The ladies have been rocking it this year and it makes me think of one of my favourite artists, Nell Brinkley. Nell was an illustrator who was considerably popular between around 1908 to the early 30’s. The feminist movement advanced leaps and bounds during that period and Nell chronicled the development. Her drawings are a record of the progress women were making, as well as a depiction of their dreams and victories. What I really appreciate about her art is that unlike illustrators before her, she would draw middle and working class women with personality as opposed to high society bores. I think of her work as a life-imitating-art, art-imitating-life cycle. Her art reflected the occurrences of the time, simultaneously encouraging more women to break loose from the Victorian era stronghold. Her drawings promoted better pay, better housing and an over all better way of life for women. The suffrage movement and WWI both had a significant impact on Nell’s illustrations, as she drew brave and heroic women, not waiting for the help of a man in order to save the day.
To retrieve the thread of this explanation, Nell would also draw women proudly playing sports; running, jumping, swimming, and having a great time. To top it off, she drew them in short skirts (showing their knees!), or slacks, or boots, or bathing suits as opposed to corsets and full dresses. She was doing this in the very early years of the twentieth century, and when you consider it contextually, it’s a big deal. If you had told the women of the generation before that this was going to be possible, you’d probably be tried for heresy or something. We see the glimmers of a marginalized group subverting accepted authority to reach their own autonomy.
Beyond the social commentary, Nell’s art is beautiful. It is so detailed, colourful, vibrant and brimming with movement and life. A lot of it is really light hearted - just fluffy, romantic and fun, which is great too.
I first discovered Nell Brinkley’s work through a stunning book called “The Brinkley Girls”, which was edited by Trina Robbins. Earlier this year I read a book Trina Robbins wrote called “Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century” -- it gave an excellent insight into the life of the artist. Below are some pictures I took of my copy of “The Brinkley Girls”.