Anna Zinkeisen, All the Colours of the Rainbow, 1942 (Collection of Rose Grimond / © The Artist’s Estate)
Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists, curated by Sacha Llewellyn at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, highlights the creative work of women artists active in the first half of the 20th century. Words: LISA GRABOWSKI
“Have you ever heard of her?” the woman beside me leans in to ask.
“No,” I reply, “But I suppose that’s kind of the point”
As soon as I had heard the exhibition’s title, Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950, the B52s song 52 Girls firmly stuck in my head. Listing the ‘principal girls of the USA’, its catchy refrain of ‘Can you name ‘em today?’ is a reference to the side-lining of women throughout history – names erased, stories untold. Sure, the B-52s had a couple more women (though ironically only 24 in the song), but the message was still the same.
Timed to celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act, the exhibition at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery aims to redress the gender imbalance in art by introducing the work of fifty mostly unknown female artists. Having only a couple of women artists’ work currently on display, it’s clear to see this is a balance which needs redressing.
From Amy Gladys Donovan’s self-portrait (hands wringing, uncertain expression), Winifred Nicholson’s Amy (sat dreamily at the kitchen table) to Anna Zinkeisen’s All the Colours of the Rainbow (deep in thought, hands at work), many different women are represented on the walls. They are painted with an empathy that is often lacking in the work of male artists. These women are not objectified. They lived real lives, had real emotions.
Covering two world wars, the dates chosen for the exhibition span a period when the world was changing, especially for women. This is a female perspective on the period; not cosy tales of votes and land girls and factory work, but something more emotive and raw.
Gladys Hynes’ Penny for the Guy – the thought that all war is caused by the faceless money men of the City is one of the exhibition’s most provocative pieces. A depiction of a faceless, suit-clad man, jaunty jester hat on head and grenade in hand it is both eerie and unsettling.
War, work, domesticity, education: the variety of subjects represent women’s different experiences, viewpoints and means of expression. These aren’t just women. These are individuals with names.
The words of the song echo again. ‘Can you name ‘em today?’ Yes, I can now name a few…
Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists is at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery until 27th July. More details here.
Interview with artist Ellie Harrison by Lisa Grabowski