1930 Commemorating Fawcett and Pankhurst
In 1928, the British Parliament voted to expand the Representation of the People Act (1918), finally granting women the right to vote on equal terms with men. Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the veteran campaigner for women’s rights, wrote in her diary of her “extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning”.1 Emmeline Pankhurst, the controversial leader of the British suffragette movement, was less fortunate, dying on 14 June 1928 just a few weeks before the Act was given Royal assent on 2 July.
Fawcett died in the following year and the passing of both formidable figures was commemorated in the 1930 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Fawcett was represented by a portrait painted by her friend, Annie Swynnerton, a fellow supporter of women’s rights and the first female artist to be elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1922 (Fig. 1). Pankhurst was the subject of a statue by Arthur George Walker, a bronze version of which had been paid for by public subscription and unveiled in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster, in March 1930 (Fig. 2).
Only sixteen years previously, in 1914, a militant suffragette had caused a storm by slashing a portrait by John Singer Sargent at the Academy, in one of a string of attacks on art works by women associated with the movement.2 These actions were condemned by many in the art world at the time with the President of the Academy, Sir Edward Poynter, describing the perpetrators as “abominable”.3 Time had apparently healed these wounds by 1930 as the portraits of Fawcett and Pankhurst were very much “Academy” products, not only accepted by the Selection Committee and given conspicuous places in the Central Hall and Gallery I, respectively, but also produced by members of the institution. There is something rather ironic in this given that the Academy was itself behind the curve, having not yet elected a woman as a full Academician.4 By 1930, both Swynnerton and Dame Laura Knight were Associates, but Swynnerton was to remain ARA, while Knight would not be elected a full Academician until 1936.
There is a notable difference in the critical responses to these two works in the Summer Exhibition, however. Swynnerton’s portrait of Fawcett, apparently painted some years beforehand, drew very favourable commentary. The Times identified Augustus John’s portrait of Gerald du Maurier as “the finest oil painting in the whole exhibition”, but added that there were two further portraits of note—that of Fawcett and Sir William Orpen’s portrait of Miss H.M. White, principal of Alexander College, Dublin. The critic made a “devastating comparison” between the two concluding that, while Orpen’s was the “cleverer”, “Mrs. Swynnerton presents you to a real human being”.5 Adrian Bury in The Saturday Review was similarly impressed by this “quiet and simple fragment of life” stating, “if there is a picture in the Academy which deserves to be called important it is this one”.6 Bury expressed concern that the lack of “bombast” in this restrained picture could lead it to “escape popularity” but it was nevertheless acquired for the nation through the Chantrey Bequest and is now at Tate Britain. The Manchester Guardian praised the Chantrey committee for having “covered themselves with credit” in buying this “memorial to the great leader of the women’s suffrage cause” by one of the leading women artists of the day.7
By contrast, Walker’s statue of Pankhurst attracted little critical attention at the Summer Exhibition. It was one of several memorials to Pankhurst initiated by one of her bodyguards, Katherine Marshall. Of these, the statue was the only one by a male artist, although Walker had a track record of successful memorials to eminent women including Florence Nightingale, Baroness Mount Temple (a campaigner for animal rights), and Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake, the first woman to obtain a master’s degree in surgery.8 Walker also showed a bust of Mrs Pankhurst at the Academy in 1929 but neither this nor the statue exhibited in 1930 garnered many column inches. Perhaps this was simply because there had already been extensive press coverage of the commissioning and unveiling of the bronze version of Pankhurst’s statue at Westminster.9 At the unveiling ceremony, Stanley Baldwin described Pankhurst as a “leader of power and magnetism” but also one who had “set the heather on fire” and spent much of her life in “very bitter political controversy”.10 Given this context, it is tempting to relate the relative silence on Walker’s statue in the 1930 Summer Exhibition’s critical notices to the then-problematic status of Pankhurst as the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which promoted “deeds not words”, an ethos that gave rise to the militant actions carried out at the Academy and elsewhere in 1914.
Intriguingly, over time the prominence of these two important women in the public memory and monumental commemoration has entirely reversed. Pankhurst’s standing as an emblem for the struggle to vote endures and Walker’s Westminster memorial, altered in 1958 to include Pankhurst’s daughter Christabel, is well known and frequently illustrated. As Baldwin put it, Pankhurst had certainly “won herself a niche in the Temple of Fame”.11 Fawcett, on the other hand, was less charismatic and “shrank from hero-worshippers”, leading later generations to struggle somewhat with her legacy.12 Her portrait by Swynnerton, so well received at the Academy in 1930 was, until very recently, little known and rarely shown.13 The commemoration of both women continues to generate debate. Recent public votes and petitions have secured new monuments to each: in 2018, a statue of Fawcett became the first memorial to a woman in Parliament Square and a statue of Pankhurst is to be unveiled in her home town of Manchester in 2019, the first monument to a woman in the city since Queen Victoria.14
This statement from Fawcett’s diary is frequently quoted online (for instance, http://spartacus-educational.com/WfawcettM.htm) and in published sources such as James Cicarelli and Julianne Cicarelli, Distinguished Women Economists (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 2003), 64. Fawcett’s diary is part of the Fawcett Papers, The Women’s Library (previously the Fawcett Library), London School of Economics.↩︎
Further details of the attacks are given in various online articles and published sources including: Helen E. Scott, “‘Their Campaign of Wanton Attacks’: Suffragette Iconoclasm in British Museums and Galleries in 1914”, The Museum Review 1, no. 1 (2016), https://themuseumreview.atavist.com/vol1no1scott; Helena Bonett, “‘Deeds not Words’: Suffragettes and the Summer Exhibition”, Royal Academy blog, 2 May 2014, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/deeds-not-words-suffragettes-and; Molly Housego and Neil R. Storey, The Women’s Suffrage Movement (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2012), 44.↩︎
E.J.P. [Sir Edward Poynter] [to S.W. Harris, Home Office], 26 May 1914, Royal Academy Archive, RAA/SEC/8/34/3.↩︎
Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffmann, like the other the Founder Members of the Royal Academy, were appointed rather than elected in 1768.↩︎
The Times, 3 May 1930, 13.↩︎
The Saturday Review, 10 May 1930, 581.↩︎
JB, “The Chantrey Bequest: Some Comments”, The Manchester Guardian, 8 May 1930, 5. The portrait was also mentioned in many of Swynnerton’s obituaries as one of her major works, for instance, The Manchester Guardian, 25 October 1933, 4.↩︎
The other memorials to Pankhurst organised by Marshall were a portrait by Georgina Brackenbury for the National Portrait Gallery and a headstone designed by Miss Julian Phelps Allan (also known as Eva Dorothy Allan).↩︎
“Votes for Women”, The Times, 7 March 1930, 13; The Scotsman, 7 March 1930, 15; and The Illustrated London News, 2 February 1929, 21.↩︎
Stanley Baldwin, “Votes for Women”, The Times, 7 March 1930, 13.↩︎
Stanley Baldwin, “Votes for Women”, The Times, 7 March 1930, 13.↩︎
Janet Howarth, “Fawcett, Dame Millicent Garrett (1847–1929)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn, October 2007, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33096.↩︎
Elizabeth Crawford, “Suffrage Stories: Make Millicent Fawcett Visible”, Woman and her Sphere, 18 July 2013, https://womanandhersphere.com/2013/07/18/suffrage-stories-make-millicent-fawcett-visible/.↩︎
“Millicent Fawcett to Be First Woman Statue in Parliament Square”, BBC News, 2 April 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39471407; and “Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to get Manchester Statue”, BBC News, 20 January 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-35360244.↩︎
Thematic categories: art criticism - portraits, Chantrey Bequest, commemorative art, damage to artworks, emancipation of women, female iconography, feminism, political context of Exhibition, portraits, Presidents of the Royal Academy, public sculpture, statues, suffrage for women, Tate Gallery - presentations, women Academicians, women artists, women as subjects