Her inquiry provided several generations of art historians, critics and artists alike with new tools with which to address issues of gender and identity in art. It also helped initiate a collective, and continuing, rewriting of art history.
In the process not a few female artists have been recognized as great, as the very idea of greatness has been redefined and as the very conception of art has expanded to include the so-called crafts. In 2001, the 30th anniversary of the article’s publication was celebrated with a symposium at Princeton University.
Professor Nochlin went on to write extensively on feminist matters in the arts while pursuing a career that was unusual in its breadth, powered by an almost evangelical sense of urgency and a certain flexibility in artistic taste.
Reading her on almost any subject had an aspect of consciousness-raising. She organized exhibitions, wrote catalog essays, reviewed contemporary art shows, and taught and lectured widely.
In the classroom or at a lectern, Professor Nochlin cut a striking figure. A voluble, feisty woman who loved designer clothes and prominent jewelry, she known was for her sharp retorts, humor-laced charm, fierce intelligence and indefatigable work habits.
Along the way she amassed a distinguished roster of former students, many of them women, who work in universities and museums around the world.
As comfortable with 19th- as with 20th-century art, Professor Nochlin was always alert to the overlooked and under-recognized. Her first important books were “Realism” (1971) and , “Gustave Courbet: A Study of Style and Society” (1976), which grew out of her doctoral dissertation. They appeared at a time when 19th-century French painting usually meant Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (although she wrote on those subjects too).
“Linda was important as both a scholar and a critic, but beyond that her work had an unusual real-world impact,” said Elizabeth C. Baker, who as an editor in the 1960s was the first to invite Professor Nochlin to write for ARTnews.
Professor Nochlin’s ability to toggle between the past and the present was aided by her clear, accessible writing, which was built on theory but never deadened by it. Her tone was brisk and irreverent, her ideas coming out in pithy, manageable chunks, making her work a perennial favorite with students.
Though she wrote books, it was crucial to her accessibility that she devoted more time to writing essays for magazines, including The Art Bulletin and Art in America as well as ARTnews. She then gathered these into collections, including “The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth Century Art and Society” (1989); “Women, Art and Power” (1988), which covered artists from William Hogarth to Alice Neel; and “Representing Women” (1999).
Her co-edited books include “Woman as Sex Object: Studies in Erotic Art, 1730-1970” (with Thomas B. Hess, 1972) and “The Jew in the Text: Modernity and the Construction of Identity” (with Tamar Garb, 1995).
Beyond her interest in art’s social and political contexts and meanings, Professor Nochlin was keenly attentive to art objects, especially the surfaces of paintings. She once described herself as “an aesthetic creature to my fingertips.” In this vein, her Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 2004 were titled “Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye.”
She was born Linda Natalie Weinberg on Jan. 30, 1931, in Brooklyn and grew up in Crown Heights as a member of a wealthy extended family. Her father, Jules Weinberg, helped run his family’s newspaper distribution business. Her mother, the former Elka Heller, passed her serious cultural enthusiasms — including literature, dance, music and theater — to Linda, her precocious only child.
Linda became a voracious reader (Thomas Mann’s monumental “Magic Mountain” at age 12) who adored Bach and the Brooklyn Museum and saw the choreography of Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham while still in high school.
As she told Richard Candida Smith in an oral history for the Archives of American Art, her family of secular Jews was both left-leaning and materially comfortable, with a yacht, servants and houses in Florida.
“Roosevelt was as far right as people were willing to go,” she said of her parents’ circle, adding that she grew up thinking “all radicals were rich.”
Her uncle, Robert Heller, who worked at the Fogg Museum at Harvard, had Communist affiliations and moved to London during the McCarthy era. There he became a prominent producer of television shows, including Kenneth Clark’s celebrated series “Civilisation.”
After high school, Professor Nochlin attended Vassar College, where she was startled to discover that women her age could be interested in knitting and playing bridge. She worked on the school newspaper, published a poem in Commentary and graduated in 1951 with a major in philosophy and a double minor in Greek and art history.
Afterward, ignoring the urgings of Agnes Rindge, the head of Vassar’s art history department, to pursue graduate work in art history, she went on instead to earn a master’s degree in 17th-century English literature at Columbia University.
But then she accepted Professor Rindge’s invitation to teach art history at Vassar while commuting from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to New York on Wednesdays and Saturdays (the only days she did not teach) to work on her doctorate at the Institute of Fine Arts.
She taught at Vassar, off and on (mostly on), until 1979, and twice married colleagues. Her first husband was Philip H. Nochlin, a young professor of philosophy, who died in 1960. In 1968 she married Richard Pommer, an architectural historian, who died in 1992.
Professor Nochlin is survived by her daughters from these marriages, Jessica Trotta and Daisy Pommer, and two grandchildren.
She also taught at the Graduate Center in Manhattan, part of the City University of New York; Stanford University; Williams College; and Yale University. She joined the faculty of the Institute of Fine Arts in 1980, retiring in 2013.
Professor Nochlin learned she had cancer in the late 1990s, but she rarely let it slow her down. She worked almost to the end, recently finishing a book, “Misère: Representations of Misery in 19th-Century Art,” which is to be published in March.
With essays on Dickens, Engels, Carlyle and Victor Hugo as well as artists like the painters Gericault and Courbet and the Irish famine of the mid-19th century, the book examines the world created by the Industrial Revolution and promises to reveal new aspects of Professor Nochlin’s daunting erudition.