“Conversation Piece” is a British Art Studies series that draws together a group of contributors to respond to an idea, provocation, or question. Readers can also join in by adding a response at the bottom of the page.
Patricia de Montfort
Robyne Erica Calvert
Pamela Gerrish Nunn
Margaret F. MacDonald
Amara Thornton 22.04.2016
Alice Strickland 22.04.2016
Meaghan Clarke 22.04.2016
Jenny Brownrigg 22.04.2016
Jan Marsh 09.05.2016
Anna A. Liesching 09.05.2016
Peter Trippi 09.05.2016
BAS Editorial Group 03.06.2016
Alexandra Provo 03.06.2016
Alice Strang 03.06.2016
Yasmin Shariff 03.06.2016
Sacha Llewellyn 02.09.2016
Patricia de Montfort, Lecturer in History of Art, University of Glasgow
Robyne Erica Calvert, Mackintosh Research Fellow, Glasgow School of Art
In the inaugural “Conversation Piece” in British Art Studies, Issue 1, Richard Johns makes the observation that at the National Gallery, London, “British art” is represented by a selection of work by just ten artists—mostly English, all white, male, and born within eighty years of each other. Is it any wonder that British art can appear like an exclusive club with prohibitive requirements for entry? This exclusivity is particularly striking where British women artists are concerned, for the leading female artists in the collection—Rachel Ruysch, Rosalba Carriera, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Rosa Bonheur—are all from Continental Europe. That these women were all painters is also a reminder of the extent to which gallery acquisitions have traditionally been dominated by painting, on occasion to the detriment of artists working in other media.DOI
The issue for us is not necessarily about the lack of women’s work in British public collections, but rather, is it on display? Does it receive curatorial care and scholarly attention? And if or when it does not—when it lingers on the darkest racks of museums stores, collected for a posterity it will never achieve—how has this happened, and why? Or should we be especially concerned about the display of women’s work in public collections, in an age of digital images and online archives? As our recent seminar, Overlooked Women Artists and Designers, 1851-1918, at the University of Glasgow highlighted, an ever larger and more diverse body of women’s work continues to emerge through scholarship that may criss-cross boundaries between professionalism and amateurism or be produced in contexts not always readily associated with artistic and market value. Should scarce curatorial resources be devoted to the display and interpretation of this work?DOI
Certainly, concerns remain about the policies of many public institutions towards collecting and preserving women’s work. In the United States, for example, an Art News article, “We’re Finally Infiltrating”, claimed that the year 2007 would be “the year of institutional consciousness-raising”, with a plethora of major events devoted to the past, present, and future of feminist art practice and historical scholarship due to take place at high profile museums: at MoMA, paradigmatic scholars of the 1970s and 80s including Lucy Lippard and Linda Nochlin were lined-up as speakers at a two-day symposium: The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts; the LA Museum of Contemporary Art held an international retrospective of the work of 1970s feminist artists; and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, billed as the first dedicated museum space of its kind, opened at the Brooklyn Museum. Since then, the Brooklyn Museum has hosted the Feminist Art Base, a digital archive for feminist art since the 1960s, and it continues to run its longstanding Women in the Arts award honouring the contributions of American women. The National Museum for Women in the Arts, founded in 1987 in Washington, DC, continues to expand upon its original mission to exhibit, collect, and preserve the work of women artists of all periods and traditions, and to promote women’s art educational programming and advocacy. However, feminist art collectives like the Guerrilla Girls, veterans of some thirty years of concerted attacks on art-world sexism, with slogans like “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”, claim that broader progress continues to be hindered by the ubiquitous presence on museum boards of wealthy art collectors with an ability to influence market trends and museum acquisitions. In its 2015 review of women in the art world, Art News noted that the percentage of female solo exhibitions during the period 2007–14 across five major museums (including MoMA) was less than half that of their male counterparts. Gender disparity remains deep-rooted at institutional level.DOI
Where does that leave us in the United Kingdom? Digital scholarship and the efforts of charitable organizations like the Public Catalogue Foundation’s Art UK have, in recent years, increased the visibility of paintings in collections across the UK, in particular by bringing to light works usually hidden in museum stores. A welcome by-product of this has been increased exposure of little-known work by women artists. Catalogue raisonné projects like de Montfort’s Louise Jopling 1843–1933 are indicative of a broader upsurge in open-access publishing that offers promising pathways for future scholarship on women artists, especially in the area of provenance. The Jopling catalogue was launched online (with some apprehension) as a work-in-progress, but this move has proved to be richly productive in research terms, stimulating new discoveries and enabling numerous new works to be traced and sitters identified. Exhibition projects like The Rise of Women Artists at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2009–10) and the current Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors 1885–1965 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, exemplify recent efforts among UK museums to commit serious curatorial attention and institutional resources to the work of women artists. Such projects can make complex and unusual demands upon the researcher and exhibition curator. For example, at the recent Women in Scottish Art Study Day, curator Alice Strang highlighted the difficulties involved in presenting the work of the forty-five women in the exhibition. She noted how, for the first time, she found it necessary to use text panels to explain how and why the names of the artists were selected, since many had two or more surnames attributed to them over the course of their careers—a problem not encountered among male artists. Moreover, for the viewer, such exhibitions (however well-intentioned and underpinned by excellent scholarship) can provoke complex results: the effect of concentrated groupings of works by women artists showcasing new and worthwhile artistic discoveries, biographical facts, and visual connections, seems to us at once both gratifying and wearisomely familiar. It’s also easy to feel discomforted by the display of “hidden” women’s works separately from that of their male counterparts: arguably, this only highlights difference.DOI
One way or another, access to women’s work remains challenging in the twenty-first century: it tends to be widely dispersed across the UK, often singly, in increasingly hard-pressed regional and local collections. Other work survives only in family collections, hidden from public view and often inaccessible to scholars. Sometimes these collections emerge into the public spotlight for a time, only to disappear again. A recent exhibition of the work of “lost” war artist Evelyn Dunbar (Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works) who died in 1960 aged only fifty-three, drew on a family collection of some five-hundred paintings, drawings, and related studies previously unknown to scholars. However, such finds are unusual. More often, archival records of a woman’s professional life and work are scant (or lost) and visual records depend on grainy black-and-white reproductions from period art magazines, making detailed comparisons between works and oeuvres (the art historian’s traditional stock in trade) unrewarding.DOI
For all feminism’s attempts over the past few decades to expose cultural inequalities that have written women out of art history, it’s difficult to imagine how a comprehensive picture of women’s cultural production a hundred or more years ago might emerge when the surviving records are often fragmentary. But on a more cheering note, our recent seminar also reminded us of the breadth of women’s artistic practice and economic activity in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art world. We were struck, for instance, by how botanical works by women artists came to serve a dual social and educational purpose at the Manchester Art Museum in Ancoats, a densely populated working-class district of Manchester. We were also surprised by the extent of women’s presence in hitherto neglected contexts, such as evidence of over 2,000 female account holders in the archives of artists’ colourman, Charles Roberson & Co.; of women not only joining archaeological expeditions to visually record and interpret found objects and materials, but also publishing the results, seemingly to their professional benefit. Above all, we were struck by the need to continually question scholarly assumptions about women’s cultural agency: as one of our contributors, Sophie Hatchwell, asked in relation to women at the Fitzroy Street studio (whence sprang the Camden Town Group), were women artists always a secondary presence by contrast with their male peers?DOI
We think that a broader and more dynamic mapping of women’s art work, that pays particular heed to the geographical and disciplinary boundaries of their practice, would assist this quest. For scholars, this task requires us to remain vigilant—to avoid seizing upon surviving evidence of any one individual as “typical” of female practice in favour of a more strongly comparative and interdisciplinary approach. This may require us to ask difficult questions of material that may lie uncomfortably outside our own disciplinary boundaries, and to synthesize it in new ways. Therein, however, may lie possibilities for new kinds of visibility and, indeed, opportunities for institutional consciousness-raising.DOI
After our initial three waves, released at two-week intervals, and themed around visibility, reputation and legacy; contexts and networks beyond the studio; and display and re-evaluation, respectively, our fourth wave of contributions will be based around the effective, profile-raising, and collaborative work of a number of recent projects to raise the visibility of female practitioners in the field of art and architecture. This includes a précis of the aims of the 2017 AA XX 100 project to celebrate the centenary of women at the Architectural Association by Yasmin Shariff; an introduction to the exhibition Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors 1885-1965 by the curator, Alice Strang; and pieces recording and analysing the results of Art + Feminism wiki edit-a-thons held in 2016 at YCBA and the ICA. The Glasgow School of Art and the Paul Mellon Centre are convening a “Still Invisible” edit-a-thon in Glasgow on 25 May 2016 at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), where many of the contributors to this conversation will gather to learn the skills involved in editing wikis, and to create new pages and update existing ones with information about overlooked women artists. In a 2011 survey, 90 percent of wiki editors identified as male (9 percent as female, and 1 percent as transsexual or transgender), which may go some way to explaining the current low coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia. Through gathering for this event, which will incorporate training with Wikimedian, Sara Thomas, we will encourage female editorship and ensure that this digital conversation continues.
Joanna Meacock, Curator of British Art, Glasgow Museums
A lesser known Glasgow Girl: the case of Maggie HamiltonDOI
Maggie Hamilton (1867–1952), a talented embroiderer and painter of flowers and still lifes, presents a fascinating case study of a woman artist at the turn of the century, who worked and exhibited prodigiously across the fine and decorative arts, and yet has now fallen into obscurity. The only painting by her in a UK public collection is Alas, April the 30th in Newport, Wales. The daughter of Mary Stevenson and James Hamilton, a prosperous Glasgow bobbin manufacturer, younger sister of Glasgow Boys painter James Whitelaw Hamilton, and wife of the prominent Glasgow architect Alexander Nisbet Paterson (younger brother of Glasgow Boy James Paterson), Hamilton is today eclipsed by her more famous male family members. Her plight was summed up in the summers of 1883–85 when she was asked to keep house for James Guthrie and the Glasgow Boys at Dunglass, near Cockburnspath, in order that they could immerse themselves as artists, Bastien-Lepage style, in rural life.DOI
However, Hamilton was doggedly determined and made opportunities for herself, exploiting wherever possible her contact with the Boys: she managed to paint while she kept house at Cockburnspath; and on the back of their success in Munich in 1890, exhibited in Germany 1891–1901. As an artist, and later committee member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists (later Lady Artists’ Club), she also exhibited fifty-one paintings at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) from 1889 (aged 22). Although denied membership as a woman, she nevertheless exhibited almost every year until 1943, predominantly oils (underpriced at £5 to £45). She also exhibited an impressive ninety-two works at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts from 1890, dedicatedly exhibiting every year, sometimes two or three works at a time (the most she was permitted as a woman non-member), until 1944 (when she was aged 77). The only exceptions to this were 1898, the year after her marriage, when Alexander made a tour of Italy and Hamilton may well have joined him, and the years 1906 and 1931 when she exhibited at the RSA; so they were by no means fallow years. She even exhibited in 1899 and 1900, the years her children Viola and Alistair were born. Many other women artists were forced to interrupt their careers as a result of marriage, children, and home commitments. However, coming from a fairly wealthy background Hamilton was freed up by a nanny and other live-in staff at The Long Croft (the family home designed by her husband, with whom she collaborated on the interior decoration).DOI
DOI In Guthrie’s 1892–93 portrait of the artist in Glasgow Museums (fig. 1), Hamilton, wearing an elegant walking outfit, standing with hand on her hip, cane in hand (not a feminine parasol), cuts a fashionable and confident figure. This was the woman who continued to exhibit after her marriage in 1897 as “M. HAMILTON”, although reviewers pointedly referred to her as Mrs A. N. Paterson. Frustratingly, when Guthrie’s portrait was exhibited at the Society of Portrait Painters in London in May 1893, in the same room as Whistler’s portrait of the famous violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1884; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA) , it was much admired by critics but—in contrast to the musician—no mention was made of the sitter as an artist in her own right. In 1935, Whistler’s portrait of his artist wife Beatrice, Harmony in Red: Lamplight (1884–86), a painting to which Guthrie’s makes visual homage, was given to the University of Glasgow as part of a substantial gift from the artist’s estate. Perhaps with this in mind, Hamilton pointedly presented Guthrie’s portrait of her to Glasgow Museums in 1951, determined to have a legacy in the city. In 1952, the year Hamilton died, Anne Redpath became the first woman artist to be elected a member of the RSA. It is only now, more than sixty years on, that Hamilton’s reputation is being re-established.DOI
Hamilton’s will (Paterson Collection, Special Collections, University of Glasgow), shows that she intended one of her still-life paintings and several of her embroideries to be gifted to Glasgow Museums, unless the family made prior claim: “My own embroidered pictures if not retained may be offered to Kelvingrove and a still life of mine.” It appears that her works were valued by the family and kept, although few remain in family hands today. Hamilton’s daughter, Viola, did gift the museum some textile items in 1882, including an unfinished embroidery (fig. 2) and fabulous hand-painted dress by her mother (fig. 3), but Glasgow Museums is now actively looking for further examples of her work to enhance its collection and display alongside works by Bessie MacNicol, Norah Neilson Gray, Stansmore Dean, and Jessie M. King, women who were collected by the museum as representing a generation of women artists who had studied at Glasgow School of Art, under the progressive leadership of Fra Newbery. However, Hamilton importantly represents an alternative ideal, as the Art Journal pointed out in 1907,1 exemplifying those tenacious women artists and designers who for various reasons (usually lack of family support) didn’t go to GSA, but were self-taught or received their education informally at private drawing academies, like that of the Misses Park and Ross in Craigendoran. These women deserve to be remembered, not only for their talent and individual flair, but for their sheer strength of will in continuing to design, paint, and exhibit against the odds.
Sophie Hatchwell, University of Birmingham
“In the absence of published criticism by women artists, it is our role as historians to uncover a sense of their critical agency by developing specially orientated research practices”DOI
I recently returned to a section of my PhD research that looked at Walter Sickert’s Fitzroy Street studio, which was set up in 1907 as an exhibition venue and subsequently gave birth to the London Group. My research began with the assumption that it was male dominated, a view confirmed by the historiography, by the studio’s output, and by eyewitness accounts.DOI
Slowly, however, women artists did begin to appear: first Nan Hudson and Ethel Sands as correspondents, then the “wives” (Mrs Bevan), and then, emerging even more slowly, the shy and the diffident, like Sylvia Gosse and Jessie Etchells.DOI
A historian investigating the role of women in a male-dominated Edwardian past is faced with two questions. Not why these women remain largely disregarded—decades of feminist studies have told us this—but how they have been disregarded, and how we can begin to rectify this and recover a sense of their critical agency. To address this is not to fall into the trap, recognized by Linda Nochlin (1971),2 of reinforcing the general marginalization of women artists by simply rehabilitating individual reputations. It is to investigate the formation of critical agency as a whole, uncovering the networks (social, economic, and critical) that underpin the operations of the art world.DOI
DOI Sylvia Gosse provides a case in point. She is largely overlooked in art-historical studies—an entry in the Tate Camden Town Group study and the Ben Uri gallery show and book on the London Group (Uproar!, 2013) are notable exceptions.3 Despite the fifty-four works held in public collections, readily available historical material on Gosse amounts to brief mentions in memoirs and published diaries. History has effectively silenced this woman; as indeed it has her contemporaries. Marjorie Lilly (1971) recalled that Gosse “might appear at Fitzroy Street on At Home days, but rarely; being very shy, she always chose the most inconspicuous corner she could find, looking harassed and haunted, and hardly spoke”.4 Her Fitzroy Street colleague Harold Gilman’s portrait of her (fig. 4) confirms this view: rendered in the Post-Impressionist/ Neo-Realistic style common to the milieu, Gilman obscures Gosse’s face. Predominantly in shadow, her mouth disappears amongst the intersecting colour planes of her facial features; only the eyes stand out. This sort of characterization is typical for women of the period. Grace Brockington (2013) has identified similar representations of Vanessa Bell, and similar anecdotal descriptions, with the artist termed “an emblem of reticence, ‘mute as a mackerel’”.5 Bell herself assigned the same fate to Jessie Etchells: “a nice character . . . and very silent.”6DOI
DOI How can we recover a voice for these women, a sense of their critical agency? It is my contention that, in the case of women artists, this can be achieved successfully through the mining and close reading of archival material. In the case of Gosse, the London Group archive held at Tate, along with catalogues of the Group’s early shows, challenge her “diffident” characterization. Group committee minutes record her early election in 1914, and her participation in hanging committees in 1916 and 1919. They also provide more information about fellow artists Hudson and Sands, recording their frequent presence at meetings and membership votes. It is impossible to conceive that these activities were conducted “silently”. While inclusion in exhibitions could be put down to artistic merit, to be elected to the Group in the first place suggests a degree of ability in professional networking. Equally, to participate in a hanging committee, Gosse would have to demonstrate critical judgment in selecting and in organizing work, and debating with colleagues. Her self-portrait etching of 1918 (fig. 5) supports this alternative characterization. In workmanlike painter’s clothes, cropped hair, and jauntily positioned hat, Gosse identifies herself first and foremost as an artist: professionally dressed, self-conscious, and expressive.DOI
In the absence of any published criticism by the artist herself, and without her personal correspondence, we cannot reconstruct Gosse’s thoughts on art, or the conversations she would have had with fellow artists. But by careful attention to archival resources, we can uncover the role she and other women artists played in the commercial and social aspects of the art field. We can prove that she spoke.
Hannah Williamson, Curator, Fine Art, Manchester City Galleries
Women artists in the Manchester Art Museum: no longer invisibleDOI
The Manchester Art Museum opened in Ancoats in 1886. Its founder was Thomas Coglan Horsfall (1844–1932), and his aim was to bring beauty into the lives of Manchester people. He employed pragmatic means: the museum was in the heart of a crowded working-class district and it opened until 10 o’clock at night and on Sundays.DOI
This was not a millionaire’s project, like Lord Leverhulme’s Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight. Instead, it was a subscription-funded, practical introduction to the joys of art and nature for beginners. So Horsfall and his committee needed affordable art. For higher status, often narrative paintings, they had to rely on networks of socially engaged artists donating works (George Frederick Watts, Ford Madox Brown, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti all contributed) or on obtaining reproductions, often photographic. Less well-known artists gave or sold watercolours of local views. The Art Museum’s over 2,000 art objects, which we now refer to as “The Horsfall Collection”, are now part of Manchester’s municipal art collection. The Pre-Raphaelite gems are exhibited, and the rest almost never seen—often with good reason. Even in the Art for All exhibition which Manchester Art Gallery held to commemorate Horsfall and his Museum in 2013, a large quantity did not pass curatorial quality control. Other items—principally the photographs and prints categorized as “reproductions”—were disposed of without documentation at some point in the twentieth century.DOI
When we came to curate the Art for All exhibition, a notable untapped resource—original and of high artistic merit—was a group of work by women artists, including exquisite watercolours by the almost unknown Elizabeth Redgrave (1806–1889).DOI
Redgrave, the sister of the famous art educator and painter Richard Redgrave, was a governess to two privileged young ladies, Rachel and Dorothy Walpole. She remained with Dorothy until the latter married, before going to keep house for her brother Samuel Redgrave. She painted a series of “Surrey Wild Flowers”, which Horsfall purchased for his own enjoyment and later bequeathed to his Art Museum. We have 151 of her watercolours in the collection at Manchester, and they have been so little respected over the years that they are catalogued as one item, although each sheet has now at least been photographed.DOI
The other artist whose work we included in the 2013 exhibition in some quantity was Emily Gertrude Thomson (ca. 1850–1932)—also floral watercolours. They were displayed alongside Miss Redgrave’s works in the 1880s, and were perhaps valued more highly by the museum’s founder. We know this because we have Horsfall’s guidebook to the displays, in which he says, when describing the Trees and Flowers room:
The greater part of the West Wall and of the North Wall is covered with beautiful water-colour drawings of wild flowers, most of them drawn by Miss Elizabeth Redgrave. All the drawings are beautiful, but nothing could exceed the beauty of some of those on the West Wall, of the clover, the vetch, and the yarrow, for instance, which are by Miss E. Gertrude Thomson . . .
The higher value put on Thomson’s works in the Art Museum catalogue may have been due to Thomson’s relative fame. She was born in Glasgow, and trained at Manchester School of Art. More famous for her fairy paintings and illustrations than her floral watercolours, Thomson is well known now amongst Lewis Carroll scholars for being Carroll’s friend and correspondent. She was an active member of Manchester’s Victorian art scene.DOI
We displayed a selection of Redgrave and Thomson’s work (figs. 6 and 7) in the Art for All exhibition in 2013 together with a few floral works by Helen Allingham and Edith Martineau, and introduced them with text referring to Bertha Hindshaw, the museum’s pioneering female curator. Horsfall’s aim with his museum had been to improve lives with both art and nature. Prints and photographic reproductions of famous works were used to teach “art” in the museum, and affordable watercolours by women artists were used as a colourful way of showing nature in the Trees and Flowers room. In the exhibition in 2013 the situation was partly reversed, with women’s watercolours taking pride of place, and what was left of Horsfall’s high art section—teaching aids and works created by less talented men—remaining in boxes in the stores.
Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Independent Art Historian and Curator
A feminist art history is usually dated from the appearance of Linda Nochlin’s essay “Why have there been no great women artists?”DOI
A feminist art history is usually dated from the appearance of Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why have there been no great women artists?”, published first in Art News in January 1971, though written for the book Women in Sexist Society, edited by Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran which came out in that same year (in which its title was, even more provocatively, “Why are there no great women artists?”). To summarize it in the simplest terms, this anglophone feminist art history drew attention to the habitual absence of female artists from received accounts of western fine art of the past, challenged the hierarchies by which the past art of the western world was valued and its makers celebrated, and drew critical attention to the social and political effects of subject matter which was allegedly of only aesthetic significance. As it grew, it encompassed a greater geographical territory and modified its focus on the western world.
This was a self-consciously revolutionary project which sought to enact the twin aims of the contemporary women’s movement, the promotion of women’s self-determination and the dismantling of male privilege. It generated a search for female artists whose absence or invisibility must henceforth be treated with suspicion. Their works and reputations recuperated, they could be revealed in the historical landscapes that had been ordered into territories (-isms) codifying a visual culture accorded the highest standing in western society but founded in the subjection of women as a class. Equally significant was the breaking down of fine art’s dominant prestige, as agenda-setting binaries such as professional/amateur and art/craft were exposed as ideological mechanisms, and creativity in other media was lauded. Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock’s influential book Old Mistresses (1981)7 developed the issue of the absent female artist to the more nuanced one of woman’s vaunted creative inferiority serving to secure the normative male artist’s authority over high-end visual culture: politicizing not only her absence, then, but the nature of her rare presences.DOI
I believe the work of female artists of the past still needs our explicit attention. Though technology has transformed the search for information, exemplified by such projects as the former Your Paintings (now Art UK) website, which in its indiscriminate approach includes many women’s works, the issue of the female artist’s credibility remains fundamental. Although women have come to the fore in contemporary art, with regard to art of the past it seems still necessary to prove that art made by a woman matters, merits attention, and has something of value to say. Despite Roland Barthes’s “death of the author”, the name of the art-maker is assumed to be the attention-getting and therefore money-making factor determining exhibition, publication, acquisition, and scholarship (not in reality a disinterested activity). Current exhibitions, from Modern Scottish Women (National Galleries of Scotland) to You Go Girl! (Heckscher Museum of Art), show how the historic female artist is always being reasserted, leaving her on the eternal doorstep of fame just like the subjects of the very first feminist “women’s-art-at-a-glance” exhibition, Women Artists, 1550–1950 (1977, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, fig. 8) and its successors, such as The Women’s Art Show, 1550–1970 (1982, Nottingham Castle Museum, fig. 9).DOI
So, I’d say that simple endeavour formulated in the 1970s to make the female artist visible is still necessary and useful. Feminists should demonstrate a belief that what women have done matters: admiring it where we can, regretting it where we must, but paying it attention ourselves and demanding the attention of others for it.
Margaret F. MacDonald, Professor Emerita, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow
Beatrice Philip/ Godwin/ Whistler: excavating an artist from obscurityDOI
Some years ago I proposed a book on Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McNeill Whistler) to an American publisher. He was completely astonished—“Whistler had a Wife?!”—but, on consideration, would not accept a proposal because she was unknown. This was a common no-win situation, not just with publishers but with galleries, which would not consider exhibition proposals or even exhibit known works. A portrait in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, was on the wall until I pointed out that it was by Beatrice, not James, Whistler! There was an assumption that women could not draw because they were not “trained” or because of some innate inability. Cassatt? Kollwitz? “Exceptions!” Furthermore, since Whistler’s work has guaranteed economic value, collectors prefer that to the untested field of women’s work. Yet the work of Beatrice and her sister Constance Philip was exhibited and sold in its day: Beatrice was often known as “Trix”, “Trixie” or “Beatrix” and actually exhibited as “Rix Birnie”, but given her marriages, I have used her final name, “Beatrice Whistler”, hereafter.DOI
Fortunately, Whistler and Rosalind Birnie Philip (Beatrice’s younger sister) thought highly of her work. A selection was given by Miss Philip to the University of Glasgow, and piles of unsorted material arrived with the Philip bequest in 1958. She painted portraits and domestic scenes, and designed jewellery, decorative tiles, and panels for furniture and buildings. We don’t know if the Glasgow collection is the tip, or the iceberg! Many personal letters were destroyed when Beatrice died prematurely of cancer in 1896, but Whistler’s letters to her and hers to collectors and art dealers survive, providing information on her activities.DOI
My original objective was to find what distinguished her work from that of her two partners and others in the Whistler circle, including Walter Sickert and Philip May, which was tricky because they worked in the same studio on similar subjects and models. This required both archival research and connoisseurship. After cataloguing Whistler’s work, and distinguishing his technique from others, I looked closely at Edward Godwin’s before tackling that of Beatrice herself. Clues included notes by Harold Wright of Colnaghi on works in Whistler’s estate, and records by Professor McLaren Young, from the 1960s onwards. I listed the collection of Beatrice Whistler’s works and persuaded the Hunterian to put on an exhibition with a small catalogue in 1997.8 It included, for instance, a sharply funny caricature of Oscar Wilde, originally attributed to Whistler (fig. 10), designs for a memorial window in Orton, Cumbria, once attributed to John Dawson Watson (fig. 11), and life drawings (fig. 12).
In my catalogue raisonné of Whistler’s works on paper (1995) I attributed several drawings to James or Beatrice Whistler, but I now realize most of these are by her.9 Research on press-cuttings reveals that “A Portrait”, an oil recorded in the Yale catalogue of Whistler’s paintings (1980), was actually by Beatrice, and exhibited with the Society of Portrait Painters in 1893.10 I am now working on an online catalogue raisonné of Whistler’s work that will correct these mistakes. Meanwhile Dr Ailsa Boyd has continued the cataloguing process and added illustrated catalogue entries to the Hunterian website. Thus a very substantial body of work is accessible online, and a selection of her work has been on display in the Hunterian since 2003.DOI
Because most of Beatrice Whistler’s work is in the Hunterian (only a few works are owned by family, public, and private collections) it is difficult to stage a major exhibition, but in-focus and online exhibitions are possible. I still cherish plans to tell the story of the Whistlers’ marriage!
Nadia Hebson, Artist and Lecturer, Newcastle University
Winifred Margaret Knights was a highly conspicuous artist when she was awarded a Rome Scholarship in 1921, celebrated for her distinct apparel and exquisite paintings in equal measure; the collision of artistic dress and a subtle British realism inflected with Continental modernism proved a sensational combination for the London press. An undisputed star amidst promising peers at the British School at Rome, Knights’s work was exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1925, an indication of her preeminence but also of others’ expectations.DOI
Visible, esteemed, and respected by the art establishment, it remains perplexing how a figure with such a distinct visual presence, both in person and manifest in her paintings, could disappear from sight. But the complexity and significance of the relationship between selfpresentation, a distilled visual language, and the articulation of feminine experience eluded Knights’s contemporaries and subsequent art historians.DOI
An artist considered to hold unparalleled promise, disappeared from view.DOI
It is here we find the strictures and confines that dictate whether a legacy endures. If those around you are unable to comprehend the breadth of your activities or to even conceive of these as an art practice, the hope remains that new generations will assume the responsibility of comprehension for a legacy to reemerge. Art works endure precisely because we can reconceive them, their meanings mutable, contingent. Knights’s practice encompasses her paintings, drawings, clothing, correspondence, and design—an expanded legacy—but few have been able to view all this as part of a greater, interconnected oeuvre, concentrating instead on the perceived lack of completed paintings. By all accounts legacy is contingent on quantity, quantity cementing significance. In contrast a diminutive and disparate output ostensibly too fractured, is impossible to comprehend.DOI
What interests me most about art history and the art-historical canon is its exclusions; seemingly myopic, unable to recognize off format or prescient legacies, it presents an unstable model. As a woman artist (and an educator) it appears to me that what is most interesting happens in the margins, in obscurity, in parallel or disassociated from acknowledged lineages, and hidden from plain sight. Intractable and little scrutinized conventions make no sense when comprehending this work. The need for alternate frames of reference and less considered perspectives leads to the emergence of new understanding and fresh insights.DOI
Both Winifred Knights’s practice and her biography have an ongoing resonance for artists working today, and in comprehending the work of another woman artist the most pressing question has been, how do we find new models to undertake this work? Feminist literary precedents offer templates, where subjective enquiry enlivens, complicates, and enriches established, supposedly reasoned approaches. The writers Christa Wolf and Chris Kraus in The Quest for Christa T and Aliens & Anorexia respectively grapple with the complexities of others’ biographies, legacies, personal history, as well as the insight a conscious subjective reading can offer in comprehending another.11 Empathy becomes a radical act, and amongst the breadth of possibilities that follow, feminine volition is uncovered. By extension we in turn learn more about our historical moment, its confines and inadequacies and the ways we can re-inhabit less considered histories.DOI
In attempting a “comprehension” of Winifred Knights I have employed painting, objects, clothing, text, and exhibitionmaking, realized through empathy, invention, speculation, and undoubtedly misunderstanding. At times she has assumed the role of dead mentor as well as historical subject. Within my work the boundaries between Knights’s practice and biography have become blurred: what emerges is an oblique consideration of another’s legacy through my own visual language (figs. 13–26). Where the consideration of persona, the significance of dress, the formal composition of her paintings, artist’s block, autobiography thorough religious narrative, and the question of what actually counts as an artist’s practice have in turn provisionally figured. There is a recondite relationship between these contrasting elements that speaks of the complexity of feminine experience and within the breadth of her expanded legacy Winifred Knights addressed this terrain.
It is perhaps no coincidence that in recent years many women artists have sought to understand the work of their predecessors through a variety of forms of comprehension. Whether it be Silke Otto-Knapp exploring the legacies of Marianne North and Yvonne Rainer, Nairy Baghramian collaborating with Janette Laverrière, or Megan Frances Sullivan exploring the work of Jo Baer, Dorothea Rockburne, Lee Lozano, and Anne Truitt. The incomplete histories we have been handed are being re-examined from new perspectives. As artists we have the freedom to reconsider the constraints that measure the worth of artists’ legacies and as such we make the previously invisible visible again.
Sally Woodcock, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge
Balancing the account: women customers of an artists’ colourman, 1820–1939DOI
Between 1820 and 1935 not a single woman was elected to the Royal Academy as a full Academician. During an almost identical period, 1820 to 1939, a quarter of the account holders of the London artists’ colourman Charles Roberson were female, ranging from aristocratic amateurs to women artists of professional standing (fig. 27). The firm’s archive provides evidence of the occupational diversity of women working professionally in this period, with the expected painters, sculptors, miniaturists, and illustrators being joined by early photographers, carvers and gilders, theatrical designers, colourmakers, writers, teachers, restorers, interior decorators, and printsellers. Clearly not all female art workers were painting fruit, flowers, their children, and each other.
While the archive helps to redress the long-recognized economic invisibility of women in the nineteenth-century art world, it also provides evidence of how easily female economic activity could be hidden, with several prominent artists only being traceable through their fathers’ or husbands’ accounts. Over half the female accounts are in the names of unmarried women, with a proportion no longer working as artists once married. Motherhood is often cited as cutting short women artists’ careers, but marriage could be just as effective.DOI
The number of new accounts opened by women follows the curve of the art market for contemporary British paintings. In 1872 there were ninety-nine new female accounts on Roberson’s books with the number gradually dwindling to an understandable low point during the war years of 1914–18, when a total of only nine new accounts were opened.12 This peak and decline is not confined to women artists. Data on picture prices indicates that after around twenty years of stability, prices for the works of living British artists started to rise around 1850 and peaked around 1870, slowly declining in the remaining years of the century.13 Roberson’s ledgers suggest that while female artists were able to capitalize on this rising market, they also suffered from its decline.DOI
Future work on the Roberson archive will look at issues raised by the addresses women customers provided in order to understand the geography of women artists, both within and outside London.14 Were women artists widely dispersed or did they cluster in specific areas like their male associates? Could an unmarried female artist afford to live independently? Do numerous changes of address over a short period have a correlation with debt? Does the low incidence of separate studios for women artists indicate that they had to combine their domestic and working spaces? How did this affect the number, type, and size of the works they produced?DOI
A preliminary study of Charles Roberson’s female account holders shows the colourman to be serving customers ranging from princesses who could paint to women who could not afford to pay for their materials. More extensive research into this resource will provide information on the volume and type of artistic output, social origins and mobility, economic circumstances and geographic spread of a wide spectrum of women artists, and will help to untangle the interrelated networks amongst which they worked, as they tried to make a living from making art in nineteenth-century London.
Amara Thornton, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
The digital makes visible the invisibleDOI
The “digital revolution” has brought us opportunities to amass large-scale datasets on matters substantial and insubstantial, continuous and ephemeral. Even better, it allows us to make the insubstantial substantial, and the invisible visible once more. I have relied extensively on digital resources in researching the work of artist and archaeological author Jessie Mothersole (1874–1958) who—through digital means—I have discovered published four illustrated travelogues for England and Scotland that combined her interests in art and archaeology.DOI DOI
I knew from researching the history of annual archaeological exhibitions, where British excavators working in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, and Iraq in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would display artefacts discovered, plans, photographs, and drawings in London at the end of each excavation “season”, that Mothersole’s drawings of wall paintings in the tombs at the ancient Egyptian cemetery at Saqqara had been exhibited at University College London in 1904 as part of Professor of Egyptian Archaeology Flinders Petrie’s exhibition that year (fig. 28).
While these exhibitions were noteworthy occasions for those interested in archaeology to see recently excavated artefacts—the obvious focus of contemporary publicity and current scholarship on these exhibitions—the original artwork they incorporated has been overlooked. But thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, I discovered that for one London Daily News reviewer, Mothersole and her two (female) colleagues’ Saqqara drawings in 1904 were “highly interesting” and the display was “a place where the work of women as archaeologists is emphasised in a way it has never been before.”16DOI
Mothersole’s black-and-white illustrations for Charles Stuttaford’s translation of the story of Cupid and Psyche, now digitized on Internet Archive, initially appeared in 1903, the year she went to Egypt to copy the Saqqara tombs. A chance reference in a digitized newspaper led me to an unknown publication which Mothersole penned about her Egyptian experience.17 Entitled “Tomb Copying in Egypt”, the seven-page article was published in the Religious Tract Society’s monthly magazine, Sunday at Home, in 1908, and is mainly illustrated with Mothersole’s own photographs.DOI
In 1910 the Religious Tract Society published Mothersole’s first illustrated book, The Isles of Scilly: their story, their folk and their flowers. This book, too, is available online, and through digital searches I found that she exhibited “Scilly Isles” drawings in a joint “69 Club” Annual Exhibition at the Baillie Gallery on Bruton Street for a few weeks that November.18DOI
Her first book-length illustrated archaeological travelogue, Hadrian’s Wall, was published in 1922. It is the only one of her later works available digitally, but I was again able to find notices and reviews of her complementary exhibitions, arranged to showcase the full extent of her archaeologically inspired art.19 In addition, my digital searches threw up a reference to another unknown publication in the now-defunct journal Empire Review.20 Mothersole’s potted history of the Wall for the journal was based on her own experiences and her direct links to the archaeologists then excavating it. It is a timely commentary on the Wall’s scheduling—ensuring its status as a protected ancient monument. Her words on this evocative “heritage” site sit alongside topical articles on politics, the economy, and culture.DOI
These digital resources have immeasurably contributed to assessing Jessie Mothersole’s artistic and archaeological visibility during her lifetime, providing evidence of public notices of her exhibitions and revealing two little-known publications. While much of her original artwork is still to be traced (and as such remains invisible), the digital versions of her words and pictures ensure at least a portion of her contributions to culture can be found, downloaded, searched—and appreciated.DOI
Digital research cannot replace archival or collections research; scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software are evolving technologies, and projects dating to the first adoption of these techniques are not without fault.21 But used in conjunction, digital and archival research can bring scholars closer to a more nuanced and comprehensive vision of past practice, and past participants. In tracing Jessie Mothersole as an artist and author, I have found that digital research revealed relationships and events that enabled new discoveries in non-digital formats.
Alice Strickland, Curator for Imperial College Healthcare Charity
Beyond the studio: context and networksDOI
The centenary of the First World War continues to offers an important opportunity to increase the visibility of the lives and work of women war artists. The art-historical literature which records the opening decades of the twentieth century is currently dominated by the careers of male artists. The war art of Paul Nash, C. R. W. Nevinson and Stanley Spencer, to name but a handful, continues to occupy the central place within art history of this period.22 The key issue in women artists’ exclusion from these narratives is that established definitions of art-historical significance in the early twentieth century, demand a contribution to the development of modernism, which automatically debars serious consideration of artists whose styles were not especially avant-garde. Marsha Meskimmon reasons that since women successfully practised throughout the twentieth century, their poor visibility is in fact due not to a lack of impact, but to exclusionary historicizing methodologies: “The work exists and was successful in the period. They were professional artists and they examined the crucial debates of their time within their practice. If we cannot ‘see’ this work, this is the fault of our methods, our paradigms, and our theoretical dispositions.”23DOI
Recently, there has been burgeoning interest in women war artists with the publication of Catherine Speck’s Beyond the Battlefield: Women Artists of the Two World Wars (2014) and the recent display of Evelyn Dunbar’s lost studio at Pallant House Gallery (October 2015–February 2016) including work from her War Artists Advisory Committee commission. The work of women photographers is beginning to find a popular platform. In Paris, the Musée de l’Orangerie looked at the first eighty years of photography in Who’s Afraid of Women Photographers? 1839–1945). Julia Margaret Cameron, whose great-niece Virginia Woolf’s name was substituted in the title of the exhibition, and the war photographer Olive Edis (1876–1955) were both displayed. Edis was commissioned to provide a record of the war work being undertaken by British women in France and Belgium. During her four-week tour in 1919, she was accompanied by Lady Norman and Agnes Conway of the Imperial War Museum’s Women’s War Work Committee. Edis recorded both women and the ravaged landscape through which she travelled (fig. 29). Cromer Museum in Norfolk is currently digitizing the world’s largest collection of her work. This will allow her war work to be placed within the wider context of her career.DOI
Scholarship by art historians and curators that draws attention to the work of women artists must be encouraged and funded to allow a balanced picture to emerge. As shown by these exhibitions and the digital research undertaken by other “Still Invisible” contributors, this may be accomplished by both digital and physical means. There remain many unsung women artists of the twentieth century. Some won the admiration of their contemporaries only to be forgotten by subsequent generations, others produced too small a volume of work to gain a significant reputation. If we are to provide an accurate portrayal of the art world we must be willing to reassess individual artists who remain neglected, and look to place them within the context of the period using all of the means at our disposal.
Meaghan Clarke, Senior Lecturer in Art History, University of Sussex
Overlooked women artists and designers, 1851–1918DOI
For me, the question “Still Invisible?” directs our attention to women artists and designers working during the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is true that in spite of considerable scholarship over the past two decades many of these women still remain largely unknown.24 A major problem with researching women artists during this period is that extensive archives in the form of diaries and correspondence are rare. Even extant works of art are unusual in national public collections. However, new digital projects and archives are providing facilities for alternative ways of mining the archive and using linked data to make it possible to track women artists and designers across the period in fascinating ways.25 Attention has recently turned to the history of exhibition culture as a way of understanding the development of specific periods and the dissemination and circulation of works of art.DOI
It is clear that women were extraordinarily active in exhibition culture, not only as artists and designers, but also as organizers and patrons. The fin-de-siècle offered exciting possibilities for women to exhibit fine and applied art. These opportunities ranged from large-scale events such as the women only Victorian Era Exhibition in 1897, to more specialized venues such as the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers and the Paris Women’s International Art Club. An exhibition of Women’s Work at Earl’s Court in 1900 was followed by the emergence of the Society of Tempera Painters in 1901. The competing goals of these various societies did not seem to prevent women from taking advantage of every chance to show their work, and many played an important role in the organization and structure of societies and events; for example, the Victorian Era Exhibition was organized by the artist Henrietta Rae and she exhibited seven works; she had also served on the Hanging Committee of the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1893.DOI
DOI Marianne Stokes exemplified this strategy: she exhibited Honesty (fig. 30) at the International Society, acted on the Women’s Work Exhibition Committee, and contributed to her own show at the Fine Art Society. Stokes’s approach was not limited to scattergun exhibiting, and was substantiated by active press coverage. I have argued previously about the power of the Victorian and Edwardian press and the crucial role of women art writers in shaping contemporary cultural debates. Stokes managed to get her friends, Harriet Ford and Alice Meynell (and her husband), to write essays promoting her work.26DOI
Catalogues read alongside the contemporary press reveal the extent of women’s involvement in exhibition culture as well as their personal and professional networks. Spaces emerged where women artists could exhibit their work in national and international collectives. There were also new societies where women were relatively well represented, such as the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers and the Tempera Society. The overlap in participation and membership indicates the diverse tactics deployed by women artists in a very dynamic period that posited a wealth of exhibitionary opportunities. Women artists and critics debated the merits of segregation. Not everyone would have been in agreement with Catherine Gasquoine Hartley’s statement, in her review of the Paris Club in 1900, that “women are at last learning the lesson that ‘Unity is Strength’.” However, Gasquoine Hartley’s advocacy of unified action would continue to resonate in the ensuing decade as the suffrage movement gained political momentum.27DOI
There are also broader questions about the transformative effects of exhibitions and their impact on British art and culture. The Fine Art Society did offer a site for occasional solo exhibitions of women artists such as Helen Allingham, or the husband and wife show of Marianne and Adrian Stokes in 1900. Nonetheless, the focus in art history on the solo exhibition tends to exclude women, while group exhibitions offer a site for mapping more accurately the exhibiting patterns of women artists. At the turn of the century such events highlighted debates about professionalism, internationalism, and feminist politics. Networks were clearly crucial for women artists, then as now. Exhibition culture makes these connections “visible” at the fin-de-siècle.
Jenny Brownrigg, Exhibitions Director, Glasgow School of Art
Women in ArtDOI
Tate Modern has announced two new Artist Rooms by Phyllida Barlow and Louise Bourgeois “in a bid to inspire girls”; Saatchi Galleries has its first “all women” show, Champagne Life, to celebrate the gallery’s 30th anniversary; Pussy Riot announced plans to open a women-only museum in Montenegro, the “New Balkan Women’s Museum . . . in an effort to address long-spanning issues with gender equality in the art world, in a space referred to as, ‘for women, by women, about women’”. Karen Archey writes in a January 2016 e-flux conversation, “Are all-female exhibitions problematic?” Is there something in the water? Are there too many women artists visible in contemporary art, or is this part of a reaction to there being too few?DOI
Guerrilla Girls formed in New York in 1985 to fight the inherent gender and racial inequality in the fine arts, by producing posters, billboards, and actions containing key messages and statistics about institutions and their track records on showing female artists. Taking a straw poll, here are the statistics for men and women artists represented by a sample of UK commercial contemporary galleries (as listed in January 2016 on their websites). In Scotland, Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery is 15% women artists (4 out of 26 artists on roster). This figure increases if “project artists” are included, to 22%. In Glasgow, the Modern Institute has 33% women (13 out of 43), whilst smaller commercial gallery Mary Mary has the highest number at 43% (6 out of 14). Whilst more in number, this is still under half. Workplace Gallery, Gateshead, is 38% (8 out of 21 artists); in London, Hollybush Gardens was an exception with 62% of their total being women (8 out of 13); whilst White Cube (London, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Miami) was 28% (17 out of 60) and Hauser & Wirth, with galleries in London, New York, and Somerset, at 31% (20 out of 64). Why are the numbers of women represented by commercial galleries consistently much lower than the number of male artists? Is this because fewer women study fine art so there are fewer female artists? The statistics of female graduates from the Glasgow School of Art would contradict this. In the academic year 2014/15, 75 female to 33 male students graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art with Honours, making the ratio 69% female graduates. In 2013/14, 63 women students versus 39 male students graduated from the same course. Each year back to 2010/11 the gender split is the same, with female students always the higher number of graduates from the undergraduate Fine Art course.DOI
Sarah McCrory, Director of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art since 2013, and previously curator of Frieze Projects, makes the point that to alter these statistics, change can only occur through gallery programmers and, in terms of commercial galleries, the buyers, who ultimately are the market. In 2010 McCrory worked with Annika Ström for Frieze Projects. The artist’s piece saw a group of “Ten Embarrassed Men” (2010) roam the tent, ashamed by the low number of women represented at the art fair. McCrory believes that rather than explicitly brand an exhibition as “all women”, these types of curatorial decision should be implicit in programming.DOI
Guerrilla Girls aim to stop their activism when the situation of visibility of women in contemporary art is balanced. They continue, with their show at Walker Arts Center running throughout 2016. The artist Amy Bessone wrote recently: “I’ve noticed galleries whose roster may consist of 20–30% female artists, bring a 90–100% male line-up to art fairs.”28 Clearly, we need to do more work.
Jan Marsh, Researcher (Later Victorian Catalogue), National Portrait Gallery, London
Running Down her Own Work: Rescuing the reputation of Marie Spartali StillmanDOI
Many artists are “forgotten” or ignored by history, even some who were famous and successful in their lifetimes. Women artists are notoriously often lost to view, being typically less celebrated in life, often producing less, and on a smaller scale, with few works in public collections and even fewer solo shows or monographs (usually none). All of which militates against scholarly revaluation, for if art works are scanty or invisible, how can their quality or significance be assessed?DOI
The exhibiting career of British-born painter Marie Spartali Stillman (1844–1927) spanned nearly six decades, with over 150 recorded titles, all carefully executed gouache works in various genres from the so-called “Pre-Raphaelite” half-length figure so popular with patrons, through multi-figure historical scenes to portraiture and luminous landscapes. Yet by 1950 she was barely remembered. As Victorian art gradually returned to popular and scholarly attention, she featured as a nonentity, like so many women artists, sometimes even classified as an amateur, well below the critical horizon. At best, she was a feeble follower who validated the superior male painters.DOI
DOI But Love’s Messenger (fig. 32), now in the Delaware Art Museum, is certainly up to any artistic standard associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brothers and their successors. So to collect a fair sample of Stillman’s pictures was the first task of recovery, hindered by so many works being currently untraced. It’s chickens and eggs: work can be evaluated only when seen, but if unvalued it won’t come to light.DOI
We began the showcasing process in 2015–16 with Poetry in Beauty: the Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman, at Delaware Art Museum and the Watts Gallery, Surrey, curated by myself and Margaretta Frederick, DAM chief curator, by selecting a range of works, including many from family and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic. The next task was a catalogue, for today an exhibition without a publication does little to secure any artist’s reputation. The challenge here was the lack of critical literature, there having been hardly any previous exhibitions and only a scatter of reviews; to some extent, it was like writing about a contemporary artist whose place in history is yet to be determined.DOI
And it is always hard to discount the artist’s self-assessments, on specific works or on the whole oeuvre. Against Stillman’s occasional laments, in sparse surviving correspondence, that she had sold little, or never seemed to please the critics, we set the remark by Charles Fairfax Murray, a fellow-artist, himself largely dismissed by posterity, that she had “ruined her reputation by running down her work”. Those researching women artists are familiar with such diffidence, born from the age-old proscription on female ambition and boasting. But if an artist does not rate their own work, why should we?DOI
In Stillman’s case, I now believe that her self-abasement actually signified ambition—the aim being always higher than the perceived achievement—which is the mark of a serious artist, always striving for more, for better.DOI
The judgments of posterity will vary. But at least her work is now available.
Anna A. Liesching, Assistant Art Curator, Ulster Museum
Female Artists from the Ulster Museum CollectionDOI
An inventory of Ulster Museum’s fine art catalogue would show a familiar 15 percent of work created by women, a slight figure that seems to be considered an acceptable norm throughout museum collections. However, over a course of study into the works, from 1700 to the present day, I found many interesting trends in the acquisition policy that led to the collection. Since the establishment of Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in 1929, one of the main collecting policies of the art collection has been to acquire a high standard of fine art pieces that reflect the progress of international and specifically Irish art. It has always been a policy of the keepers of art in the Ulster Museum to avoid presenting female artists on their own or to collect them because of their sex, but rather to include them as on an equal par with their male counterparts, making acquisition selections based on the quality of art. Though a smaller percentage than I expected to find, given that works by women are a major part of the interpretation of the art collection, this lack of discriminatory practice allows us to study the position of female artists within the fine art collection.DOI
Notably, in the category of Irish art 25 percent of works are by female artists. In order to reflect the art practices of the first half of the twentieth century, the work of prominent and dynamic female artists had to be collected. At a time when male Irish artists looked toward the Irish countryside to establish a national identity, female artists looked towards Europe. Many of these women had a privileged upbringing which gave them the opportunity to travel, establishing careers in France and Belgium, and returning to Ireland with a fresh European outlook, the resultant works of which were hastily purchased by the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. Artists such as Mainie Jellet and Evie Hone were credited with bringing Modernism to Ireland. Though the foundation of many of these careers was funded by family wealth, it is the independent careers that many of these women went on to have that should be credited. Many remained single and worked in collectives such as the Watercolour Society of Ireland with their fellow women artists. Their work is reflected across multiple disciplines within the art collection. Rosamond Praeger, for example, is represented by sculpture, bookplates, sketches, and stained-glass window designs.DOI
The contrast between the careers of female artists before and after the Second World War, following the establishment of the welfare state and wider opportunity, is interesting to note. Female artists represented in the collection from the last thirty years communicate in voices from outside of wealthy backgrounds and “classic” education, and their works tend to be more concentrated on the personal experience of being artists and women. This is reflected in the recently acquired works by Siobhán Hipaska, Rita Duffy, and Alice Berger-Hammerschlag. In recent years around 40 percent of works added to the collection are by female artists.DOI
We must exercise a degree of caution when avoiding the categorization of female artists purely by their sex, as this can lead to their narratives becoming further separated from the canon of art history. However, important exhibitions like the National Galleries of Scotland’s Modern Scottish Women prove that in order for there to be equal representation in the future there needs to be a degree of separation now. Using an artist’s sex as an interpretative tool sheds light on the successful careers of many female artists who have previously been overlooked, sparking further research into their work which may result in them being featured more frequently alongside their male counterparts, so extinguishing the need for “female” specific exhibitions in the future.DOI
When reflecting on the presence of female artists in the Ulster Museum art collection, there is clearly a strong narrative of high quality and important fine art by women, both within the historic collection, among recent acquisitions, and in current exhibitions which feature prominent artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Mary Martin. I hope to explore and highlight these further, specifically the different trajectories between pre- and post-welfare state careers and through digitization of collections, taking care not to marginalize in the process of making visible.DOI
For more information on the female artists within the Ulster Museum collection, please visit this highlights tour.
Peter Trippi, Independent scholar and editor of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, New York
The life, art, and legacy of Laura Theresa Epps Alma-Tadema (1852–1909) constitute an intriguing case study, with some aspects similar to those of other nineteenth-century women artists, and others completely different.DOI
One of the three artist-daughters of the homeopathic physician Dr George Napoleon Epps, Laura bore a surname familiar in Britain not only through her father’s pioneering research, but also through her uncle James’s business, Epps’s Cocoa, a highly profitable rival to Cadbury. In 1869, seventeen-year-old Laura met the Friesian-born, Brussels-based artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (recently widowed, and sixteen years older than her) at a party hosted by Ford Madox Brown. Already inclined to resettle in London, the Dutchman fell in love instantly, and although Laura’s family was initially hesitant, the couple proceeded to marry in 1871 and to enjoy what was—by all accounts—an exceptionally happy marriage, lasting until her death thirty-eight years later.DOI
I have recently been collaborating with Prof. Liz Prettejohn and the Fries Museum—located in Lawrence’s hometown of Leeuwarden—on an exhibition that, among other objectives, reassesses the power dynamics within this couple’s remarkable household.29 In the Prestel publication accompanying our project, Liz Prettejohn notes that Laura “did not cease painting, as so many women of her generation did when they married (including her own sister Ellen, usually known as Nellie, who married the author Edmund Gosse in 1875)”.30 Previous scholarship has usually interpreted the marriage—its first decade at least—as that of an older man teaching a younger woman how to paint better. There may be truth in that, but our project reassesses two early iconic works—the huge Epps Family Screen (1870–71, V&A; fig. 33) and the self-portraits painted by the couple in 1871 (Fries Museum; fig. 34)—as examples of partnership rather than tutelage. Ironically, it was Laura—rather than her Dutch husband—who focused her considerable talent on painting figures, usually women and children, attired in historic costumes and arranged in panelled interiors that evoke Holland’s Golden Age. These idylls were generally posed and painted in Laura’s Dutch-style studio, a defining feature of both of the famous houses the Alma-Tademas redesigned and redecorated together—Townshend House and 17 Grove End Road.
Another of our publication’s contributors is Carolyn Dixon, who is not only Laura’s great-great niece, but also created the first catalogue raisonné for Laura as part of her 2006 MPhil at the University of Sussex. Carolyn Dixon writes that Laura
showed her paintings at the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery, Paris Salon, the Paris Expositions Universelles of 1889 and 1900 and in Berlin. Her art was also widely exhibited throughout the United Kingdom, and in Belgium and America. In 1910, her memorial exhibition of 129 works was held at the Fine Art Society in London. She managed to achieve all of this while being responsible, as Lawrence’s wife, for organising and acting as hostess in the very full social life they enjoyed. Laura also became mother to his daughters, who were only two and four years old when they met her.31DOI
The younger of the girls was Anna, who became a gifted watercolour painter; the older was Laurence, whose talents were literary rather than artistic. At the Ashmolean Museum last summer, Anna’s recently acquired and previously unknown watercolour, Girl in a Bonnet with her Head on a Blue Pillow (fig. 35), earned substantial attention from visitors and was selected by several media outlets as the "face" of the museum’s popular exhibition devoted to great British drawings. (Alas, this work will not be available for our project due to light restrictions.)DOI
Like almost all Victorian paintings, Laura’s had vanished from public view by the mid-1920s. But where can we normally see her work today? Art UK indicates that only four of them are held in public collections—at Bournemouth, Bury, Dover, and Manchester. The finest of these is Sweet Industry (fig. 36), on regular view in the Manchester Art Gallery, which will appear at all three of our touring exhibition’s venues: the Fries Museum, Vienna’s Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, and London’s Leighton House Museum.32 Scant attention is paid to Laura at the three other galleries.DOI
Far more attention is paid to Laura, however, by private collectors. At least once every year an example of her art comes up at Christie’s or Sotheby’s in London or New York. This past December, for instance, a ravishing oil on canvas, A Looking Out o’Window, Sunshine (fig. 37), brought £229,250 at Sotheby’s—a handsome price for most Victorian painters today, let alone a female one. To be clear, Laura’s prices at auction are more often in the £25,000–75,000 range, but considering the depressed state of the Victorian pictures market, even these sums are respectable.DOI
So why do private individuals pursue Laura while most curators and scholars ignore her? Although the fame of her married surname may initially draw attention, it is surely the quality and charm of her art that keep collectors looking. Clients in this sector “buy with their eyes rather than their ears”, prioritizing their own visual pleasure over “brand” names because media attention is firmly focused elsewhere, particularly on contemporary art.DOI
The upcoming exhibition will contain ten artworks painted solely by Laura, the screen and framed self-portraits she created with Lawrence, two paintings each by her sisters Ellen and Emily, and seven by her step-daughter Anna. They were all gifted painters whose work has fallen unfairly into oblivion, and now all will be represented alongside Lawrence. Our curatorial team members are delighted by this prospect, not only because it underscores how the members of this extended family encouraged each other’s artistry, but also because Laura’s auction record tells us that visitors will enjoy her pictures on their own terms. Now we wonder: will their quality and diversity move the needle among curators and scholars? We look forward to learning the answer.
Daphne Haldin’s Archive and the 'Dictionary of Women Artists'DOI
I am currently cataloguing the Daphne Haldin Archive. This was deposited at the Paul Mellon Centre in the 1970s and relates almost entirely to her project to compile a dictionary of women artists born before the 1850s.DOI
Apart from a memorable visit to the Centre by Germaine Greer, who viewed the material whilst researching her book The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and their Work, the collection has only been consulted by a couple of researchers.33DOI
Not much has been established about Haldin or her project.34 She began her research in the 1960s, and it appears she was not attempting to create a publication that provided new theory on the work of women artists or their place within art history. Rather her project was a conventional one that endeavoured to provide basic biographical and factual entries on predominantly European women artists up to the nineteenth century, in the same way that male artists had previously been accounted for in Thieme-Becker Künstler-Lexicon.DOI
The editor of reference books at W. & R. Chambers wrote to Haldin: “I agree with you of course that a dictionary of women artists in English is better than none at all and if the selection is to be very comprehensive, as I infer from your description, then it will be a very useful work” (fig. 38).35 Yet Haldin continued to come up against a flood of rejection: the archive contains a whole file dedicated to this subject.
One might question whether the problem with Haldin’s project was that it really was not much use to anyone, but correspondence in the archive reveals there was a good deal of interest in her work. I would argue that the rejection she came up against was more likely due to the publishers she approached failing to recognize that such a reference book would address a gap in scholarship. Most publishers could not grasp why Haldin wanted to write a comprehensive dictionary of artists but not include both sexes. The editor at W. & R. Chambers asked Haldin: “Can we be sure, however, that segregation of the sexes in dictionaries of this kind is desirable, and that the general enquirer is not more interested in schools and periods, irrespective of whether the artist is male or female?” (fig. 40, 41).36 This demonstrates that the objective of Haldin’s project—to redress the balance between the sexes by devoting dictionary entries entirely to women artists—had been missed.
The project was ahead of its time and never published. It was not until the late eighties and nineties that several dictionaries of women artists did appear (albeit not on the same scale as Haldin had proposed).37 The Daphne Haldin Archive remains at the Centre and shows just how vast the world of women artists has always been, and yet it continues to be under-represented in reference texts. It also demonstrates how the perceived value of archive material may change over time: deposited primarily as a factual resource, the collection now adds to the debate on the role and visibility of women artists.
BAS Editorial Group
Continuing the Conversation: Community and CollaborationDOI
The idea for this feature came from a confluence of events on women artists in 2015–16. After a seeming lull in such concentrated scholarship, the digital realm is providing opportunities to create new resources, interventions and benchmarks of practice. This last wave of “Still Invisible?” focuses on projects that are designed to create solid foundations for continuing work on female practitioners, employing digital opportunities to extend their reach and impact. These endeavours are mapping and making women practitioners visible in broader ways than we might have imagined possible even two years ago. Crucially they are collaborative, iterative processes built on community efforts which are not necessarily perfectible, but rich, dynamic, and ongoing.DOI
On Wednesday, 25 May, many of the contributors to the British Art Studies “Still Invisible?” Conversation Piece, together with a range of individuals interested in learning new skills and art history, gathered at the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Art for an Art+Feminimism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. The aim of our event was to enable participants to continue to address issues of women’s exclusion from histories of art through learning Wikipedia editing skills that would allow us to contribute our expert knowledge to the encyclopedia by joining this dynamic community of online collaborators.DOI
Museums Galleries Scotland Wikimedian Sara Thomas led two training sessions during the day and it soon became clear that although the process of editing using the visual editor tool provided by Wikipedia is relatively simple, the issues we would face were more complex.DOI
First among these is the fact that “Wikipedia has a huge diversity problem”. The disparity between the estimated 91–84 percent of male to 9–16 percent of female editors has been visualized by Santiago Ortiz. This has resulted in fewer and less extensive articles about women, and about topics that are important to women. The reasons for sparse representation of female artists are further compounded by the relative dearth of published materials pertaining to women. The use of archival materials as supporting evidence is not necessarily encouraged, and even so these resources are often notably absent from major archives and repositories. As Alex Provo discusses in relation to the Edit-a-thon she convened at YCBA, Wikipedia’s guidelines for notability mean it can be difficult to argue for the relevance of figures who have been discriminated against at an institutional level, or whose careers have not followed a traditional trajectory.DOI
Deploying the Wikipedia communities’ current campaign slogan “Be Bold”, Frankie Drummond Charig decided to test the limitations of this statute and establish a page for art historian Daphne Haldin. Haldin is a contentious figure because although her work is an important archival resource consulted by art historians, it remained unpublished because printing houses in the 1960s were unable to see the value of a dictionary of female artists. Charig referenced her “Still Invisible?” contribution in order to provide supporting evidence of Haldin’s worthiness, and although initially challenged, the entry has now been granted full article status and Haldin recently referenced on a further Wikipedia page about Women Artists.DOI
One of the most enlightening things we learned as a primarily scholarly community was about the highly evolved and involved processes of verification, strict criteria, and clearly defined guidelines that make Wikipedia a useful research tool. As the double blind peer review model comes under pressure from new models of research and scholarship, these kinds of communities and open source tools offer alternative models.DOI
Together we created three new pages, added vital edits, information, and references to seventeen pages, and using the talk mechanism proposed a range of improvements, including a group-voted disambiguation between Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. We have monitored and published the progress we have made using the dedication Still Invisible? Edit-a-thon page. Each editor is able to track the afterlives of their interventions, and we hope that they will continue to report any significant developments via the Conversation Piece “comments” function.DOI
We ran the event collaboratively and consecutively with the second meeting of British Women Artists Network 1750–1950, and many participants attended both days. The network will be another way in which the vital conversation about women artists continues onwards, and a means for finding further solutions to the “Still Invisible?” question.
Alexandra Provo, Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship at Yale University Library & Yale Center for British Art
Representing women artists in Wikipedia and beyondDOI
With 5,132,822 articles in English and counting, Wikipedia is the world’s largest encyclopedia. It is free and crowd-sourced—meaning it is not written by a group of authors working with a publisher, as in traditional scholarship, but by anybody in the world who wants to contribute. This is both a huge benefit and a limitation, for it means that what is in Wikipedia very much depends on the interests of those who contribute to it.DOI
On 4 March, Yale University’s Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library hosted an Edit-a-thon to address gaps in coverage in Wikipedia. A collaboration with Yale’s Digital Media Center for the Arts, the Yale School of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery, our event was aligned with the larger initiative coordinated by Art+Feminism. Their mission is to increase coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia, and to encourage women and feminist allies to actively participate as editors. Yale’s Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon focused on bringing attention to women artists associated with Yale or represented in Yale art collections, as well as other topics of interest to participants. Pages about British artists edited at our event include those for Catherine Yass and Tracey Emin.DOI
The training session at our event provided an opportunity to reflect on Wikipedia’s guidelines and principles, in particular how these affect the representation of women artists. As our event took place in the context of a university, we also sought to bring to light the ways in which authority is constructed and contextual, one of the frames outlined in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.DOI
A core principle underlying several of Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines for editors is that a reader should be able to verify that the content of an encyclopedia entry derives from reputable sources. This theme is expressed in policies like “No original research” and “Verifiability”, and the guideline “Identifying reliable sources.” An editor must consider the type, creator, and publisher of a source when determining its reliability. Typically, the list of reliable sources includes academic and peer-reviewed publications, university-level textbooks, books published by respected publishing houses, magazines, journals, and mainstream newspapers. Unpublished material (like archival collections) is discouraged.DOI
The reliability of sources also plays into determining whether a topic deserves to be included in the encyclopedia in the first place. This is laid out in the “notability” guideline, as well as in more granular notability guidelines for people and other topics. The subsection in the people guideline about creative professionals contains the following criteria:
- The person is regarded as an important figure or is widely cited by peers or successors.
- The person is known for originating a significant new concept, theory, or technique.
- The person has created or played a major role in co-creating a significant or well-known work or collective body of work. In addition, such work must have been the subject of an independent book or feature-length film or of multiple independent periodical articles or reviews.
- The person's work (or works) either (a) has become a significant monument, (b) has been a substantial part of a significant exhibition, (c) has won significant critical attention, or (d) is represented within the permanent collections of several notable galleries or museums.
Art+Feminism asks, “What if notability guidelines reproduce structural sexism and racism?” For me, this question is directly tied to perceptions of what is considered a reliable source, both inside and outside of Wikipedia, and specifically in arts contexts.DOI
At our event, we encouraged participants to ask themselves, “How does authority change depending on context?” and “What types of sources are considered authoritative in the arts?” With regard to women artists, their absence in “authoritative”, mainstream sources has real ramifications for their representation in Wikipedia: they simply cannot be included without them, either because they will not pass notability tests (for example, criteria 1–3 above) or because they will lack the sources needed for verifiable citation. The question in this issue’s provocation about whether women artists receive “curatorial care and scholarly attention” thus has significant consequences in the sphere of Wikipedia.DOI
Calvert and de Montfort’s provocation asks: “should we be especially concerned about the display of women’s work in public collections, in an age of digital images and online archives?” In my opinion, emphatically yes: what we find in online sources like Wikipedia completely depends on what goes on in the wider world of publishing and exhibiting. The fourth notability test for creative professionals includes two provisions related specifically to museum display: (b) has been a substantial part of a significant exhibition and (d) is represented within the permanent collections of several notable galleries or museums. In this case, visibility in Wikipedia is directly tied to visibility in the museum.DOI
The impact of an article in Wikipedia ripples outward, beyond the confines of the website itself—editing the site enables potentially seismic interventions in the digital, popular, and scholarly receptions and visibility of the subject of an entry. Not only is Wikipedia content at the top of Google search results and part of the Google Knowledge Graph, but Wikipedia is also the source for datasets like DBPedia—the largest droplet in the Linked Open Data cloud. This means that Wikipedia is not only a standalone encyclopedia, but the source for other online spaces.DOI
Happily, Wikipedia policies and guidelines are not hard rules—they are built with some degree of flexibility in mind. But flexing their boundaries requires engagement from people with knowledge of the sometimes little-known sources pertaining to women artists. We need to contribute to the debate on reconsidering the definition of authority for this context on Wikipedia, and we need to recognize how the work of publishing and exhibiting women shapes numerous (and sometimes ubiquitous) online resources.
Alice Strang, Senior Curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The Work of a Woman Artist is “like a man’s only weaker and poorer”DOI
In 1885 Sir William Fettes Douglas, President of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA), declared that the work of a woman artist was “like a man’s only weaker and poorer”.38 In the same year, Fra Newbery was appointed Director of the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and turned it into the most advanced institution of its kind in Britain, not least for the employment and participation of female staff and students. The death in 1965 of Anne Redpath (fig. 42), who in 1952 had been the first female painter to be elected a full member of the RSA, seventy-seven years after Douglas’s statement, was marked with a touring memorial exhibition organized by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The eighty years which lay between these events saw an unprecedented number of Scottish women train and practise as artists, a phenomenon examined in the current exhibition Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors 1885-1965, which runs at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two in Edinburgh until 26 June 2016.
Modern Scottish Women is the first major exhibition of work by women artists to be mounted by the National Galleries of Scotland. It consists of some ninety works by forty-five artists, from Louise Annand to Doris Zinkeisen. The intention was to look at the impact of their gender on the experiences of the artists whilst training and practising, to combine that with art-historical concerns and to look afresh at otherwise familiar academic ground. For a variety of reasons—principally early deaths, short careers, and a lack of accessible works—there are not enough paintings or sculptures by many of the artists featured with which to mount a solo exhibition, and therefore the framework of a group show allows us to bring their achievements into the public domain. Many of the artists are little known, such as Margaret Campbell Macpherson, Ottilie Maclaren Wallace, and Gwynneth Holt, while we hope to shed new light on those with more significant reputations, such as Phoebe Anna Traquair, Joan Eardley, and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, by positioning them in this context.DOI
We decided to concentrate on painters and sculptors (although the photographer Margaret Watkins was also included) partly to debunk the myth of women artists more readily excelling in the applied arts and also to challenge the traditional gendered hierarchy of the visual arts, in which, for example, sculpture was considered the most physical and therefore most masculine and least feminine form of artistic endeavour.DOI
Forming a minority within their student bodies, and with late and limited access to the Life Class at a time when the skilful depiction of the human form was considered the bedrock of a professional career, modern female artists were vastly outnumbered by male exhibitors at the annual exhibitions held by institutions such as the RSA and the Royal Glasgow Institute. As a consequence of these inequalities, their work was often evaluated in terms of their gender by critics, most of whom were male. For example, Bessie MacNicol’s work was praised in intrinsically gendered terms for possessing “a personal and feminine feeling for Nature which made most things she did interesting and charming”.39DOI
At the GSA, women were granted access to nude models by 1900, albeit in separate classes to their male peers and with chaperones. Female students at the Edinburgh College of Art were not permitted to a Life Class until 1910, when two new classrooms were built in order to maintain segregation.40 However, official recognition of women as professional artists came much later for the majority of women, with the sculptor Phyllis Mary Bone (fig. 43) being elected the first full female Academician of the RSA in 1944, some 118 years after the academy had been founded. In 1933, Dorothy Carleton Smyth was appointed Director of GSA but died of a brain haemorrhage before she could take up the post. Women were not admitted to the Glasgow Arts Club (founded in 1867) nor the Scottish Arts Club (founded in 1872) until 1983 and 1982 respectively, but female initiatives such as the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists established in 1882, and the Scottish Society of Women Artists established in 1924, were set up and still exist, as the Glasgow Society of Women Artists and Visual Arts Scotland.
The majority of the works in Modern Scottish Women were lent from public collections throughout the UK, located mainly thanks to the efforts of the Public Catalogue Foundation and their website, recently relaunched as Art UK. Fourteen further works were lent from private collections and two from private galleries. Whilst the more established artists’ lives and careers are well documented in books, exhibition catalogues, and public archives, scant research material could be located within the public and private domains for most of the artists; very few wrote for publication, but were quoted where they had done so. Research was complicated by the fact that many women artists had multiple professional names, primarily maiden and then married surnames. The impact of personal, usually domestic, responsibilities on the artists’ careers could not be ignored, though the exhibition interpretation aimed to be “neutral but factual”—for example, stating without comment that on her marriage to her colleague D. M. Sutherland in 1924, Dorothy Johnstone had to resign from her post at Edinburgh College of Art due to the “Marriage Bar” legislation, which prevented married women from holding full-time teaching positions and which was not repealed in Scotland until 1945. We were delighted to be able to produce a 128-page publication to accompany the exhibition, which contains an introductory essay, entries on all of the artists, and a select bibliography.41DOI
DOI During our research it became apparent that some of the artists in Modern Scottish Women were successful during their careers but are largely forgotten now, including Mary Cameron and Flora Macdonald Reid, whilst others are still to receive their professional due, such as Norah Neilson Gray (fig. 45) and Bessie MacNicol, once further works are located. However, this can be applied to many male artists as well and is often tied up with cycles of taste combined with curatorial and academic activity.DOI
No definable “feminine aesthetic” became apparent as the exhibition took shape. Portraiture is the most commonly represented genre, with several self-portraits showing the artists in the guise of their chosen profession; whilst landscape is the least represented, arguably because it requires a freedom from personal and professional responsibilities experienced by few of the artists featured. Indeed, subject matter ranges from still lifes to the religious and the abstract, with works relating to the two world wars also included.
Fittingly, Modern Scottish Women was supported by The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust (four of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s paintings are in the exhibition (fig.46)) and a sorority of women throughout Scotland. The exhibition was opened on 6 November 2015 by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first female First Minister, and by 1 May 2016 had received over 21,000 visitors. It has received plentiful and mainly positive press coverage, including a review in The Scotsman which declared that it “successfully re-writes the story of modern Scottish art”.42 A wide-ranging education programme has been very well attended, not least a study day organized by the Scottish Society for Art History inspired by the exhibition, and continues until the end of the exhibition.43 Thanks to two wiki-a-thons, all but one of the artists featured now have entries or updated entries on Wikipedia.44 Further research and works have come to light since the exhibition opened and attention is now turning to the legacy of the project, in terms of acquisitions for the national collection whether by gift, purchase, or bequest.DOI
DOI Overall, Modern Scottish Women has made the forty-five artists it features physically visible during its seven-month run, whilst the accompanying publication has a lifespan beyond the exhibition’s ending on 26 June. The project as a whole has stimulated broad and on-going debate and scholarship in this rich field, within and outwith the National Galleries of Scotland, where, for example, work is culminating on an exhibition devoted to the work of Joan Eardley (fig. 47), which opens at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two at the end of this year.45 So have we disproved Sir William Fettes Douglas’s declaration that the work of a woman artist is “like a man’s only weaker and poorer”? I think we have made a start, but more remains to be done in making their achievements truly visible.
Yasmin Shariff, a principal of Dennis Sharp Architects and an elected AAA and RIBA Council member
AA XX 100: Centenary Celebrations of Women at the AA 1917-2017DOI
AA XX 100 aims to celebrate the contribution women at the Architectural Association (AA) have made over the past 100 years and to serve as a platform for a broader discussion of women in architecture. It is a multi-media research project bringing to life previously forgotten or underused material and attracting new contributions to the AA Collections (digital/photographic, archive, and library). The project is encouraging public engagement and nurturing academic, professional, and social interactions. The highlight of the initiative is a celebration in October—November 2017 with an international exhibition and conference marking the centenary.
The AA was founded in 1847 at a time when professional and educational opportunities for women were scarce. In 1898, Ethel Charles became the first woman to be admitted to the RIBA. In 1902, Charles addressed the AA in “A plea for women practicing architecture”. However, it was not until the suffragette Ruth Lowy applied to the Council in 1917 that women were finally allowed to be educated at the AA. This was the same year that the AA moved to Bedford Square and that the Electoral Reform Bill was passed in the Commons giving votes to certain women over the age of thirty.DOI
The AA is located in Bloomsbury an area that was at the heart of the women’s rights movements. Millicent Garrett Fawcett, leader of the suffragists, lived just round the corner from the AA in 2 Gower Street; the home of the Pankhurst family at 8 Russell Square provided a gathering place for the Women’s Franchise Leagues and nearby in the Strand was the headquarters for the Women’s Social and Political Union (the WSPU).DOI
When the 2017 centenary of Women at the AA was discussed at AA Council in 2013, and having published an article on Women in Architecture in the Architects’ Journal earlier that year, I felt very strongly that there was a need to raise the profile of women at the AA and agreed to take a lead. One of the questions asked in the provocation to this conversation is whether the work of women practitioners is on display and receiving curatorial care and scholarly attention. AA XX 100 provides a dedicated platform to address these issues and attract attention to, discussion of, and further research opportunities for the work of women in architecture.DOI
My inspiration for the branding ‘AA XX 100’ comes from the biology that makes women different from men—the double XX chromosome. The idea of the logo was developed by Eva Alvarez (Polytechnic University of Valencia). A distinguished group of Patrons agreed to support the project including Inette Austin-Smith, Christina Smith, Su Rogers, Elsie Owusu, Julia Barfield, Susan Lasdun, Denise Scott-Brown, Eldred Evans, Patty Hopkins, Eva Jiricna, and Jean Symonds. Sadly one of our patrons, Zaha Hadid recently passed away.DOI
As is the case for many of the female practitioners identified in this feature, there has been relatively little written on the contribution of women architects, and one of the first tasks AA XX 100 undertook was to go through the AA Registers and identify female students. The list includes Ann MacEwen, Nora Aiton, Kathryn Findlay, Diana Rowntree, Jane Drew, Judith Ledeboer, Mary Crowley, Minnette de Silva, Elizabeth Chesterton, Carmen Dillon (who won an Oscar), and Elisabeth Scott, who won the competition for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. It quickly became obvious that there is such a large number of distinguished graduates that the focus of AA XX 100 should be to stimulate interest in the subject, encourage alumni to donate material to the archives, and attract researchers and scholars to work in this field and undertake interviews. Details of some of these interviews are now available on the AA website. Valuable archive material has been donated to the AA Collections (Archive, Photo Library and Library) as a direct result of these interviews, and transcription workshops have generated considerable interest and enthusiasm within the student body.DOI
Since its inception in 2013, AA XX 100 has mushroomed. The AA Archive, Library, and Public Programme now have a regular schedule of events every year and the bookshop has launched events and updates on new publications on women in architecture. Practising architects including Sharon Hicks, Sadie Morgan, Julia King, Julia Barfield, and Elsie Owusu have given talks in the AA XX 100 programme alongside critics and researchers such as Iain Jackson, Gillian Darley, Alice Rawsthorn, Patrick Zamarian, and Catherine Burke. By the time we reach the 2017 centenary we will have significantly developed the discourse to celebrate the achievements of AA women meaningfully.
Sacha Llewellyn, Curator and Director of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
The First Retrospective of (Re) Acclaimed Artist Winifred Knights (1899–1947)DOI
“The works [Winifred Knights] produced during and since her scholarship were few in number, but of exquisite quality, and the exceptional beauty of her drawings has placed her among the outstanding artists of her generation”.46
So wrote the Painting Faculty of the British School at Rome in 1949, two years after Knights’ early death, aged 48, from a brain tumour. Knights received no obituary. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, her only appearance is as the first wife of Sir Thomas Monnington (1902–76), one-time president of the Royal Academy. Languishing in near-obscurity for almost 70-years, Knights’ reputation has recently been re-established in her first-ever retrospective held at Dulwich Picture Gallery over the summer of 2016.DOI
DOI Winifred Knights’ biography refuses to fit within the template that is more generally associated with female artists of her period. The eldest daughter in a progressive family with socialist convictions, her artistic endeavours were encouraged from an early age. She gained access to one of the most prestigious teaching establishments of the time, the Slade School of Fine Art, where she outshone her contemporaries by winning numerous prizes (fig. 50), including the coveted Summer Composition Competition (fig. 51) and a Slade Scholarship (1919). In 1920, she became the first woman to win the Rome Scholarship in Decorative Painting with her epic The Deluge (fig. 52), heralded by critics as ‘the work of a genius’.47 During her years at the Slade (1915–17; 1918–20), Knights challenged the exclusivity of male claims to professionalism by abandoning the illustrative idiom of her early work in favour of Decorative Painting, an aesthetic philosophy that defined the whole of her artistic journey.DOI
Knowledge of the artist’s biography is essential to understanding her oeuvre, with her own struggle to succeed as a productive female artist forming the prevailing narrative. Presenting herself as the central protagonist, and including models from her inner circle, Knights consistently re-wrote fairy-tale and legend, Biblical narrative and Pagan mythology to create visual distillations of her own lived experiences. The conflict between female submission and self-empowerment was a recurrent theme, explored through women’s relationships to the natural world, working communities, war, marriage, motherhood and bereavement.
A dearth of information about Winifred Knights’ life and career has obscured her extraordinary talent from re-emerging. At the Dulwich Picture Gallery retrospective, the majority of the paintings exhibited have never been seen in public. In the accompanying monograph, Winifred Knights 1899–1947, over ninety-five per cent of the pictures have never before been reproduced. Through the unpublished letters, notebooks, sketchbooks and diaries, retained by the artist’s family, it has now been possible to establish for the first time an accurate account of Knights’ life and career and to correctly identify her artworks. Only last year, Portrait of Anna Matilda Fryer (fig. 53) was presented as a portrait of an unknown woman in Tate Britain’s exhibition, ‘Spaces of Black Modernism: London 1919–39’.DOI
During her lifetime, Knights’ works were highly sought after. Artists, museum directors, socialites, diplomats and politicians comprised a network of contacts that provided patronage and support. However, although Knights was consistently committed to painting throughout her life, she worked slowly and meticulously – had she produced more she may be better known today. The deep trauma that she suffered as a result of living through two world-wars, the loss of a baby brother in 1915 and a stillborn son in 1928, meant that ‘the calmness of mind’ that Slade professor, Henry Tonks, identified as essential for Knights’ artistic output, proved elusive. After the birth of a son in 1934, she struggled to reconcile motherhood with her artistic career. However, the external context of the male-dominated art establishment to which she returned from Rome, also played its part in her increasing obscurity during the last twenty-years of her life; she was consistently excluded from numerous public mural commissions, awarded to other (and younger) male Rome Scholars.48DOI
Working within the dictums of Decorative Painting in a realistic and figurative genre, Knights, like many Rome Scholars of her generation, has suffered neglect. Recently the careers of Thomas Monnington (RS 1922), Edward Halliday (RS 1925) and Alan Sorrell (RS 1928) have been partially revisited as art history has become more inclusive of artists working outside the canon of modernism.49 The acquisition of The Deluge by Tate in 1989 marked the beginning of the process through which Knights’ art is gradually being reassessed. This contrasts with the Tate’s rejection of The Marriage at Cana as a free gift, just over thirty years earlier, in 1957, indicating how low esteem for Knights and the values she upheld had by then declined. In the Dulwich Picture Gallery retrospective, The Marriage at Cana, temporarily repatriated from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongawera, has been singled out by critics as Knights’ magnum opus, echoing the esteem it inspired when it was first shown at the Imperial Gallery, London, in 1929.
“Scottish Arts and Crafts II”, Art Journal (1907): 311–20. The work of Maggie Hamilton and Mrs Ritchie is mentioned “as an example of another ideal of embroidery than that of the School of Art” (318).1
Linda Nochlin, “Why have there been no great women artists?” (1971), in Art and Sexual Politics: Women’s Liberation, Women Artists, and Art History, ed. Thomas Hess and Elizabeth Baker (London and New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1973), 1–43 .2
Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson, eds., Uproar! The First 50 Years of the London Group, 1913–63 (London: Lund Humphries, 2013); http://benuri.org.uk/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/uproar-exhibition/ Nov 2013-March 2014; Nicola Moorby, “Sylvia Gosse 1881–1968”, artist biography, April 2003, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy, eds., The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/sylvia-gosse-r1105359, accessed 11 March 2016.3
Marjorie Lilly, Sickert: The Painter and His Circle (London: Elek, 1971), 66.4
Grace Brockington, “A ‘Lavender Talent’ or ‘The Most Important Women Painter in Europe’? Reassessing Vanessa Bell”, Art History 36, no. 1 (Feb. 2013), 136.5
Vanessa Bell, 1912, in http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/bell-frederick-and-jessie-etchells-painting-t01277 [accessed 11 March 2016]6
Rozicka Parker and Griselda Pollock, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).7
Margaret F. MacDonald, Beatrice Whistler: Artist & Designer (Glasgow: Hunterian Art Gallery, 1997).8
Margaret MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler: Drawings, Pastels, and Watercolours: A Catalogue Raisonné (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), for example cat. nos. 1196, 1242r, 1316, 1325–6, 1336, 1338, 1345.9
Andrew McLaren Young, Margaret MacDonald and others, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), cat. no. 406.10
Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T (1968; London: Virago, 1982); Chris Kraus, Aliens & Anorexia (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 2000).11
While women opened 37 percent of Roberson’s new accounts in 1872, less than 10 percent of the works on display at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibitions were by female artists, and many of these are no longer in the public domain; part of the archive’s importance as a research resource is its ability to identify artists of both genders whose works have not survived the twin filters of fashion and physical survival.12
Thomas M. Bayer and John R. Page quantify this peak and decline in The Development of the Art Market in England: Money as Muse, 1730–1900 (London, Pickering & Chatto, 2011).13
The clustering of artists in London was mapped in the Museum of London’s Creative Quarters exhibition in 2001, but almost no women were included. See Kit Wedd, Lucy Peltz and Cathy Ross, Creative Quarters: The Art World in London, 1700–2000 (London: Merrell Publishers, 2001).14
“Miss Jessie Mothersole. Exploring Ancient Britain”, The Times, 24 April 1908 (Times Digital Archive).15
“Women’s Work”, Daily News, 14 July 1904 (British Newspaper Archive).16
“Magazines”, Sheffield Independent, 24 Jan. 1908 (British Newspaper Archive).17
“Advertisements and Notices”, The Times, 12 Nov., 1910 (Times Digital Archive).18
“Bookland”, Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 7 Nov. 1922 (British Newspaper Archive).19
“Magazines”, Aberdeen Journal, 12 Jan. 1926 (British Newspaper Archive).20
Katrina Navickas’s work on nineteenth-century protest meetings draws on and enhances digitized newspaper sources. She has reflected critically on the value of digital resources in her own research. Further information on the project and her experiences combining digital and archive based research can be found on her website: http://protesthistory.org.uk/.21
Paul Gough’s seminal work, A Terrible Beauty: British Artists in the First World War (Bristol: Sansom & Co, 2009) makes only a fleeting reference to women war artists.22
Marsha Meskimmon, We Weren’t Modern Enough: Women Artists and the Limits of German Modernism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), 3.23
Deborah Cherry, Beyond the Frame: Feminism and Visual Culture, Britain, 1850–1900 (London: Routledge, 2000); Deborah Cherry and Janice Helland, eds., Local/Global: Women Artists in the Nineteenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005); Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Problem Pictures: Women and Men in Victorian Painting (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995); Pamela Gerrish Nunn, A Pre-Raphaelite Journey: The Art of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press: National Museums Liverpool, 2012); Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Women Artists and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement (London: Virago, 1989); Rosie Broadley, Laura Knight Portraits (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2013); Janice Helland, British and Irish Home Arts and Industries, 1880–1914: Marketing Craft, Making Fashion (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007); Janice Helland, Professional Women Painters in Nineteenth-century Scotland: Commitment, Friendship, Pleasure (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000).24
Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, 1851–1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011, http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk, accessed 30/01/2016; Exhibition Culture in London, 1878–1908 database, University of Glasgow, 2006, http://www.exhibitionculture.arts.gla.ac.uk/, accessed 30/01/2016.25
Meaghan Clarke, Critical Voices: Women and Art Criticism in Britain, 1880–1905 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).26
C. Gasquoine Hartley, “The Paris Club of International Women Artists”, Art Journal (Sept. 1900), 284.27
Amy Bessone, “Post Woman”, Kaleidoscope 23 (Winter 2015), 82.28
Elizabeth Prettejohn, "At Home in London, 1870–1885)", in Lawrence Alma-Tadema, ed. Prettejohn and Peter Trippi (Munich: Prestel, forthcoming).30
Carolyn Epps Dixon, "Laura Theresa Epps Alma-Tadema: Artist", in Lawrence Alma-Tadema, ed. Prettejohn and Trippi.31
The Alma-Tadema exhibition will be at Leighton House Museum 7 July–29 October 2017.32
Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and their Work (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979).33
We do know that she studied at UCL for a time in the late thirties, and wrote an article for the Connoisseur: Daphne Haldin, “Mediaeval Memorial Brasses”, The Connoisseur 88 (July 1931): 20.34
Letter from W. & R. Chambers Ltd to Daphne Haldin, 13 Feb. 1964, DH Archive, Paul Mellon Centre, London.35
Letter from W. & R. Chambers Ltd to Daphne Haldin, 11 Feb. 1964, DH Archive, Paul Mellon Centre, London.36
Delia Gaze, ed., Dictionary of Women Artists (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997); Chris Petteys, Dictionary of Women Artists: An International Dictionary of Women Artists Born Before 1900 (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1985); For the letter “B” alone, Haldin notes that she compiled 595 entries.37
Quoted in The Scotsman, 23 Jan. 1885, 7.38
See Alice Strang, ed., Modern Scottish Women: Painters and sculptors, 1885–1965 (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2015), 16.39
See Strang, ed., Modern Scottish Women, 12.40
Alice Strang, ed., Modern Scottish Women: Painters and sculptors, 1885–1965 (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2015), 16. The catalogue is available by mail order via https://www.nationalgalleries.org/shop/online-shop/product/modern-scottish-women-exhibition-catalogue.41
Duncan Macmillan, “Art Review: Modern Scottish Women, Edinburgh”, The Scotsman, 14 Nov. 2015.42
“Women in Scottish Art, 1885–1965”, Scottish National Gallery, 23 Jan. 2016. The papers presented are to be published in the forthcoming issue of the society’s journal, see https://ssahistory.wordpress.com/. See https://www.nationalgalleries.org/education/introduction-528/ for further details.43
With the exception of Ivy Gardner Proudfoot.44
Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, Edinburgh, 3 Dec. 2016 – 21 May 2017. See https://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/on-now-coming-soon/joan-eardley-23214.45
Note 1949, Painting Faculty, British School at Rome Historic Archive.46
Daily Graphic, 8 February 192147
For example, the major Decorative cycle, ‘The Building of Britain’ at St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster (1924-7) employed 9 male artists who, except for Vivian Forbes, were all Rome Scholars or members of the Rome School Faculty.48
Ann Compton, Edward Halliday; Art for Life 1925-1939 (exh. Cat. University of Liverpool Art Gallery, 1997); Drawings and Paintings by Sir Thomas Monnington PRA 1902-1976 (exh. Cat. Royal Academy of Arts, 1997); Sacha Llewellyn (ed) Alan Sorrell; the Life and Works of an English Neo-Romantic Artist (Bristol: Sansom & co., 2014).49
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- Patricia de Montfort, Robyne Erica Calvert, "Still Invisible?", British Art Studies, Issue 2, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-02/still-invisible