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Celebrating Women’s Achievements in May’s Arts & Antiques Round Up

This month, Anthony J Lester celebrates women in the Arts, despite attempts to keep their works in relative obscurity, by mainstream artists and critics. The Tate Modern, Courtauld Gallery, White Cube, Art First, Marlborough, Colnaghi Elliott and the London Art Week, are just a few of the galleries in which Lester finds this month’s inspiration!

The art critic John Ruskin was happy to pen in 1875: “I always said that no woman could paint”, while Edgar Degas alleged “No woman painter knows what style is” and in 2013 the German artist George Baselitz said: “Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact.” Diligently read the 688 pages of ‘The Story of Art’ (published in 1950) by Ernst Gombrich and you discover he mentions just one female artist, the German Kӓthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). A few years ago, an evaluation of the top 5,000 paintings sold at auction globally revealed that for every £1 a male artist attains for his work, women artists archive just 10p.

Since its founding in 1768, 26 males have held the position of President at the Royal Academy, however, we had to wait until 2019 for Rebecca Salter to become the first female to take the prestigious chair. The Royal Watercolour Society has had 35 Presidents since it was established in 1804 but it was 2017 before they had a woman President (Jill Leman) and since its inauguration in 1831, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours also waited until 2017, to elect its first woman President (Rosa Sepple). One could go on!

However, the art world is waking up to the fact that women artists have as much talent as their male colleagues. Last year alone, many museums around the world mounted exhibitions devoted to female artists. From ‘Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800’, at the Baltimore Museum of Art to ‘Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum – an increasing number of respected institutions are exploring the breadth of women’s artistic aptitude.

Having always advocated that women artists should be entitled to the same opportunities as their male counterparts, I devote this month’s reviews to female talent. The most anticipated of these events takes place from 16th May-13th October at Tate Britain, SW1P 4RG. With over 150 works, Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920, elucidates how artists such as Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Elizabeth Butler (1846-1933) and Laura Knight (1877-1970), championed equal access to art training and academy membership. Apart from the distinguished names, this ambitious display highlights others who are only now being rediscovered.

Over at Tate Modern, SE1 9TG, Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind continues until 1st September. Opening on 25th May and running through to 6th October, The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 0RN, present Vanessa Bell: A Pioneer of Modern Art. Widely acclaimed as a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, Bell’s (1879-1961) bold, abstract designs, produced for the Omega Workshops located at 33 Fitzroy Square, London, form a part of the display. One of 36 founding Members of the Royal Academy of Arts, Swiss-born Angelica Kauffman, was one female artist who did find success and until 30th June, the RA chronicles her intriguing story from child prodigy, to one of Europe’s most sought-after portrait painters.

From the RA, let us cross over the road and admire the window displays of Fortum & Mason. Oh, temptation! So, why not make the day special and indulge in Afternoon Tea? Go to the Fourth Floor and enter the elegant Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, which was opened by the late Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2012. Expect exceptional teas, extraordinary cakes, still-warm scones served with Somerset clotted cream, and an array of freshly prepared sandwiches, such as Kames Bay smoked trout with paprika cream cheese. However, for the basic Afternoon Tea experience, you must forfeit £80 per person! And if you have a guest, impress them with a few facts about the iconic store such as when in 1738 Mr. Fortnum and his staff developed the astute idea of wrapping a hard-boiled egg in sausage meat and coating it in fried breadcrumbs – the Scotch Egg was born. Refreshed, amble down Duke Street and turn left into Mason’s Yard. Here you will discover several notable galleries, the most conspicuous being the infamous, White Cube. Opened in 2006, this minimalist gallery space was created on a plot previously occupied by an electricity sub-station. Brought up on Salt Spring Island in Canada but now based in Brooklyn, New York, Danica Lundy (b. 1991) brings her sensorial, figurative paintings to the White Cube from 15th May-22nd June. Evolving from detailed drawings into improvisational and gestural brushwork, Lundy describes her arresting, complex compositions as “visceral hyperreality that shows everything at once.”

A short walk away at David Messum Fine Art, 12 Bury Street, St. James’s, SW1Y 6AB, it is a bold colour, which embellishes the walls until, 3rd May. This comes via the interior scenes and still lifes of French artist, Nancy Delouis (b. 1941). Her work incorporates the exotic and the exquisite, interweaving patterns and textures, often incised into the surface with the point of her brush. Prices start at £6,850 going up to £17,850.

As I have already deliberated, it has never been easy for women artists to achieve the status that many of them deserve, so the portrait painter, Mary Beale (1633-1699) was quite an artistic trailblazer. The daughter of the Rev. John Craddock, rector of Barrow, Suffolk, she married Charles Beale (1632-1705) in 1652. Until 1655 the couple lived at Walton Manor in Buckinghamshire, then moved to London and, after periods in Covent Garden and Fleet Street, moved to Allbrook, Hampshire. In 1670 she returned to London and, from her studio in Pall Mall, quickly established herself as one of Britain’s first professional women artists.

Portrait of a Young Boy, oil, by Mary Beale, Philip Mould Gallery

Now, fresh research has revealed that her studio and home was located on the very spot now occupied by the Philip Mould Gallery, 18-19 Pall Mall, SW1Y 5LU. How appropriate that, between 25th April and 19th July, her career is being celebrated at the gallery. Featuring twenty-five works from public and private collections, it spans her entire career and includes self-portraits, compositions of her family and friends and formal commissions.

Back in September, 2012, I vividly remember visiting Bridget Macdonald’s (b. 1943) solo show at Art First when the gallery was based in Eastcastle Street, Westminster, and how I venerated her contemplative charcoal drawings of Arcadian landscapes. The gallery is now based at The Forge, 15 St. Mary’s Walk, Lambeth, SE11 4UA, and until 17th May, Bridget Macdonald has a show of landscapes, many of which depict scenes around the Malvern Hills where she lives. A couple of my favourite oil paintings are Perry Pear at Storridge (£5,500) and Easter Fire (£2,250), inspired by a bonfire in a field, one cold and snowy Easter. There are also some impressive charcoal drawings.

Easter Fire, oil on linen, by Bridget Macdonald, Art First

Until May 18th, Marlborough at 6 Albemarle Street, W1S 4BY, hosts two enticing shows. American Nancy Haynes (b. 1947) presents her inaugural exhibition in the United Kingdom, featuring book-sized paintings from the series ‘Library,’ dedicated to a pantheon of writers important to the artist. The other presentation offers a selection of prints and drawings by Bridget Riley (b. 1931) and Japanese-born Shizuko Yoshikawa (1934-2019). It is fitting to combine the work of the two artists because after they met in Cologne and Zurich, Yoshikawa wrote to Riley to express her admiration of the British artist’s work. This resulted in the two meeting in 1988 at Riley’s London studio. With the growing attention of the expanding attention to women artists in the Abstract Avant-Garde movements, Yoshikawa’s inventive work has recently received enhanced recognition.

r10 11 sequenzen no. 1, acrylic on plexiglass, by Shizuko Yoshikawa, Marlborough Gallery. Photo by Deniz Guzel

Looking ahead, London Art Week, taking place between 28th June and 5th July, will showcase several exhibitions devoted to female artists. Events such as British Women Artists, 1750-1950 at Karen Taylor Fine Art and In the Classroom: Women Artists at the Academy, 1870-1910 at Colnaghi Elliott will be reviewed in a forthcoming EyeOnLondon edition.

About Author

Anthony Lester

Art and antiques has been Anthony's passion for over fifty years both as a collector, curator, journalist and broadcaster. He has written hundreds of articles for publications as diverse as Country Life and The Big Issue and has worked on BBC programs, including the Antiques Roadshow and Flog It! His books include The Stannards of Bedfordshire and Then and Now: Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics, The Critics' Circle, Fellow of the Royal Society of British Artists, Honorary Member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Companion of the Pastel Society, Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Life Member of Chelsea Arts Club.

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