Tate museum marks centenary of UK women’s right to vote


Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of pioneering British suffragist Millicent Fawcett. Tate Britain image

LONDON – Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett goes is now on display at Tate Britain to coincide with the forthcoming centenary on Feb. 6 of the Representation of the People Act, which gave British women over 30 the right to vote.

The painting will then travel to Manchester Art Gallery for their exhibition “Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light and Hope” opening on Feb. 23, while a new statue of Fawcett by Gillian Wearing will be unveiled in Parliament Square later this year. The display at Tate Britain is one of many ways Tate is celebrating women in the arts over the coming months.

“The struggles of women to get the basic right to vote were long and arduous. It is hard to believe that it is only 100 since that historic victory which set us on course for equal rights. Great strides have been made in the intervening decades but we still have a long road to travel,” said Maria Balshaw, Tate director. “We are delighted to be marking Millicent Fawcett’s outstanding contribution to the cause with the display of her portrait at Tate Britain. We are also pleased the painting will then travel to Manchester for the Swynnerton exhibition, marking the city’s proud connection with the history of women’s suffrage.”

Swynnerton was a pioneering and successful artist and the first woman to be elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts since its founding. She was a passionate campaigner for women’s right to vote, signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in July 1889, and headed the Artists’ Suffrage League section of the Women’s Coronation Procession in 1911. She painted several portraits of leading figures in the women’s movement including Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

Fawcett was instrumental in gaining women the vote in 1918 and was present in parliament for the act that granted all women equal franchise in 1928. After Fawcett died the following year, this painting was exhibited and bought for the nation by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest. Dr. Katie Jane Tyreman Herrington, co-curator of the forthcoming exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, suggests it was first painted around 1899 when Fawcett was given an honorary doctorate by the University of St. Andrews – the subject is shown wearing the university’s robes in the portrait.

The painting will be on display at Tate Britain through Feb. 12 to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act on Feb. 6, 1918, before going on loan to Manchester.