Lady Lever spotlights women landscape artists

A new exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight will present a different perspective on British landscape art, focusing on work by women.

Another View: Landscapes by Women Artists (20 April to 18 August 2024) will showcase around 40 works dating from the early 1800s to the 1980s. 

Presenting work by artists such as Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Ingrid Pollard (b. 1953), and Dame Ethel Walker (1861-1951), the exhibition considers how artists have used their practice to explore the issues of their day, asking questions about class, gender, politics, and more through their depictions of landscape. 

In concentrating on work by women, the exhibition interrogates the term “lady amateur,” which was often used in contrast to the “professional” artist title usually reserved for males, before exploring how women pushed for greater recognition as artists, particularly in the 19th century.   

Melissa Gustin, Curator of British Art at National Museums Liverpool, said, “Far from just painting pretty watercolours, this exhibition shows how women landscape painters used their art to express their individual gazes, representing multiple viewpoints along the way. 

“They explored and interrogated the landscape around them, developing important networks and experimenting with new mediums and techniques in the process. We’re looking forward to sharing their stories and celebrating their work, which has perhaps been overlooked historically within the narrative of British landscape painting.”  

Presented chronologically, the paintings provide an insight into the lives and travels of the artists, many of whom travelled internationally. They worked outdoors, or “en plein air,” as well as in studios. Their work documents the way they viewed and responded to the natural environment and social world surrounding them. 

A painting by Harriet Gouldsmith (1787-1863), hailed as the first professional woman landscape painter, features, as does work by Dame Ethel Walker, who was only the second woman to receive a damehood for her services to the arts. These artworks show how women began to embrace “messier” oil paints, previously reserved for male landscape painters while women worked with watercolours. 

The exhibition charts the development of women’s landscape painting as women began to train in professional schools and their work became more commonplace in exhibitions. Elizabeth Forbes’ (1859-1912) painting, Blackberry Gathering (pictured above), notably places women within the landscape itself. Forbes founded an art colony in Cornwall, exhibiting and selling work to major exhibitions internationally.   

Another View shows how, in the 20th century, artists used landscape to explore and critique the modern world through art. Their work reflects developments in art, politics and social issues.

A painting by Vanessa Bell, for instance, captures a quiet moment in France between the wars, while paintings by former war artists Mary Kessell (1914-1977) and Katerina Wilczynski (1894-1978) present more abstract views of the landscape.  

Visitors will also encounter the muted abstracts of Prunella Clough (1919-1999), alongside cropped landscape views by Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981). Meanwhile, works by Sheila Fell (1931-1979) and Ingrid Pollard interrogate the landscape of the Lake District in relation to themes of race and class. For both women, art could explore the impact of industry, capitalism and tourism as subjects within the landscape.  

Another View also considers how landscapes presented opportunities for experimental art making, including etching and printmaking. The artists represented used a wide range of innovative media. Etchings by Anna Airy (1882-1964) and Constance Mary Pott (1862-1957) are among those featured. 

Many works on show draw from Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery collection, accompanied by key loans from galleries including the Atkinson, Southport, the V&A, London, and the Whitworth, Manchester.  

Entry to Another View: Landscapes by Women Artists and the Lady Lever Art Gallery is free, with donations welcome. 

Image: Blackberry Gathering, 1912, Elizabeth Adela Forbes (née Armstrong)

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