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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeUnsung Heroines


Unsung Heroines, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeA further selection of MISTRESSES OF THE GRAPHIC ARTS, Women printmakers 16th – 20th centuries

This collection of prints by women, presented as Unsung Heroines, complements and supplements the collection I offered in 1995 as Mistresses of the Graphic Arts. As I have concentrated on the inclusion of women printmakers not represented in the first catalogue and as most of the ‘famous’ names were included there, the emphasis here is primarily on less-known artists. As the involvement of large numbers of women in printmaking is a 20th century phenomenon, the emphasis too is very much on women working in the first half of that century and to a lesser extent in the decade or so after World War II.

Many women only produced prints as students or in the years immediately after they had finished training. Sometimes a commitment to family life took precedence, or the disruptive historical events of two World Wars and the decline in the print market after the Boom years of the 1920’s, prevented them from pursuing a career in printmaking and thus pre-empted the possibility of establishing a reputation. Their work not being frequently in circulation it has a freshness and can come as a delightful discovery.

Where artists are ‘duplicated’ in the new catalogue, they are represented by different images, sometimes worked in different media, to those in Mistresses… . The entries for these artists supply only additional or fuller information, amendments for instance of dates where new information has come to light. Item numbers in the Mistresses catalogue are referenced and the main biographical details supplied initially in Mistresses are not repeated, the two catalogues ‘working’ in tandem. A general chronological progression pertains in Unsung Heroines too but in this case generally within a sub-group determined by the print process used by the artist.

No doubt being British and being based in England has determined the bias towards British women artists or could it be that there are more British than Continental women active as printmakers at this period? A reversal of the situation characteristic of earlier centuries.

On the Continent in the 16th and 17th centuries the few women active as engravers tended to belong to printmaking families and grew up in the tradition. In England where a native tradition was slower to be established, women did not begin to make prints until the 18th century.

The 18th & 19th centuries, particularly in continental Europe, witnessed a large increase in the numbers of women involved in printmaking, as in the practice of the arts in general.

The pioneering collection of women’s prints put together by Henrietta Louisa Koenen 1848-61 and added to in the following two decades by her husband, the director of the Amsterdam Print Room, is an indication of this surge in female printmaking activity. It comprises some 507 prints by 284 different artists.

Of these 284 women engravers, only 9 are from the 16th & 17th centuries – Diana Ghisi/Scultori) of Mantua; Marie de Medici; Magdalena van de Passe; Geertruyd & Magdalena Roghman; Elisabetta Sirani; Teresa del Po; and Susanna Maria von Sandrart.
Harvey-LeeReflecting the general history of printmaking, they are mainly Italian or Dutch.
Of the 275 18th & 19th century women printmakers listed, the vast majority are French, or of Germanic origin, with a very occasional Dutch, Swedish, or Spanish representative. Several are aristocratic or royal amateurs but many are professionals.
Harvey-LeeFifteen only are British – Leticia Byrne; Maria Cosway; Lady Dashwood; Elizabeth Ellis; Lady Louisa Augusta Greville; Mrs Eliza B Gulstone; Elizabeth Judkins; Clara Montalba; Mary Ann Rigg; Lady Elizabeth Rutland, née Howard; Miss Sardsam; Mrs Dawson Turner, née Mary Palgrave, and one of her five daughters, Miss Turner; Queen Victoria; and Caroline Watson.
Harvey-LeeA further three prints, by the American artist Mary Cassatt, were added when the collection was acquired by an American, a member of the Grolier Club, and presented to the New York Public Library in 1900. The entire collection was exhibited at the Grolier Club in 1901, with a catalogue entitled Collection of Engravings, Etchings and Lithographs by Women.

In the 18th century, because of the prevailing proprieties, women were not admitted to academy schools, where life drawing from the male model was central to academic training. Neither Angelica Kauffmann nor Mary Moser, although elected Academicians, were able to take advantage of the Royal Academy’s life classes. In Zoffany’s group portrait of the assembled members in the Life Room, mezzotinted by Richard Earlom in 1772, the two women members are not represented in person but by their portraits hanging on the wall.

Unsung Heroines, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeIn Paris women were not admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the school associated with the French Academy, initially founded by Louis XIV in 1648, even after the égalité of the French Revolution. They only gained entrance to the Beaux Arts in 1897. Only French nationals were able to attend and the many foreign students, drawn to Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, went to the Académie Julian, where women were admitted from 1880, or to individual artist’s studios.

In England women of the 18th and 19th centuries were trained at home by their fathers, such as William Byrne, at the artisanal level or by a senior artist such as Edwin Landseer, for instance (see Appendix), who taught several aristocratic young women to etch. Whereas engraving, etching and lithography would not have been in the prospectus of the early Academy Schools, even had women been admitted as students, as an applied art in relation to pottery, fabric and book production it would probably have been taught at the first Victorian government art schools established to further national industrial design. The first School of Design in London, 1837, renamed the National Art Training School in 1857 and subsequently renamed again in 1896 the Royal College of Art, certainly taught printmaking at least as early as the 1870’s. The presence of female students is apparent from the 1890’s when Frank Short was put in charge of the engraving school at the Royal College and had as his assistant, Miss Constance Pott. In the first three or four decades of the 20th century, as a post graduate school, the R C A performed a seminal role in training etchers of both sexes, though male students outnumbered females.

At this same period London’s Central School of Arts & Crafts, founded 1896, was most associated with training wood engravers, under the tutorship of Noel Rooke who introduced wood engraving to the curriculum of the department of Illustration in 1912. In the Central’s archive of wood engraving students up to 1950, fifty-nine out of a total of a hundred and fifteen are women. Etching was also taught at the Central.

The Slade School, founded 1871, perhaps because it mostly did not have a formal printmaking department, produced fewer, more idiosyncratic printmakers, such as Eve Kirk and Edna Clarke Hall.

Of the smaller private art schools in the capital, established in the 1920’s, those most associated with women students of printmaking are Leon Underwood’s school, known especially for wood engraving (Gertrude Hermes being one of the most acclaimed students), and the Grosvenor School of Art, noted for the colour linocut, where women students out-totalled the men.

Morley Fletcher pioneered colour woodcut in the Japanese manner at University College, Reading 1898-1906 and at Edinburgh College of Art, which he directed 1908-23 and where he invited Mabel Royds to teach colour woodcut from 1910. John Platt also inspired his students in woodcut, inviting the Japanese colour woodblock artist Urushibara to demonstrate to his students in Leicester, where he was principal 1923-29. He had a number of female students of colour woodcut, such as Meryl Watts, when he moved to Blackheath School of Art, 1929-39.

Printmaking was only rarely taught in provincial art schools before the 1920’s or ‘30’s. An exception was Bristol, where Reginald Bush was principal 1895-1934. As a student Bush had won an engraving scholarship to the Royal College of Art. An impressive number of female etchers are associated with Bristol (see Nora Fry, item 53, and subsequent listing). Susan Crawford taught etching at Glasgow School of Art from 1893 till 1917. Glasgow School of Art, like the R C A in London, had begun as a government school of design, in the 1840’s.

The possibilities for public exhibition of women’s prints developed slowly, from the second half of the 18th century onwards. In England Angelica Kauffmann was a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768. She was one of two women painters among the thirty-six artists named in the Instrument of Foundation, which restricted membership to forty Academicians in all (later enlarged to forty academicians and forty associates, ultimately to 80 Academicians when associate membership was done away with). Initially specialist engravers were denied membership but in 1770 six associate engravers were admitted. In 1853 at the request of Queen Victoria two of the six were permitted to be elected as full R A s. In 1921, by when artists’ original printmaking had superceded professional reproductive engraving, the separate engraving category was dropped. Today eight of the eighty Academicians should be printmakers.

After 1768 no further women artists were elected to the Royal Academy until 1922. Laura Knight was elected in 1927. But it was only in 1963 that a woman whose primary medium was printmaking (Gertrude Hermes) was elected as an Associate. Equally it may be noted that in the same period few male printmakers had been elected either.

From its foundation in 1880, the Royal Society of Printmakers (R E) welcomed women members (the 1880 Married Women’s Property Rights law meant that women could take equal financial responsibility). However it was not till 2003 that a women was elected president (Anita Klein). But so was her successor, Hilary Paynter.

The Senefelder Club, set up in 1908 to promote lithography as a creative medium, also included women from the outset. This was also the case with the Society of Graver-Printers in colour, for both colour etchers and colour woodblock artists; with the Colour Woodcut Society, founded in 1920; and with the London Society of Painter-Printmakers, 1948.

America led the way in the interest in exhibitions devoted to women printmakers. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts held an exhibition of American Women Etchers in 1887, comprising 388 etchings by twenty-two artists. An expanded exhibition in New York the following year showed 513 etchings by thirty-five women. The introduction to the catalogue of this Union League Club exhibition commented that women had “established their right to be judged in the same temper and by the same standards as their bretheren”. In the Women’s Building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, nineteen women etchers, including Mary Cassatt, were exhibited by the dealer Keppel.

North America was also to the fore in early providing specific training for women artists. The Philadelphia School of Design for Women was founded in 1844. By the 1880’s it taught etching as well as wood engraving, painting, china decoration and illustration. Emily Sartain, daughter of one of the founders, the engraver and illustrator John Sartain, was principal of the school for thirty-three years, 1886-1919. In New York the Cooper Union Free Art School for Women opened in 1854 and the Art Students League in New York accepted women from 1875. Many American women printmakers also travelled to Europe and especially to Paris for further training.

Women have expressed themselves in all the different print processes, although in common with their male peers, they have been less drawn both towards lithography and mezzotint. However, this said, women (in England – Lady Cawdor and a Miss Waring) were quite exceptionally in the vanguard as regards experimenting with lithography at the beginning of the 19th century when the newly invented technique was first promoted to artists. And at the same period women took to soft-ground etching because of its similar immediacy of drawing. In the 18th century Caroline Watson, daughter of the celebrated mezzotint engraver James Watson, practised mezzotint professionally, as did another pupil of Watson, Elizabeth Judkins, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. In the 20th century mezzotint has had few followers among either sex. In America Emily Sartain was described as “the world’s only woman artist in mezzotint”; in England women students or associates of the Royal College of Art very occasionally essayed mezzotint. Constance Pott and Hazel Harrison each engraved at least one plate in mezzotint. After the 17th century women infrequently engraved even in line; Elizabeth and Letitia Byrne were among the few to do line engraving on steel plates, a new matrix introduced at the beginning of the 19th century, rather than the conventional softer copper. Very few women engraved in stipple; Caroline Watson was again an exception, as was Marie Anne Bourlier. Letitia Byrne complained to fellow artist Joseph Farington, who knew a circle of women artists who made a living from copying, painting miniatures, engraving or teaching engraving, that “There is a prejudice against employing women engravers ”.

As is also the case with their male counterparts, hard ground etching was the preferred medium of the greatest number of women printmakers. However out of the hundreds of late 19th century and early 20th century women etchers only three or four have achieved wide recognition and international acclaim., Mary Cassatt, Käthe Kollwitz, Suzanne Valladon, Laura Knight. In a specifically British context one can add Winifred Austen, Elyse Lord and Orovda Pissarro to the list. Women would seem to use drypoint only rarely.

Wood engraving and the other relief printing techniques, woodcut and linocut, have had fewer practitioners in general of either sex. But, particularly in Britain and America, a much larger percentage of those who are acclaimed in the medium are women, Gwen Raverat, Clare Leighton, Agnes Miller Parker, Gertrude Hermes, Monica Poole, Sybil Andrews, Elizabeth Keith, Mabel Royds, Lill Tschudi, Norbertine von Bresslern-Roth.

It is noticeable in a large group of prints by women, such as that offered here, that colour is prominent and almost certainly more so than it would be in a commensurate group by male artists. Women made strong statements through colour etchings and aquatints, colour woodcuts, colour linocuts, colour wood engravings and colour lithographs, as witnessed in the work of Sybil Andrews, Audrey Bridgman or Viola Paterson amongst others; these are a long way from pretty prints of flowers or birds traditionally expected from the ‘weaker’ sex.

Traditionally denied access to the live nude model, before the 20th century women artists specialised in  what were judged the minor subjects – flowers and still life, portraits, animals, intimate genre scenes – rather than the grand and usually large-scale history and mythological subjects prized by the Academies. But there were always exceptions; and particularly among women printmakers.

To a contemporary audience brought up in a post-impressionist ethos, the consideration of such a tyranny as a hierarchy of subject matter is as irrelevant and alien as the medieval concern of how many angels can perch on the head of a pin. It is the quality and interest of the individual work not the category of its subject matter that is of over-riding importance. 20th century women printmakers have treated as broad a range of comparable subject matter as their male fellows.

In the 16th & 17th centuries because women practitioners were exceptionally few in number they excited comment and praise in direct relation to their sex. Vasari was astounded to discover the young Diana of Mantua; adulatory poems were addressed to Magdalena van de Passe. By the 18th century a greater number of women were involved in the arts, yet their personal physical attractiveness and mental esprit were also important contributing factors to their celebrity, certainly in the cases of Angelica Kauffmann and Maria Cosway. The growing number of women printmakers in the 18th & 19th centuries, and especially in the 20th century after the wide-scale establishment of national art schools in many leading cities, by and large ended gender-based criteria in critical discussion of individual artists.

Good art is sexless or perhaps rather bisexual, partaking of the strengths and sensibilities of both sexes. Käthe Kollwitz wrote “bisexuality is almost a necessary factor in artistic production; at any rate , the tinge of masculinity within me helped in my work”. Yet there is also a consistently female thread weaving through women’s prints. Familiarity with the sex of the author of prints by Kollwitz, or Laura Knight, or Angelica Kauffmann &c precludes a discussion of their femininity or otherwise. It is among the prints of little-trumpetted women artists, whose very anonymity does not immediately proclaim their sex, that the presence of an indefinable female sensitivity asserts itself, producing in the viewer a subconscious recognition that the signature reading “A. Plate” is more likely to be that of an 'Arabella' or 'Ann' than an 'Andrew' and “M. Block”, a 'Muriel' or 'Margaret' rather than a 'Malcolm'. But this does not always follow. In my first Mistresses catalogue a colour lithograph catalogued as by Phyllis D Lambert turned out to be by Philip Lambert.

List of Appendices

Women practitioners of the Grosvenor School of Linocut
Women members of the Society of Wood Engravers (to whom should be added Hilary Paynter and Anne Desmet)
Women Members of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers (1880-1969)
Women contributors to the annual Presentation Plates for the ancillary Print Collectors’ Club 1927-1982
Women members of the Senefelder Club from its first exhibition in 1910 until 1934
Other women who exhibited lithographs with the Senefelder Club 1910-1934
Women winners of the Prix-de-Rome for Engraving from its inception in1920 until 1966
Women engravers associated with Sir Edwin Landseer
Women printmakers amongst the 70 exhibitors at the first exhibition of the London Society of Painter-Printers, 1948
And included within the body of the catalogue a list of women etchers associated with Bristol School of Art

Published 2004
112 pages, 311 items described and illustrated in black & white, with nine in colour on the cover.

(UK Price: £15, International orders: £20)

Special Offer
Purchase the two catalogues; Mistresses and Unsung Heroines, together for £27 (UK) or £35 (International).

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Artists included in the catalogue:

Names in (brackets) are mentioned but not represented by prints

  • Adshead A E
  • Airy A
  • Amberg I K
  • Andrews S
  • Annesley M M
  • Armitage J
  • Armstrong E
  • (Arnold H)
  • Aspden R
  • Aulton M
  • Bacon M M
  • Bacon P
  • Barnwell A G C
  • Bas R A le
  • Baumann C A P
  • Bayley M
  • Begbie J
  • (Bell V)
  • Binyon H
  • Blomfeld B F M
  • Blundel M L
  • Bolingbroke M
  • Bonsey H E (née Jefferies)
  • Boreel W
  • Bradfield N
  • Bresslern-Roth N von
  • Bridgman A
  • Brooks M
  • Brown E C Austen
  • Browne H
  • Bruton M B
  • Bull N
  • Burchill E M
  • (Bush F)
  • Butler M
  • (Byrne E)
  • Byrne L
  • Cameron K
  • Cawdor Lady C
  • (Cheese C)
  • Churchill N
  • Citron M W
  • Clausen A M
  • Clarke Hall E
  • Cartwright J
  • Clay A
  • Clayton K M
  • Clements G de Vaux
  • Coke D J
  • Cole E V
  • Cook G E
  • Cosway M
  • Cowland M G
  • Cox G F M
  • Cragg H
  • (Cross G)
  • Curry E M E
  • Dallas A C
  • (Danse M)
  • Danse L
  • Davis D A
  • Denne C
  • Desborough C I
  • (Deschamps C F)
  • Dobson M S
  • Drew D
  • Ellis I A
  • Fairclough M
  • Fanshaw C M
  • (Fanshaw P)
  • Farmer M M
  • Farqharson M
  • Fenwick K M
  • Fergusson C J
  • Fini L
  • Firth M
  • Flax Z
  • Forbes E
  • Fox M
  • Francis E J
  • Fry N AS
  • Gabain E
  • Gág W
  • Galton A M
  • Garwood T
  • George D
  • George P H
  • Ghisi D
  • Gibbs E
  • Gill J, E or P
  • Ginger P E
  • Glazier L M
  • Gouldsmith H
  • Goldthwaite A
  • Green C M M
  • Gribble V M
  • Groch G
  • Grove M A F
  • (Gunton K)
  • (Hale E D)
  • Hall E Clarke
  • Hamblyn-Smith M A
  • Hamilton I A
  • Harper J
  • Harvey H
  • Hassall J
  • Hayes G
  • Hedger R
  • Heriot R
  • Hermes G
  • Hicks M
  • Hodges P O
  • (Housman C)
  • Howard C
  • Hudson E E
  • Hughes P
  • (Hutchings H)
  • Hyde H
  • (Hyde J)
  • Illingworth A S
  • Jacques B
  • (Jebb K M)
  • Jefferies H E
  • (Jefferies K G)
  • Joliffe M
  • Kàdàr L
  • (Kahlo F – a portrait)
  • Kauffmann A
  • Kay D
  • Keeling G
  • Kempster B (née Bridgman)
  • Kimball K
  • Kirk E
  • Kirkpatrick E
  • Klein E
  • Knight L
  • Kollwitz K
  • Koslowska S de
  • Kron-Meisel C
  • Lambert E
  • Landseer J
  • Larking L M
  • Le Bas R A
  • (Lee-Hankey M née Garner)
  • Leighton C
  • Livett U
  • Lock J
  • Lockyer I de B
  • Lowengrund M
  • Lucas C
  • Lucas M A
  • Lum B
  • (Lum B[C])
  • (Lum P[B])
  • Mantuana D
  • Marr H
  • Marston F
  • Martin M
  • Martyn E King
  • Marx E C D
  • Mavrogordato J M
  • McArthur M
  • McCall J M
  • MacKinnon S
  • Mesham E B
  • Minter M
  • Mitchell M Y
  • Montalba C
  • Morisot B
  • Morshead A
  • Münter G
  • Nash P
  • Nathan P d’A
  • Niekerk S C van
  • Noël D
  • (Orovida)
  • Parker A Miller
  • Paczka C
  • Passe M van de
  • Paterson V
  • Peck J
  • (Pilkington M)
  • (Pissarro O)
  • Pole M M
  • Possoz M
  • Pott C M
  • Prax V H
  • Quick H M
  • Rankin A L
  • Raverat G
  • Rhodes M
  • Richards E
  • Riollet M C
  • Robertson J E
  • Robinson M
  • Robinson S
  • Rogers H
  • Roome L
  • Rowney M
  • Rudge M M
  • Ryerson M A
  • Sainsbury H
  • Sanders V C
  • (Schurman A M van)
  • Sharp m F
  • Shelley E
  • Sherlock A M
  • Silas B
  • Simeon M
  • Simpson A
  • Simpson J S C
  • Sloane M A
  • Smith H
  • Spowers E L
  • (Stephens O)
  • Story E J
  • Sully K M
  • Sweet D F
  • Syme E W
  • Temple V L
  • Tesarikova M
  • Thomas M F
  • Thomson L
  • Thornton V
  • (Topham I)
  • Torres O
  • Tournour M
  • Traill J C A
  • Tremmel M
  • Troubridge Lady U
  • Tschudi L
  • Turberville M G
  • Unwin N S
  • Van Niekerk S
  • Velde N van de
  • Vivian N
  • Walford A C
  • Walklin C E
  • (Waring F)
  • (Watson C)
  • Watts Ma
  • Watts Me
  • Wells F
  • Whittington M
  • William A
  • Willis E M
  • (Woollard D)



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