Sylvia Googled, 2010 by Sarah Pickstone, one of the female artists featuring in ‘Picturing Women’ at the Mercer Art Gallery
Sylvia Googled, 2010 by Sarah Pickstone, one of the female artists featuring in ‘Picturing Women’ at the Mercer Art Gallery

New Mercer Art Gallery exhibition marks 100 years of votes for women

10 January 2018

A new exhibition celebrating 100 years since women first got the vote opens at Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery on Saturday 13 January 2018.

Picturing Women features an exciting mix of historic and contemporary art, pioneering photography, ink drawings, paintings and sculpture by women artists from the gallery’s Harrogate Collection.

Over the last ten years the Mercer Art Gallery has built up its representation of women artists in its permanent collection, and many recent acquisitions are on show – including a significant early painting Touchstone, 1983 by Eileen Cooper, who was the first woman to become Keeper of the Royal Academy in 2010.

Yorkshire artists are well represented, including Sonia Lawson from Wensleydale who was one of a very few women feted as a major new talent at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s. Lawson began her education at Doncaster Art College and an early student oil of a Doncaster street scene goes on show along with her monumental painting Teatime with the Brontes at Haworth and her drawing Three Feisty Women.

There’s a powerful display of contemporary art by women, largely donated by the Contemporary Art Society (CAS), which for over 100 years has been a major player in getting women’s art into public art collections. Rose Garrard’s featured sculptural work Artist as Model, 1982 is a key work. In 2015, the CAS enabled the Mercer Art Gallery to acquire six paintings of literary women by award winning artist Sarah Pickstone, which also appear in the exhibition.

Women photographers are also strongly represented – from portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, the pioneer of photography in the 19th century, to landscapes by contemporary photographers Tessa Bunney and Liza Dracup.

Jane Sellars, Curator of Cultural Services at Harrogate Borough Council, said:

“Women had a long struggle to get access to art education. When the Slade School of Art opened in London in 1871 it offered female students equality with men and let them attend life classes. Until then they were restricted to studying the human figure from classical sculpture and the human skeleton, as in drawings by Sarah More, a student at Manchester Art School in 1865, whose work is on show at the Mercer for the very first time.

“Picturing Women shows how, despite many social constraints, women artists went on to achieve very successful careers.

“In a year that celebrates 100 years since women got the vote, it seems only fitting that we celebrate the achievements of or inspirational women artists, past and present.”

Picturing Women is at the Mercer Art Gallery, Swan Road, Harrogate, from Saturday 13 January to Sunday 17 June 2018.

Jane Sellars is also one of the performers at Women’s Voices, a festival of one woman shows sharing the experience of three very different British women as part of the 2018 centenary of women’s suffrage.  For more information about exhibitions and events at the Mercer, the Royal Pump Room Museum and Knaresborough Castle, including opening times and prices, go to


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