Genius and Gender in Western Art


The western art tradition relies on the idea of genius for its stars, both the Old Masters and modern heroes such as Picasso. But it is now appreciated that this idea has excluded women artists. This course will examine what genius has stood for and how it needs to be reappraised if the concept is to allow for women’s artistic achievements.

Recommended Reading
Linda Nochlin (2015), 1971 essay “Why have there been no great women artists?”, in Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader (ed. Maura Reilly), Thames and Hudson.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone who appreciates art history and is interested in learning more about female artists in the western art tradition.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • have a better understanding of famous artists such as Leonardo, Rembrandt, Rubens, Turner and Picasso
  • have learned about significant women artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Rosalba Carriera, Mary Cassatt, Kathe Kollwitz and Rita Angus
  • have a critical awareness of how fame and reputation work
  • understand more about the institutions of western art such as academies, patronage and connoisseurship
  • be more confident in making your own judgments about fine art

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion.

1. What is genius?
2. Some famous names
3. The making of a masterpiece
4. The female genius
5. What art is for

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Pamela Gerrish Nunn has taught Art History since the 1970s, and was Professor of Art History at the University of Canterbury. Her specialism is women artists of the western tradition.

“Interesting topic, well researched and delivered in an engaging way. A privilege to have a lecturer of such talent and experience. A quality course”, William Morris: A man for all seasons participant, (2018)

“I got so much out of this course. An area I have not looked at much in the past and has set me on a new path. Pamela's lectures were of expert quality and full of information and extremely interesting. Thank you”, William Morris: A man for all seasons participant, (2018)

“Inspirational, in-depth presentation with plenty of scope for further self-study through references”, William Morris: A man for all seasons participant, (2018)

“I really enjoyed the style of lecture; a great mix of humour and information. Brought into a NZ context also which was interesting”, William Morris: A man for all seasons participant, (2018)

Relevant links:
School of Art History

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140
Phone 04 463 6556, Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.