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Review: Another View: Landscapes by Women Artists, at Lady Lever Art Gallery

Another View: Landscapes by Women Artists is, I guess, an attempt at reparation. Major national collections are famous for holding and displaying the work of male painters in disproportionately high numbers. A trend that goes back beyond John Ruskin’s claims that women couldn’t paint, and that seems to continue today.

As recently as 2020, London’s largest galleries were showing contemporary work by twice as many men as women. As the scale of the institution goes down, the proportion of women artists invited to show goes up.

National Museums Liverpool has historically shared the same problem, with its major collections across The Walker, Sudley House and Lady Lever adorned by unjustifiably more male painters than female.

Their contemporary programme has become more reflective of the working population of artists in the UK, but collection displays are still heavily male dominated. Another View: Landscapes by Women Artists, currently at Lady Lever Art Gallery is, therefore, a useful start in rebalancing how the collections are shared.

By bringing this work together in this way, the curators are evidencing that women were not only making work alongside their more famous peers, but were often significantly better at using landscape art to tell a story.

Elizabeth Forbe’s ‘Blackberry Gathering’ shows women as an important part of Edwardian Britain. Their role in managing and maintaining arable and pastoral land was widely overlooked in art of the era in Britain, and particularly in the US, with women represented as wives, partners and mothers.

And despite her characterisation as Mrs. Stanhope Forbes by one reviewer, it is still worth noting that she was a respected and valued artists in her own right at the time.

Her work, often bringing active or thinking female figures into landscapes, demonstrated a desire to present women as workers, philosophers and mothers concurrently.

One of the most historically significant painters in the exhibition is Mary Kessell, who was one of just four women sent abroad as official war artists (others were: Laura Knight, Doris Zinkeisen and Anna Zinkeisen). Mary Kessell’s work is vastly more expressive than her male counterparts, and captures much more of the human relief at the end of major moments of WWII.

It might not seem useful to directly compare male and female artists of their own time, but it sort of is. Because when they had a chance to be compared, they were underfunded, under reviewed, and under valued. Today, we can look back at their work and find missing histories. Another View lets us do that.

But it’s not all perfect. For example, Anne Holt, who is represented by three paintings in the exhibition, presents a significant social history that is objectively and subjectively racist. Most obviously is her painting ‘Negro huts on Mr. Middleton’s plantation Savannah’.

The painting shares an idealised view of a slave plantation in Georgia. The painting was made during a trip to Georgia, presumably to visit Mr. Middleton. The resulting painting attempts to depict a comfortable, homely existence, where women were able to comfortably cook with their children surrounded by picket fences and woodland.

Given that her family fortune came from the cotton trade, its quite difficult to separate her talent from her subject.

That’s the holistic nature of this exhibition though. It’s a representation of women in art for as long as they’ve been recorded. In practice it’s striking, and in theory it could be a precursor for more meaningful, long-term reparations for women across Britain’s museums.

Another view: Landscapes by Women Artists is open at Lady Lever Art Gallery until 18th August
Visit www.liverpoolmuseum.org.uk for more information about curator tours and workshops alongside the exhibition
Words, Kathryn Wainwright

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