The women have it this month at the Mayfair branch of The Fine Art Society, with all five floors of the gallery given over to exhibitions of work by female artists.
Running from February 6-28, the anchor show is a major retrospective of the early-20th-century British painter Gluck. Probably best known for her habit of dressing in men’s clothes and insistence on being referred to as Gluck without, as she put it, “prefix, suffix or quotes”, she was a hugely talented portrait, landscape and still-life artist. Standout works include Medallion(YouWe), from 1937, a defiant and tender portrait of the artist and her lover Nesta Obermer, and Before the Races, St Buryan, Cornwall, its vast blue horizon a celebration of colour, paint and the English summer sky.
Tying into this main exhibition, Women Artists: A Conversation features work by 12 contemporary artists, who were each asked to respond to Gluck’s legacy. The pieces range widely in subject matter and medium, reflecting Gluck’s refusal to be identified with any particular artistic movement or genre, from vibrant abstract paintings by Jennifer Durrant and Vanessa Jackson to Bettina von Zwehl’s photographic take on the tradition of miniature portraiture, Tallulah and Jasmine (edition of 10, from £1,500), and British painter Geraldine Swayne’s unsettling depiction of the German dance and film star Camilla Horn (from £7,000). These are accompanied by works from multimedia artists Susie MacMurray and Annie Morris and the sculptor-cum-figurative artist Cathie Pilkington, whose doll-like bronze with a synthetic wig, Northern Landscape (edition of three, £8,000-£10,000), subverts the traditional sculptural canon of female nudes and goddesses.
Modern British Women, an exhibition of work by fourteen 20th-century artists, provides a chronological link between these two shows. It includes paintings (from £10,000) by Gillian Ayres, Prunella Clough, Dora Carrington, Vanessa Bell and Winifred Nicholson, as well as a tender 1975 tapestry by Elisabeth Frink called Reclining Horse (price on request).
Each of these exhibitions stands on its own merit. And that really is the point, as art critic and curator Sacha Craddock explains: “The intention is to show that there is no standard woman artist.” It is an aim The Fine Art Society has achieved.
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