NCMA Recommends: Allegorical Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio

Michiel van Musscher, Allegorical Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio, circa 1675—85, oil on canvas, 45 — 35 7/8 in., Gift of Armand and Victor Hammer

When the NCMA founders acquired Michiel van Musscher’s Allegorical Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio in 1957, they believed it featured Rachel Ruysch (1664—1750), the most famous woman artist of her day. Ruysch was a flower painter whose still-life compositions closely resemble the one depicted on the easel. She is no longer thought to be the subject of the painting. Instead, it is an allegorical celebration of artistic production, symbolized by a painter surrounded by representations of the arts: painting, sculpture, music, and poetry.

Why did the founders want to acquire this painting? First and foremost because it is visually spectacular. The painting invites us into an unfamiliar world filled with beautiful objects, textiles, and surfaces, including the woman’s elegant white dress and luxurious blue taffeta silk shawl, an oil painting, sculptures, musical instruments, an enormous leather-bound book, a woven carpet used as a tablecloth, and an exotic marble floor whose smooth, cold surface you can almost feel.

Second, the founders believed the woman depicted was a renowned artist, and therefore the painting had historical significance in addition to artistic value.

Finally, the work of art on the easel resembles a still-life composition–a visitor favorite–the founders had acquired a few years earlier that they thought Ruysch herself created. Accordingly, Van Musscher’s painting had resonance within the collection. —Lyle Humphrey, Associate Curator of European Art and Collections History

Audio Description

The recording below is an audio description of Allegorical Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio. Audio description is narration for individuals who are blind or have low vision. It is a means to inform them about visual content essential for comprehension.

Women Creating Now

Women making art in studios looks different now. Meet Alexis McGrigg as she uses her physicality to put herself into her work, creating art guided by ancestors, tradition, and her own agency.

XOXOK’s Creative Process

Local atmospheric soul artist XOXOK shares a bit about his creative process for making music:

“I think that creativity is a skill, and like all skills, it requires consistent practice. Some people like to strike when the iron is hot, but I find it most helpful to have some type of schedule. I feel most creative in the morning, and I’m fortunate enough to have a day job that has flexible hours, so I spend most mornings strictly working on music. I treat it like a part-time job. (If anyone reading this would like to hire me to make music my full-time job, please contact me! Seriously!)

“I also find it important to be kind to myself and patient when it comes to creativity. I’ve never been the type of person who sits down and writes a whole song in one day, and I don’t put those types of expectations on myself. (Unless you are hiring me to do that. Please contact me! Seriously!) I take the time to refine lyrics, change chords, seek input from others. By the time I hear a final, mastered recording of one of my songs, I can barely remember what the first draft sounded like.”

Listen to XOXOK’s music here.

Artist Streaming in Her Studio

Young artist and producer HANA recorded her debut album while streaming live on Twitch. Look in on her process here.

Virtual Slow-Art Appreciation

This hour-long virtual program on Wednesday, January 20, guides you through centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of Allegorical Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio. Calm the mind and experience art in a deeper way. Learn more and get your free tickets here.

A Museum for all the People: The NCMA, 1947—1960

Watch this recording of a free lecture with Lyle Humphrey, associate curator of European art and collections history, to learn more about the NCMA’s founding and development. Presented in concert with the exhibition Miracle on Morgan Street: The Foundations of the NCMA, 1947—1960.

Film Recommendations

These three films feature women artists and depict how their creativity, passion, and heartache inspired their art. The films emphasize the persistence of these artists to overcome societal impositions placed on them because of their gender.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). Director: C©line Sciamma. In late 18th-century France, painter Marianne is commissioned to secretly paint the wedding portrait of H©lo¯se while posing as her companion. Intimacy between the two soon develops. Watch on Hulu or rent on Amazon or YouTube.

Camille Claudel (1988). Director: Bruno Nuytten. This film depicts the life of the French sculptor, who becomes the apprentice of Auguste Rodin, and how her passion for her art and teacher drives her further from rationality. Rent on Amazon, iTunes, or YouTube.

Everlasting Moments (2008). Director: Jan Troell. This heart-wrenching film tells the story of Maria Larsson, a poor and abused woman who finds freedom in photography. Watch on the Criterion Channel or rent on YouTube.

Reading Recommendations


Prudence Heward: Life and Work by Julia Skelly explores the paintings of Canadian artist Prudence Heward, best known for her powerful representations of female subjects

– The novel The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt features an installation artist who uses male pseudonyms to determine if her work is better received when attributed to men.


– NPR’s report “‘Where Are the Women?’: Uncovering the Lost Works of Female Renaissance Artists” demonstrates how, even in forgotten parts of the art world, women persist.

– “The Five Trailblazing Galleries that Only Show Women Artists” focuses on galleries that are defying the global trend of featuring women in only one-third of all exhibitions.


– The National Galleries of Scotland ask, “Why are there so few female artists?” in this nine-minute video.

Global Connection

What are artists up to in their studios in 2021? Time-tracking software company Harvest invited creatives from around the world to share how the pandemic and other current events have impacted their production. Time in This Time shares works such as Grace Miceli’s comic guide How to Have a Week, Ilana Harris-Babou’s Making Due, and Ziad Nawfal and Ruptured Records’ Live from Beirut. The capsule also invites you to share your own works on social media, and a remote experience generator by Double Take Labs helps with Zoom-driven creative blocks along the way.

Dig Deeper with the Virtual Exhibitions Subscription

Want more close-looking content? In the Miracle on Morgan Street virtual exhibition, you’ll hear directly from our curator about women in the NCMA’s history and our collaboration with the State Archives of North Carolina. Watch exclusive interviews, access interactive art spotlights, and click on featured images and objects.

The NCMA Virtual Exhibitions subscription also includes seven additional exhibitions about Senegalese jewelry, North Carolina painters, site-specific installations, and more. The one-time price is $10 for nonmembers and $8 for members and students (plus taxes and fees). Learn more and get your subscription here.

What’s in the Box?

Did your family resolve to have more art encounters in 2021? Start by looking closely together with the help of our What’s in the Box cards (best for pre-K viewers). Examine the objects and symbols in Van Musscher’s painting and enjoy activities to help you enrich your understanding.

Shop for the New Year

Celebrate the new year with a visit to the Museum Store! Fresh offerings include three products created by women and inspired by the art in their lives.

Beautiful coffee mugs by Monica Linares celebrate joy, color, and bright new beginnings.

Stacy Ahua’s Usu Candle Co. is a love letter to the culture that molded Stacy and a beacon for anyone working to make their own way in the world. Celebrate who you are and all you will become this year with Usu’s signature candles.

Give the gift of culture that is perfect for all ages! Cityspot’s museum-themed playsets, books, and stickers were created by a docent to introduce kids to major artists and build skills through a range of hands-on activities.

For assistance, please visit the Museum Store, email us at help@ncartmuseum.org, or call (919) 664-6784. The store currently offers curbside pickup and shipping options.

Visitor Voices 

We want to know what the NCMA means to you. Share your answer in this form, and it may be projected on a wall in the exhibition Miracle on Morgan Street, now on view through May 16. Get inspired by the visitor submission below.

“When I moved to Raleigh in 1998, one of the first places I brought my toddlers was the NCMA. There was a wonderful class where they created unique and colorful hats out of tissue paper after sitting in front of and learning about The Garden Parasol. More than 20 years later, I still have a picture of them in their creations.”


Jan 15, 2021


10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
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