Sylvia Pankhurst (1889-1960) was a prominent female artist and daughter of the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union and so-called mother of modern feminism, Emmeline Pankhurst.
Sylvia was a prominent suffragette in her own right, and later an anti-fascist campaigner during the 1930’s and 40’s as well as being an artist. She was trained right here at Manchester School of Art, and after winning a prize for best female artist in 1901, she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.
Most famously, Sylvia applied her artistic talents to her role as a Suffragette in her full-time work with the Women’s Social and Political Union drawing up propaganda in the form of leaflets, banners, posters and decorations for meeting halls.
Although her career as an artist is most typically tied with her work with the WSPU, there was a time in her life where she travelled the length and breadth of the UK recording the lives of women she met along the way. These were working women she met in pottery, shoemaking, fishing and spinning industries just to name a few.
She worked quickly with watercolour and chalk and aimed to show the truth behind women in these industries without prettiness or pathos. This was a huge contrast to what had come before- which more than often showed clean, rosy-cheeked girls in immaculate clothing, looking pretty and with minimal signs that indicated the effects of hard work. A good example of this is The Dinner Hour by Eyre Crowe which lives in the permanent collection at Manchester Art Gallery.
After 1909, Sylvia completely submitted herself to the cause of the WSPU and left her time as an artist behind her. This exhibition highlights these works, few as they are, from this short period. They show that she was more than just a political tool for the WSPU and was instead a talented, emotive painter with a real sympathy for the lives of women in the UK.
This small selection of paintings and sketches reveals that a true artist was lost while the Suffragettes gained a champion.
This exhibition is on until April 2018 and is free of charge, as always at Manchester Art Gallery.
Manchester Art Gallery,
0161 235 8888