Shifting gender roles and deviations from societal norms are exemplified in portraits created by queer women artists active during the early twentieth century. A transformative period for women, the beginning of the twentieth century brought the concept of the New Woman to the fore and provided opportunities for independence and self-expression for women. The New Woman is a term from the late nineteenth century, referring to women who were less interested in marriage and raising families and more interested in access to jobs and education. Through self-portraits and portraits of women in their circles, artists represented gender expression including androgyny and performative cross-dressing as declarations of queer women’s identity. This thesis focuses on works by the painters Romaine Brooks, Gluck, Florine Stettheimer, and photographers Berenice Abbott, Alice Austen, Marie Høeg and Bolette Berg. The artists socialized in queer circles and fostered new styles and forms of gender representation. In my study I explore how each artist approached her portraits, what each was trying to convey, and how their work aligns or diverges from the queer New Woman ideal. Their identities and shared experiences, both as queer women and artists, shaped their practice.
In addition, the artists’ sexualities are reflected in their pieces through their representation of their bodies. Often, this requires the interpretation of subtle visual clues and crucial images of androgyny, cross-dressing, and the dandy aesthetic. Queer artists often embraced clothing and accessories to express their identity and signal to others adept at recognizing such identifiers that they are queer. The painter Gluck exemplifies how androgynous clothing can be used as a statement of her sexuality in self-portraits as visual signifiers to those in queer circles. Through salons held in their homes, or a hidden back room of their studio in the case of Marie Høeg and Bolette Berg, artists created communities to inspire each other’s achievements and unique styles. In this paper I intend to shed light on how the portraits I am explicating are declarations of queerness, and how they present the artists’ deviations from gender norms to the art world and broader society.