Judy Chicago – Mary, Queen of Scots

“I could not believe that all these seemingly important contributions of women had been omitted from the mainstream of culture, be it in art, literature, history, or philosophy. My discoveries intersected with the values of my upbringing which had emphasized the possibility of radical transformation and led me to conclude that the only real solution to the problems I was facing lay in the creation of an entirely new framework for art: one that included, rather than excluded, women, along with women’s ways of being and doing, which, I was convinced, could be quite different from men’s.”

– Judy Chicago

With its radiating spiralling lines reminiscent of flower petals, light rays or psychedelic visions, Judy Chicago’s series of Great Ladies championed a visual language rooted in feminine experience that stood in direct opposition to the dominant, male-centric practice of Minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Whilst most of her male contemporaries preferred a reductive aesthetic, preferably white or monochromatic, Judy Chicago’s oeuvre from the early 1970s is full of a sumptuous chromatic richness that shocked her contemporaries to such an extent that revolted critics could think of no more appropriate response than to ignore her altogether. After all, who would take seriously a young woman in the male-dominated art world of the 1960s? This historical denial is precisely at the core of Judy Chicago’s radical practice, and particularly the series of Great Ladies in which the artist created abstract interpretations of influential historical figures such as Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great or Queen Victoria. As Chicago explained:

Judy Chicago - Mary Queen of Scots, 1973

Mary, Queen of Scots, 1973
signed, titled, dated 1973 and numbered 6/40
lithograph on paper
image: 50.8 by 50.8 cm.   sheet: 63.7 by 63.7 cm.
Edition number 6 of 40. Published by Cirrus Editions, Los Angeles.

Bruce Davis, Made In L.A. The Prints of Cirrus Editions, New York 1995

Los Angeles, Cirrus Gallery, Cirrus 1970 – 1980, Part 1, November – December 1979
Los Angeles, Cirrus Gallery, Once Emerging, Now Emerging: Livin’ LA, December 2011 – January 2012

This edition is held in the following public collections:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle

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The cycle of Great Ladies works, of which Mary, Queen of Scots is part, occupies an important position in the artist’s oeuvre, as it would culminate in her masterpiece The Dinner Party (1974-79) which celebrates the achievements of women in cultural history and which is now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Despite widespread institutional resistance against the monumental installation, Chicago managed to exhibit the work all over the world through inventive funding efforts – including in Melbourne in 1988. As in many other cities, The Dinner Party was not exhibited in one of the major art galleries, but in the less prestigious Exhibition Building as there was an ongoing discussion amongst local museum officials as to whether the work could be considered as ‘art’.

Equally importantly, the series of Great Ladies signals a shift from Judy Chicago’s earlier minimalist work (which had been more readily accepted by critics and had even been included in the seminal exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in 1966), towards a decidedly different visual language that stood in opposition to the dominant aesthetics of minimalism. As the artist explained, she aimed to make her “form-language and color reveal something really specific about a particular woman in history”. For Mary, Queen of Scots, the artist has actually explained her intentions in hand-writing that surrounds the image and reads:

“This print was originally intended to be brightly colored with a glowing yellow center and a blue- green outside edge. It was to be titled Mary Tudor/Mary Sunshine / Mary Tudor, the Queen, daughter of Henry the 8th and Catherine of Aragon; Mary Sunshine, the printer. As I’ve worked, the image changed, becoming more subdued and quiet. Now it reminds me of Mary, Queen of Scots, the proud woman locked up in the tower for her ambitiousness.”

Judy Chicago’s Mary, Queen of Scots is from an edition of 40 lithographs, originally published by Cirrus Gallery – an iconic LA print maker that has also produced prints for John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman and Ed Ruscha amongst others. Three of the other prints from the Mary Queen of Scots edition are now housed in prestigious museum collections (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum).