Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette and Artist

Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette and Artist

Sylvia Pankhurst was the second daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and was a prominent Suffragette, and later an anti-fascist campaigner.

What is perhaps less well known is that she was an accomplished artist. Trained at Manchester School of Art, she won the prize for best female student in 1901, and went on to win a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, London.

In the centenary year for Women’s Suffrage in Britain, when women over 30 who owned property worth £5 or more (or whose husbands did), got the right to vote for the first time, Manchester Art Gallery are showing a selection of Sylvia’s paintings and pastels.

This display shows studies of working women from the collection of the artist’s granddaughter. Sylvia Pankhurst made a tour of the North in 1907, travelling round England and Scotland recording the lives of women she met in the pottery, shoe-making, fishing and spinning industries, among others, visiting Cradley Heath, Leicester, Wigan, Stoke-on-Trent, Scarborough, Berwick, and Glasgow. Working quickly, she tried to convey the truth of what she saw, without prettiness or pathos.

At this time in her life, Pankhurst was deciding on her own path – was she to devote herself to art or to campaigning for votes for women? While she managed both for some years, by 1912 her decision was made. This exhibition reveals that a true artist was lost when the Suffragettes gained a champion.

This display is part of The Edwardians exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery and will continue until Sunday 29 April. The exhibition is free.

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