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7 Women artists you should know about

BY Susan Gray

15th May 2023 Art & Theatre

7 Women artists you should know about

With Tate Britain's rehang close to completion, with a lot more representation for women artists, here’s a closer look at some women artists you need to know

When Tate Britain’s completed rehang is unveiled on May 23, only those with the longest memories or most frequently used membership cards will remember the Millbank gallery’s precise configuration before the change. But all visitors will notice the change in vibe.

Gone is the chronological sweep from mannered Tudor portraits, through Van Eyck’s Restoration nobles, followed by Reynolds, Hogarth and Gainsborough, leading to the 19th century of Constable, Turner and the Pre Raphaelites, with women artists only making an appearance in the 20th century. Now women artists from all eras are being given their due, with 50 per cent of contemporary works on display created by women.

"Women artists from all eras are being given their due at Tate Britain, with 50 per cent of contemporary works on display created by women"

Fresh light is shone on established artists such as Hogarth, with explanations of how their work sat in the social, economic and political structures of their time. And as well as women, 20th-century artists marginalised for their sexuality, including Glyn Philpot and Duncan Grant, are given prominent positions in the story of British art history. Outgoing director of Tate Modern, Frances Morris says each generation has to “rebirth” art history to make it relevant to their times.

Here are seven women artists to get to know better in Tate Britain.

Joan Carlile, Portrait of an Unknown Lady (1650–1655)

Joan Carlile, Portrait of an Unknown Lady, 1650-5. Tate Presented by Tate Patrons 2016. Image Tate
Joan Carlile, Portrait of an Unknown Lady, 1650-5. Tate Presented by Tate Patrons 2016. Image Tate

Joan Carlile was one of the earliest women artists to work professionally in Britain, although Lavinia Fontana’s career in Naples predated Carlile’s by around 50 years. Carlile specialised in female figures, and of the ten works known to be by her, others also show a full-length figure in a landscape, suggesting this may have been a template for her practice.

Her husband Lodowick Carlile was a courtier to Charles I, holding the position of Keeper of the Great Forest at Richmond Park. The couple lived in Petersham Lodge before moving in 1554 to Covent Garden, the heart of the artistic community. But two years later they returned to Richmond.

Annie Swynnerton, Dame Millicent Fawcett (1889-1920)

Annie Swynnerton, Dame Millicent Fawcett, G.B.E., LL.D., c.1889-1920. Photo Tate
Annie Swynnerton, Dame Millicent Fawcett, G.B.E., LL.D., c.1889-1920. Photo Tate

Studying first in Manchester, and then joining her monumental sculptor husband Joseph Swynnerton in an artist’s colony in Rome, Swynnerton’s portraits were influenced by giants of Victorian art, George Frederic Watts and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

"Annie Swynnerton became the first elected woman member at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1922"

Her symbolist works and portraiture were appreciated by John Singer Sergeant, who helped her become the first elected woman member at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1922. Swynnerton’s portrait sitters included writer Henry James and women’s suffrage campaigner Millicent Fawcett.

Marianne Stokes, A Fisher Girl’s Light (A Pilgrim of Volendam Returning to Kevalaer) (1899)

Marianne Stokes, A Fisher Girl’s Light (A Pilgrim of Volendam returning from Kevelaer), 1899 Photo: Tate (Seraphina Neville)
Marianne Stokes, A Fisher Girl’s Light (A Pilgrim of Volendam returning from Kevelaer), 1899 Photo: Tate (Seraphina Neville)   

Born in Austria, and studying art in Munich, the artist settled in England following her marriage to landscape painter Adrian Stokes. They lived in Cornwall and were members of the Newlyn School. They also travelled widely in Europe, with Stokes recording the folk customs and costumes of different regions.

Considered one of the finest women painters in Victorian England, Stokes worked first in oil and later in tempera (pigment and egg yolk) and gesso (glue, chalk and white pigment).

Kim Lim, Borneo 2 (Steel) (1964)

Kim Lim, Borneo 2 (Steel), 1964. Photo Tate (Matt Greenwood)
Kim Lim, Borneo 2 (Steel), 1964. Photo Tate (Matt Greenwood)

Lim left her native Singapore, aged 17, to attend St Martin’s School of Art in London. Her minimalist sculptures in wood, steel and marble displayed familiarity with the western traditions of art history, but also included elements of southeast Asian art.

"Kim Lim's response to multiculturalism and a globalised society was very much ahead of her time"

In 1977, Lim was the only female and non-white artist represented in the Hayward Annual. Lim’s response to multiculturalism and a globalised society was very much ahead of her time. A retrospective held at Tate Britain in 2021 brought Lim’s sculptures and prints to a wider audience, more than two decades after her death in 1997.

Anya Gallaccio, preserve ‘beauty’ (1991-2003)

Anya Gallaccio, preserve 'beauty', 1991-2003, © Anya Gallaccio, courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York. Photo: TateAnya Gallaccio, preserve 'beauty', 1991-2003, © Anya Gallaccio, courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York. Photo: Tate

Growing up in London, Gallaccio studied at Kingston University followed by Goldsmith’s College. Her site-specific installations are noted for their use of organic material, which will decay and change into different forms over time.

preserve ‘beauty’, consisting of a wall of gerbera daisies behind a sheet of glass, was shortlisted for the 2003 Turner Prize.

Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch (2021)

Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021 © Rachel Jones. Photo Tate (Sam Day, Rod Tidnam)Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021 © Rachel Jones. Photo Tate (Sam Day, Rod Tidnam)

Jones’ large scale, non-figurative canvases always reference teeth or the lips, as the artist wishes to explore the human body’s experience and interaction with the outside world, and the mouth is a major site of exchange between inner and outer life.  

Colour, form and gesture allow for expressions of emotions that are beyond language. Born in 1991 in London, Jones studied at Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Expiation (2021)

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Expiation, 2021 © Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Expiation, 2021 © Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Hwami was born in Zimbawe in 1993, then lived in South Africa. On graduating from Wimbledon College of Art she won the Clyde & Co Young Achiever of the Year.

Hwami’s work experiments with photographs and digitally collaged images, and uses highly pigmented oil paint to capture the artist’s relation to geography, carrying experiences of southern Africa while living in the UK.

Banner credit: Tate Britain by VV Shots

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