National Museum of Women in the Arts
Francesca Woodman
April 03 1958 - January 19 1981
Photograph of Francesca Woodman, ca. 1976, by George Woodman, courtesy of the photographer
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
fran-CHESS-kah WOOD-mehn
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Active Dates:
circa 1972 - 1981
Work Type/Media:
Artistic Role(s):
Artist's Biography:
Francesca Woodman was born in 1958 in Denver, Colorado. Her mother, a ceramicist, and father, a painter and photographer, cultivated her early interest in art. In 1965, Woodman moved with her family to Florence for a year where she went to an Italian school. They returned to the United States, and she attended the Abbott Academy in Massachusetts, one of the few American boarding schools to offer classes in art. Through the encouragement of her instructors, Woodman discovered photography. She converted her bedroom into a photographic studio and began exploring different printing techniques.

From 1975 to 1979, Woodman continued her education at the Rhode Island School of Design. She began experimenting with self-portraiture, using her body in evocative images in barren, deteriorating settings. In 1977, she participated in a European exchange program in Rome where she continued photographing herself. Although she generally worked meticulously, carefully planning each element in her shot, she often had to work quickly for photographs in which she daringly undressed in public in order to capture an image of her nude figure in a particular location. When she began disrobing in front of an animal exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York she was caught by a security guard and ordered to leave.

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, Woodman set up a studio in New York. She worked as a painter’s model and photography assistant in order to support herself and sent her portfolio to fashion designers hoping to find a career, but was unsuccessful. She continued working mainly in self-portraiture, often obscuring herself in the image, either by actually being covered or hidden by her surroundings or by using double-exposures and careful printing techniques. In 1980, she was an artist-in-residence at The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where she continued working. She created diazotypes, photographic prints on blue or sepia paper, which she exhibited at the Alternative Museum of New York.

On January 19, 1981, after publishing a collection of her images in Some Disordered Interior Geometrics, Woodman committed suicide. Although her career lasted only nine years after she took her first photograph, Woodman is widely acknowledged for her poignant images of the female figure and thoughtful representations of the exposed and concealed self.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Place(s) of Activity:
Where Trained/Schools:
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, USA (1975-1979)
Related Visual Artists:
daughter of Betty Woodman daughter of George Woodman friend of Sloan Rankin student of Wendy MacNeil
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Residency, The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH, USA (1980)
Earliest exhibition:
Photographs and Portraiture, WomanSpace, Boulder, CO, USA (1977)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Inside the Visible
Modern Love: Gifts to the Collection from Heather and Tony Podesta
Artist retrospective(s):
Related places
New York (died at)
Roma, 1977
On Being an Angel (from the "Angel" series)
Providence, Rhode Island
Roma (from the "Angel" series)
Untitled (From Space², Providence Rhode Island, 1975-1976)
Untitled (from the "Angel" series)
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island