Despite their contribution, women artists have forever been under represented. The founders of the Royal Academy in 1768 counted two women among their number, Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) and Mary Moser (1744-1819). After the death of Mary Moser, no woman was then elected a full Academician until Dame Laura Knight in 1936.
Women artists were not allowed to attend Life Drawing classes until the turn of the twentieth century. Prior to that time, the art education system restricted them to domestic and fantastical subject matters. The Victorian patriarchal expectation that women could only occupy passive positions in society ensured their exclusion from all male dominated exhibiting societies such as the Royal Academy.
In 1875, Helen Allingham was elected an Associate of the Society of Painters in Water Colours; she was the first woman to be promoted to full membership once the society was opened to female artists in 1890; her friend Kate Greenaway was elected in 1889, and Rose Barton in 1893.
In 1855, the Society of Female Artists, had been set up to offer women the opportunity to exhibit and promote their art and, in 1899, on the elevation of their status as representative of talented women artists such as Rose Barton, it changed its name to the Society of Women Artists.
This year marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, when women over the age of 30 with property were given the vote. A decade later, in 1928, all women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. It is unsurprising then that the question of equal artistic freedom should also have persisted when the political liberty of women was being fought for until 1928. Women artists had played an integral role in the Suffrage campaigns of the early twentieth century, the Artists’ Suffrage League being established in 1907 and creating enduring propaganda for the cause.
In celebrating women artists working around 1918, this exhibition, ‘The Turn of Women Artists 1837- 2018’, is set against the background of a contemporary feminism that pays homage to the pioneering women who fought for equality in the hundred years before 1918, and recognises how their fight has shaped the way women artists live and work today. But it simultaneously seeks to question and challenge the remaining inequality that exists in society. The exceptional range of female artists shown in this exhibition is testament to the equal contribution of women and their art throughout the last 200 years and how their efforts have continued to shape the present.