Unsung Heroines

This site focuses on many of the lesser known women artists working in Britain in the 20th century in the hope of making a persuasive visual argument that their work merits greater attention.

Many of these women were married to artists and it is no surprise that usually their husband's work is, inevitably, better known. Although women were at least allowed, for the first time during this period, to attend art school, their continued relative obscurity raises interesting questions about the confines that other conventions and obligations placed them under.

  • Margaret-Wrightson: St-George---the-original-maquette-for-Cramlington-War-Memorial,-Northumberland,-circa-1921
    Margaret Wrightson: St George - the original maquette for Cramlington War Memorial, Northumberland, circa 1921
  • Mary-Gwenillan-Gibson: Portrait-of-Gwynneth,-Wife-of-T.-Huxley-Jones,-1932
    Mary Gwenillan Gibson: Portrait of Gwynneth, Wife of T. Huxley Jones, 1932
  • Dorothea-Frances-MacLagan: An-allegory:-Truth-and-Beauty-comforting-each-other,-cica-1920
    Dorothea Frances MacLagan: An allegory: Truth and Beauty comforting each other, cica 1920
  • Winifred-Knights: Study-for-the-background-tree-in-St.-Martins,-circa-1930
    Winifred Knights: Study for the background tree in St. Martin's, circa 1930
  • Elisabeth-Vellacott: Textile-Design---Small-Pink-&-Green,-ca.-1938
    Elisabeth Vellacott: Textile Design - Small Pink & Green, ca. 1938
  • Mary-Adshead: An-Unpleasant-Surprise
    Mary Adshead: An Unpleasant Surprise
  • Clare-Leighton: The-Darkling-Thrush,-for-title-page-The-Pinnacled-Tower
    Clare Leighton: The Darkling Thrush, for title page The Pinnacled Tower
 

Catalogues of Unsung Heroines

Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900 - 1950
Edited by Sacha Llewellyn


Published: November 2018
200 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9930884-8

Nominated for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

Ever since Linda Nochlin asked in 1971, ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’, art history has been probing the female gaze. Through scholarship and exhibitions, readings have been put in place to counter prevailing assumptions that artistic creativity is primarily a masculine affair. 50/50 functions as a corrective to the exclusion of women from the ‘master’ narratives of art. It introduces fifty artworks by known and lesser-known women – outstanding works that speak out.

Fifty commentaries by fifty different writers bring out each artwork’s unique story – sometimes from an objective art historical perspective and sometimes from an entirely personal point of view – thereby creating a rich and colourful diorama. This exhibition does not, however, attempt to present a survey or to address all the arguments around the history of women and art. Anthologies are of necessity incomplete, and many remarkable imaginations are not here represented.

Women artists have been set apart from male artists not only to their own disadvantage but also to the detriment of British art. While there were some improvements for women to access an artistic career in the twentieth century in terms of patronage, economics and critical attention – all the things that confer professional status – women had the least of everything. By showcasing just a few of the remarkable works produced, this exhibition draws attention to the fact that a vision of British twentieth century art closer to a 50/50 balance would not only provide a truer account, but also a more vivid and meaningful narrative.


Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960)
The Lost Works


Published: June 2015
196 pages, colour illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-869827-93

Included in The Guardian's choice of best books of 2015.
Nominated for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

The rediscovery of this important collection of works by Evelyn Dunbar is a particularly engaging story. When in September 2012 the BBC Antiques Roadshow was held at Cawdor Castle, amongst the dolls, items of furniture and bric-a-brac that were brought by the queues of people waiting in the inevitable rain was a painting by Dunbar. It was the kind of moment that the television producers must cherish. The Neo-Romantic painting entitled “Autumn and the Poet” (1960) had been brought to the roadshow by a relation of the artist and after it was appraised by Rupert Maas before the cameras it was sold and subsequently donated, through the initiative of LISS LLEWELLYN, to Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery. Ordinarily this outcome might have been the happy ending to a story, but in this case it was only the beginning. None of the works in the collection had previously been recorded, and so it is a remarkable discovery underpinning her position as one of the most significant female figurative artists working in Britain during the twentieth century.


Liss Fine Art 2014


Published: October 2014
80 pages 78 illustrations

Unsung heroes aside, the greatest strength of this catalogue comes from the large number of remarkable works by women artists. This goes some way to redressing an imbalance: the story of 20th century British Art is told almost always through the work of male artists in spite of the fact that more women than men went to art school in the first half of the 20th century. The Liss Fine Art bias towards women is not intentional. Yet in the search for the best of the less familiar of 20th century British art a disproportionate number of works by women artists come to the fore. This catalogue includes outstanding works by Margaret Gere, Clare Leighton, Kathleen Guthrie, Rachel Reckitt, Barbara Jones, Mary Adshead, Evelyn Dunbar, Paule Vezelay, Muriel Pemberton and Dorothy Mahoney.


Murals & Decorative Painting 1920-1960


Published: October 2013
352 pages, 130 colour illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-908326-23

Nominated for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

This book is illustrated with a series of specially commissioned photographs that record some of the least known but most remarkable mural cycles in Great Britain. In the vast majority of cases these works have previously only been reproduced in black and white if at all. … Today murals are rarely seen as the artist intended. Often they are partially obscured, especially where there has been a change of building use. Frequently works are completely covered up or painted over – examples include murals by Mary Sargent Florence, Mary Adshead, Eric Ravilious, Dora Carrington, William Roberts and Gilbert Spencer. Where murals survive they are more often than not displaced works. Historic photographs showing John Piper’s The Englishman’s Home at The Festival of Britain, in situ on the river side of the Homes and Gardens Pavilion on Belvedere Road, come as a revelation; a digital reconstruction of Frank Brangwyn’s Empire panels for The House of Lords, seen in situ as they were originally intended, gives a dramatically more favourable impression than their final installation in The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.


British Paintings & Works on Paper
1880-1980


Published: 2004
128 pages 89 illustrations

There is no obvious explanation for today’s neglect of artists such as Sir Frank Brangwyn, Albert de Belleroche, Clara Klinghoffer, Richard Carline, Charles Cundall and Sir Gerald Kelly. They were hugely celebrated in their day, and it is only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back. Art moves in and out of fashion: what one generation celebrates, the next forgets or rejects. The works of art do not change, nor their quality; in the life cycle of fashion it is only perceptions that alter What Monnington termed ‘works with integrity’ will always stand the test of time.


Winifred Knights


Published: 1995
60 pages 49 illustrations

Winifred Knights exhibited her work with reluctance, and a retrospective exhibition of her major paintings would total seven in number. She worked inordinately slowly, with consummate care: nothing in her work was left to chance, everything was prepared and thought out. Her reluctance to exhibit was not related to strong self-criticism, indeed the opposite would be true: her son John remembers her total confidence in her work. She attended the Slade School of Art, London, from October 1915 to July 197, when she won the Second Prize for Figure Drawing. During this period she began to be recognised as an outstanding draughtswoman. In 1920 became the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome.


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