Jennifer Higgie introduces us to a cross-section of women artists who embody the fact that there is more than one way to understand our planet, more than one way to live in it and more than one way to make art about it.
To read The Mirror and the Palette is to be reminded why art history is such a compelling subject ... In lively prose, author Jennifer Higgie touches on all of these bases, taking us through a varied terrain while advancing her illuminating thesis ... Throughout the book, Higgie persuasively emphasizes self-portraiture as a mode of self-expression. She studies individual works closely and captures the mood and motivation behind each. Sometimes her interpretation is idiosyncratic; another viewer could read something very different into the picture. Her writing is at its most emotionally evocative, even lyrical, when she imagines multitudes of women in their tiny attics and dimly lit studios, looking at themselves and deciding how they want to be remembered ... By skillfully balancing the historical and the imaginative, The Mirror and the Palette is not only a delight to read, but inspirational.
Higgie’s descriptions of the repressive conditions under which women artists have operated can be repetitive and generalising, and in a handful of cases (those of Gwen John and Leonora Carrington, for example) the focus on biography outweighs discussion of the work. But the book’s ‘meandering and personal’ approach, as she describes it, gives us an accessible, sympathetic view of women’s emancipatory use of self-portraiture to ‘reflect the world back on itself’.
... engrossing ... However you cut it, Higgie is pretty much on the money when it comes to the visibility of female artists among the general population ... This isn’t the first book to look at women’s self-portraits, but here, the chosen works of self-scrutiny, a good number of which are reproduced in the book, are treated as pinging off points for an absorbing if occasionally meandering story of women’s art made in the European tradition ... You come away from this book with a sense that the countless struggles that have gone before - those of which we have traces, and many more about which we will never know a thing - are in a very real way the blocks on which women artists’ achievements have been raised.