Tate Modern is celebrating women in the arts and the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women over 30 the right to vote with a series of art projects and exhibitions that include Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett. Image: Tate Britain
UNITED KINGDOM—Tate celebration of women in the arts has started. It began Friday with the display of Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett. The display is in commemoration of the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women over 30 the right to vote on February 6. Millicent Fawcett was one of the key campaigners for women to have the right to vote. A British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer, she was tireless in her struggle to ensure equal opportunities for women. Fawcett was instrumental in gaining women the vote in 1918 and was present in parliament for the act that granted all women equal franchise in 1928.
Annie Swynnerton’s oil on canvas painting shows Fawcett wearing the University of St Andrews robes. Although it is uncertain when the portrait was painted, Dr. Katie Jane Tyreman Herrington, co-curator of Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope opening on February 23, suggests it was first painted around 1899 when Fawcett was given an Honorary Doctorate by the University of St Andrews. From Tate Britain, the portrait will travel to Manchester Art Gallery for Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope exhibition. A new statue of Fawcett by Gillian Wearing will also be unveiled in Parliament Square later this year.
The display at Tate Britain is just one of the many ways Tate is celebrating women in the arts over the coming months. It brings into focus women’s struggle for equal opportunity and rights. Maria Balshaw, Director Tate, said:
The struggles of women to get the basic right to vote were long and arduous. It is hard to believe that it is only one hundred years since that historic victory which set us on course for equal rights. Great strides have been made in the intervening decades but we still have a long road to travel. We are delighted to be marking Millicent Fawcett’s outstanding contribution to the cause with the display of her portrait at Tate Britain. We are also pleased the painting will then travel to Manchester for the Swynnerton exhibition, marking the city’s proud connection with the history of women’s suffrage.
Like Millicent Fawcett, Swynnerton was a warrior for women’s right. She was a passionate campaigner for women’s right to vote, signed the Declaration in Favor of Women’s Suffrage in July 1889, and headed the Artists’ Suffrage League section of the Women’s Coronation Procession in 1911. A pioneering and successful artist, she was the first woman to be elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts since its founding.
In addition to using her voice, Swynnerton also used her work to bring attention to women’s struggles as well as celebrate them. She painted several portraits of leading figures in the women’s movement including Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. After Fawcett died in 1929, a year after women were granted equal franchise, Swynnerton’s portrait Fawcett was exhibited and bought for the nation by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest.
Like her portrait of Fawcett, Swynnerton’s portraits reveal the essence of her sitter notes Alex Farquharson, Director, Tate Britain:
Swynnerton poignantly captures the qualities of resilience and compassion in her sitter, Millicent Fawcett, revealing the force behind this exceptional woman. We are thrilled to be able to mark the centenary of women’s right to vote with a work by an artist who was an ardent campaigner for women’s rights and whose subject is one of the most important pioneers in the history of women’s suffrage.’
In addition to Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett, Tate Britain will also explore issues of representation, gender and politics in its collection displays with a series of free tours running through June. The tours will highlight the experience and vision of women artists in the Tate Britain collection. Furthermore, visitors can also learn more by taking a digital tour exploring stories of women’s empowerment across the centuries through works in the collection. A Spotlight display devoted to one of the two women founding members of the Royal Academy, Angelica Kauffman, will open at Tate Britain on June 18 and run until October 16.
Tate’s celebration of women in the arts does not end with viewing works in the museum. February’s Uniqlo Tate Late will also be used to celebrate women in the arts. NTS will present an all-female line up of DJs for the Terrace Bar, while gal-dem, a creative collective of women of color, will curate a night of music in the Tanks. The event will also feature talks by Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, Otegha Uwagba of Women Who, and Sarah Corbett of Craftist Collective, as well as a salon produced by Bishi’s WITCiH (Women in Technology Creative Industries Hub). Stance Podcast will be in residence in Tate Exchange will also be celebrating women in the arts. Additionally, there will be workshops and events around the Tate building. They will be hosted by South London Women Artists, the Women’s Art Library, Sisters Uncut and the Feminist Library. To highlight the UK gender pay gap, currently recognized as 9.1%, all exhibition tickets will be discounted by 9.1% for the duration of the night.
Tate Britain’s celebration of women in the art is recognition of how far women have come and far they still need to go in their quest for equality. Although women have made great progress, many issues have remained unsolved. The recent Women March across the globe is proof that the struggle for women’s right is not over. But even as women look to the future, Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern explains that it is also important to continue celebrating women and past achievements:
This is a time to look back and celebrate women’s achievements over the past 100 years, but it’s also a time to look at what women are achieving all over the world today. At this month’s Uniqlo Tate Late, Tate Modern will showcase the amazing things women artists, musicians, writers, thinkers and creatives are doing here and now, as well as taking a critical look at the myriad challenges women continue to encounter in very different circumstances across the globe.’
But Tate Britain is not alone in celebrating women in the arts and those who risked their lives for women’s suffrage. Tate St Ives will open Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings on February 10. This exhibition uses Woolf’s writing as a prism through which to explore feminist perspectives on landscape, domesticity, and identity in art. It will feature works by over 80 artists including Laura Knight, Vanessa Bell, Sandra Blow and Dora Carrington. An author of classic novels including To the Lighthouse and the pioneering feminist text A Room of One’s Own, Woolf spent much of her childhood in St Ives.