‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ asked Linda Nochlin, a prominent feminist art historian, in her pioneering essay of 1971. A new exhibition, a collaboration between The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery and Liss Llewellyn, addresses this absence of women artists in traditional art historical narratives. Curated by Sacha Lllewellyn, it seeks out those who have fallen into obscurity and introduces them to a new audience.

Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900–1950  displays a range of genres that women artists experimented with, such as surrealism, abstraction and landscapes, and documents a rich exploration of painting, sculpture and collage.

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Installation view of Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900–1950

The exhibition first opened in London in 2018 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act. The Act gave women over 30 who met a property qualification the right to vote. Highlighting this connection is Marion Wallace-Dunlop, painter, illustrator and devoted feminist. She studied at the respected Slade School of Fine Art and exhibited with the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy. In 1908 she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was soon arrested for ‘obstruction’. Marion Wallace-Dunlop was the first suffragette to go on hunger strike while being imprisoned in 1909.

We have a medal and brooch presented to Alice Davies by the WSPU in recognition of her hunger strike on the 4 Mar 1912 a few years after Wallace-Dunlop, currently on display in our Treasures of the Brotherton gallery.

The exhibition also displays three works from the University’s own Art Collection, including a recent bequest by Marie Walker Last of Dame Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Drawing for Sculpture’ (1941). Marie Walker Last was a passionate supporter of the arts as well as being an artist herself. This piece exemplifies women artists supporting each other.

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Installation view of Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900–1950

An exhibition catalogue accompanies the show, comprising of fifty commentaries on each of the works by a range of different authors – relatives of the artists, admirers, researchers and collectors. They highlight each artwork’s unique story, and introduce an intimate perspective on each artist’s practice.

While the exhibition does not claim to be a full survey of women artists of the period, or fully answer Nochlin’s earlier provocation, it serves to pull back the rug on a long line of women who have been forgotten, hidden and erased from the art historical canon.

Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950 is free and open to all. The exhibition is on display 9 April until 27 July 2019.

Monday: 1 – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm