March marks International Women’s Month and what better way to celebrate the female artists on display around London than to embark on a walking tour across our fabulous city in search of a few special pieces.
‘Horse & Rider’ by Elisabeth Frink, New Bond Street
Conveniently timed with fleeting trip to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, I began my afternoon of art indulgence in the heart of Mayfair. As I journeyed towards Sotheby’s from St. James, I weaved my way through the hordes of shoppers on New Bond Street only to come face-to-face with ‘Horse & Rider’ by Elisabeth Frink; marking the first stop on my tour.
Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) is one of Britain’s most celebrated female sculptors. While Frink was also a talented printmaker, she is best known for her depictions of horses and mankind within her bronze sculptures. The Times described the key themes within her oeuvre as "the nature of Man; the 'horseness' of horses; and the divine in human form".
As one of the few female sculptors to successfully break into the art world, it is important to note that her forming of her famous ‘Horse & Rider’ representations is unique to both her predecessors and contemporaries. Employing the horse and rider as a motif within her work has been described by Frink as "an ageless symbol of man and horse".
The relationship between form and function of artworks is a true rabbit hole to venture into, especially when observing pieces of public art. I have to admit that I approached ‘Horse & Rider’ with hesitancy; questions surrounding the placement of a life-sized, bronze horse in the middle of a busy shopping district dominated my thoughts. Despite my initial hesitancy, to place a hand-crafted sculpture in the town square here does make sense and permanently solidifies Mayfair’s artistic identity.
Frink’s ‘Horse & Rider’ representations are wonderfully tactile sculptures which carry both a grandiosity of scale and subject matter together with such a delicate simplicity, making them the perfect addition to public spaces. Form and function work seamlessly in conjunction here which is best highlighted by the fact, despite its size, it blends in so well with the surrounding environment and visitors can (if they wish to) walk straight past the sculpture not taking much notice of it at all.
Despite being one of the few female sculptors of the 20th-Century to break into this male-dominated sphere, Frink very rarely represented female figures within her work. I can't help but think this may have been an active decision to assert her dominance in the market.
‘Winged Figure’ by Barbara Hepworth, Oxford Street
Winding my way up New Bond Street, I reach a hectic Oxford Street. As many do, I tend to avoid Oxford Street if I can but there is a reason why I have chosen to brave it on this cloudy afternoon. Located on the side of John Lewis, Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Winged Figure’ gracefully and unassumingly resides.
Hepworth’s ‘Winged Figure’ is hidden in plain sight and, much like Fitzgerald’s ‘The Eyes of Doctor T.J’, carefully watches over the crowds. Having previously read about Hepworth’s work, I knew where to look and what to look for. However, for newcomers to this magnificent installation, I was disappointed to realise that there was practically no information available at ground level!
As with Frink’s ‘Horse & Rider’ on New Bond Street, questions surrounding the relationship of form and function within artworks came to the forefront of my mind. I paused for a moment on Holles Street to quickly refresh my understanding of the sculpture and then ventured to dodge the pedestrians and traffic to capture a shot of ‘Winged Figure’ – what a mission!
In the early sixties, the John Lewis Partnership sought to have a piece of sculpture commissioned for their newly designed flagship department store on Oxford Street. The brief was to “express "the idea of common ownership and common interests in a partnership of thousands of workers" and Hepworth’s second proposal ‘Winged Figure’ was accepted.
Barbara Hepworth (1903 - 1975), like her successor Elisabeth Frink, played a pivotal role for the acceptance of female sculptors in the 20th-Century. In 1931, Hepworth was the first to sculpt the pierced figures that are characteristic of both her own work, and later that of Henry Moore’s; successfully paving the way for British, female sculptors to create with freedom in their representations and materials. Looking at sculpture today, it is hard to imagine what it would look like without Hepworth’s influence.
After a short while admiring the geometric, aluminium structure before me, I continued my journey onto the third and final destination. A short walk through Soho and Chinatown, I arrived at The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. ‘Summer’s Day’ by Berthe Morisot, The National Gallery
As the Sainsbury Wing of The National Gallery is currently under refurbishment, visitors are welcomed through the grand main entrance. Having booked a standard gallery entrance ticket in advance, I could skip the ever-growing queue!
Immediately, I made a beeline towards Room 44 where Berthe Morisot’s ‘Summer’s Day’ is on display. Not having known much about Morisot prior to this trip, I was excited to delve into this pivotal figure of Impressionism who is often overlooked.
Berthe Morisot, (1841 – 1895), was born into a French aristocratic family and as a child, Morisot received an artistic education. This was undertaken privately, which was very much the norm for girls in aristocratic families, as formal training was absolutely prohibited. One of her teachers, Joseph Guichard, had introduced her and her sister to the collection at the Louvre, and at the age of seventeen Berthe began working as a copyist for the gallery. It was here where she met Corot who would then influence her to undertake en-plein air painting.
To the Impressionists, who valued Corot and the Barbizon painters above all else, the recommendation of Corot proved decisive in their acceptance of Morisot’s work. Within six years, Berthe Morisot would be showcasing her works at the Paris Salon. Her work was selected for exhibition in six subsequent Salons until she joined the Impressionists in their first exhibition in 1874.
‘Summer’s Day’, 1879, by Berthe Morisot is a fantastic example of Morisot’s talent. Morisot’s employment of bold colour and short brushstrokes here bring a vivacity and energy to the canvas; setting her apart from her fellow Impressionists in the room. Contrastingly, the light of the day and the shimmering of the water is captured beautifully by her soft touch to her brush and canvas. This truly is a painting you can’t take your eyes off.
Morisot’s subject matter dealt primarily with women and domestic scenes highlighting that, despite her talent and respect within her artistic circle, there were cultural restrictions to where a woman could and could not go during this period. Morisot rarely depicted public scenes due to this.
In 1890, Morisot wrote in a notebook about her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist: "I don't think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal and that's all I would have asked for, for I know I'm worth as much as they."
10,000 steps later, I collapse into a seat on the tube and start scribbling down my thoughts. Whilst I have been fortunate enough to indulgence in an array of fabulous artworks, one conclusion dominates my trip. When first planning my walking tour, it seemed like a straight-forward task. However, a little bit of preparation was needed. If I had been embarking on a walking tour of male artists, I would have been able to walk into any and every gallery possible and be certain to have a successful visit. However, when visiting galleries for the purpose of seeing works on display by female artists, you just have to look a little harder and even then there is limited choice.
We hope to see you all in the gallery during Women’s History Month to enjoy our works on display by Clarissa James and Helen Bradley which are hung proudly in our Beauchamp Place gallery. For all viewing enquiries, please give us a call on 0207 584 5512 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org