Linda Nochlin, Trailblazing Feminist Art Historian, Dies at 86

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Linda Nochlin

Linda Nochlin, the perspicacious art historian who brought feminist thought to bear on the study, teaching, and exhibition of art, reshaping her field, has died, according to people close to her family. She was 86.

In 1971, Nochlin earned widespread attention for her landmark essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” which approached that question with incisive and nuanced analysis, demonstrating how, for centuries, institutional and societal structures had made it “impossible for women to achieve artistic excellence, or success, on the same footing as men, no matter what the potency of their so-called talent, or genius.”

But Nochlin also interrogated how “greatness” itself had long been formulated and evaluated. “In the field of art history, the white Western male viewpoint, unconsciously accepted as theviewpoint of the art historian, may—and does—prove to be inadequate not merely on moral and ethical grounds, or because it is elitist, but on purely intellectual ones,” she wrote in the essay, which was published in ARTnews.

That article quickly became a cornerstone for the developing field of feminist art history. It would have been enough to secure her place as one of art history’s most important writers, but over the course of her six-decade career, she also made formidable contributions to the study of Realism and Gustav Courbet, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and numerous contemporary artists.

Nochlin was born Linda Weinberg on January 30, 1931, in Brooklyn. “We lived near Ebbets Field and whenever the Dodgers made a home run all the ornaments on the mantelpiece shook from the wild applause,” she once told the scholar Maura Reilly, who edited a 2015 anthology of Nochlin’s writing. She attended cultural events throughout the city regularly when she was growing up, and she later went to college in upstate New York, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, from which she graduated with a degree in philosophy, minoring in both Greek and art history, in 1951, according to the Dictionary of Art Historians. Two years later, she married the professor Philip H. Nochlin, and they had a daughter, Jessica. He died in 1960. ...

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