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Detail from 'In a Glasgow Cotton Spinning Mill Changing the Bobbin' by Sylvia Pankhurst. (Courtesy Tate)
Detail from 'In a Glasgow Cotton Spinning Mill Changing the Bobbin' by Sylvia Pankhurst. (Courtesy Tate)

True passion

Suffragette’s poignant portraits of working women acquired for U.K.’s national collection

By WITW Staff on December 21, 2018

Portraits of working women, painted by English suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst in 1907, have been acquired for the U.K.’s national art collection.

The poignant watercolor images of women laboring in mills and potteries in Glasgow and Staffordshire, were meant to show the poor working conditions and limited incomes of their subjects.

The works have been acquired directly from the Pankhurst family by the Tate, using funds from the Denise Coates Foundation, a charity set up by the founder and chief executive of the British-based online betting firm Bet365. Coates was last month revealed to be the world’s highest-paid female executive, on a pay package of 265 million pounds (US$335m).

“Sylvia was an artist as well as a champion of working women’s rights, her first passion not as well known as her second,” her granddaughter Helen Pankhurst told the Guardian. “In these beautiful pieces these interests are powerfully combined.”

Pankhurst, who trained at the Manchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, also used her skills to design badges, banners and flyers for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and the suffragette movement established by her mother, Emmeline. She gave up art in 1912 to dedicate herself entirely to the women’s suffrage movement, and founded the East London Federation of the Suffragettes.

Ann Gallagher, the director of the British art collection at Tate, said: “At a time when gender pay gaps and women’s rights at work remain urgent topical issues, these images remind us of the role art can play in inspiring social change.”

Read the full story at the BBC and the Guardian.

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