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Sunday: 11am - 5pm

Women Artists: The Female Gaze

[ Exhibition )

Etching depicting a woman with long dark hair in a braid and wearing a dress with a band of cloth tied across her waist and flowing behind her. Her body faces to the left but her head is turned out to the viewer with her hands raised and a sorrowful expression on her face.

Marie Laurencin, La Romance, 1912, Etching on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (The George and Ann Dannatt Gift, 2011) © Foundation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Women have historically been the subject of art produced by male artists; idealized and objectified as muse to invoke a particular view of beauty.

This exhibition sought to challenge these traditional narratives of femininity by looking at women artists’ representations of other women. Drawn from our own collection, it included prints and drawings by Laura Knight, Cathie Pilkington, Paula Rego, Kiki Smith and Suzanne Valadon.

Over centuries, women have been pictorially confined to the virgin, the mother or the temptress. The female gaze upon the female subject liberates women from these limiting boxes, a pursuit that was examined closely in this exhibition. Similarly, the display considered the obstacles faced by women artists working in the early 20th century and how their representations of women – and critics’ interpretations – have evolved to the present day.

The exhibition included early works by artists such as Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) and Marie Laurencin (1883-1956). Valadon’s famous nudes depicted awkward, solid models, deemed unfeminine and ugly by her critics. This blatant defiance was contrasted by Laurencin employment of hyper-femininity. However, later feminist readings repositioned her ‘conventional’ portrayals of women as a defiant and subversive, given Laurencin’s own bisexuality.

The work of Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was also on display, who became a notable female success in the male dominated British art establishment, after teaching art herself at Nottingham School of Art from the age of 15. In 1936 she was the first woman elected to the Royal Academy since its foundation in 1768 and subject of a significant retrospective exhibition there in 1965.

Other artists represented in the exhibition include: Paula Rego, Shani Rhys James, Prunella Clough, Laura Ford, Cathie Pilkington, Cornelia Parker, Kiki Smith, Jessica Harrison, Joyce Cairns, Christine Borland and Moyna Flannigan.

Dig deeper

Find out more about some of the women artists featured in this exhibition on our blog.

A woman with short dark hair leans against a table between two doll-like sculptures standing on the table. She looks up at the one to the right of the image.

Cathie Pilkington on being a 'sculptural bag lady'

In Working from Home, Cathie Pilkington explored issues of motherhood, privacy, domesticity and the unconscious –  all through an immersive takeover of our 18th century townhouse.


Read more


This exhibition was made possible by a number of generous organisations and individuals

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another of Modern British art, please contact Sarah Norris, Head of Collections (

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