the professionalization of female artists. In 1910 she would be one of the pioneers who formed the Spanish Association of Painters and Sculptors. However, her artistic career languished until it was abandoned in 1923, when she entered the Cordovan convent of the Adoratrices Esclavas del Santísimo Sacramento. Artistic historiography overshadowed her figure to the point of making her disappear in the second decade of the 20th century and we had to wait for recent studies to rescue her from historical oblivion and value her contributions to Spanish art.
What is so pitiful is that this extraordinary painter squelched her own creative talents to fit into the norms for female propriety.From creating a provocative nude, that some art historians claim must have been a self-portrait as women artists of that time would never have been allowed to sketch nudes in a formal academy, she shut herself up in a convent and was in essence forgotten until the beginning of the 20th century when female art historians, especially Magdalena Illán from the University of Seville, brought her back into the light.
“Aurelia Navarro’s painting synthesizes that moment perfectly. She, pressured for having done a successful nude, and not moralizing, ends up locking herself in the convent”, explains the curator of Guests , Carlos G. Navarro . María López Fernández, who has investigated the image of women in Spanish painting, is reminded of the case of Camille Claudel (1864-1943), who ended her days locked up in a mental institution in Montdevergues (France). “The woman could only aspire to be an angel of the home,but when they bet on their freedom and go beyond the limits of decorum and ignore feminine issues, such as mothers with their children, they run into problems, because that was not the feminine ideal that men had designed for them”, indicates López Fernández . (El País)
How many more creative women bury themselves to conform to the expectations of their patriarchal societies? How long before these buried ones are exhumed and brought into the light of recognition?