Many of us at the National Gallery have been concerned for a long time about why you can’t see women visibly in our collection. Now, we can’t change the problems of
history but what we can do is tell that story more widely. We also feel we’ve been responding to a zeitgeist because there have been many
comments on social media about why women artists aren’t represented in the National Gallery’s collection. We want to tell a story that is a deeper one of the representation of women in art even if there are only say twenty one pictures by women artists in our collection. Women are involved in so many parts of our story and we want to celebrate and draw attention to that to empower this generation and I hope the next several as well. There are very few paintings by
women in the National Gallery because there are very few women represented, period, in the story of creative arts. And that’s because for centuries women were basically excluded from history they were excluded from positions of power and they were excluded from doing anything that enabled them to show an independent and creative voice. Female creatives in any sense were considered oddities through most of the period of history that the National Gallery’s collection
looks at. I think art historians and curators are now very aware of the gender gap but that probably wasn’t the case forty or fifty years ago. What I’m really proud about here is that in this institution we’re really trying to redress this balance by telling positive stories about the women who are represented in our collection and about the other women who were involved in the production of artworks. Even though it was very hard for women to make a career in the arts some women did manage and this series of films is celebrating four women who did. Artemisia Gentileschi was a baroque painter. She was an associate of Caravaggio’s and she travelled all over Europe even as far as England. Rachel Ruysch is a really fascinating figure. Her father and mother were both involved in intellectual pursuits. She was somebody who was fascinated in the natural world. and you really get a sense of this in her extraordinarily detailed pictures of flowers. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was a woman with an extraordinarily turbulent life. She started off her career being the successful portraitist of Queen Marie Antoinette and she was chased out of France after the revolution. And Rosa Bonheur is another fascinating figure. Born in Bordeaux she was the daughter of a painter and she became the most famous painter of animals in the 19th century. She was really a celebrity. The recent acquisition of Artemisia is really significant for the National Gallery. She’s an artist who we’ve always wanted to represent in our collection but we also wanted to acquire this painting because it shows the artist herself and it shows her too as a powerful role model for women. In terms of tackling the gender gap issue at the National Gallery we can’t change the past but we can change how we deal with the art that we have in our collection. Look at women who commissioned great works of art. Look at the famous women who were represented in paintings and also look at those women who collected pictures and gave them to us at the National Gallery, so that everybody can enjoy. It’s really important for me personally to spread awareness about
the gender gap in art history partly because I look back to my childhood, and I loved looking at art and there were so few examples of woman I could look at too. It’s also really powerful for me now, as a mother. Particularly of my daughter. She asks me these questions. why aren’t there more women in art galleries? Why aren’t there more women dramatists? And so, I think it’s really important for all of us to be able to answer these questions for the next generation.