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Rebel Women are at the National Portrait Gallery


Rebel Women, National Portrait Gallery, Anne Hunt, Suffragette, votes for women, display, Pioneer Women‘…As she moved on, he heard glass shatter…’

A portrait in London’s National Portrait Gallery that was slashed with a butcher’s cleaver by a suffragette has been put back on display in the gallery for the first time in over twenty years.

And a photograph showing the damage has been included in a complementary display devoted to the suffrage movement that inspired the attack in July 1914.

The portrait of one of the National Portrait Gallery’s founders, Thomas Carlyle, by Sir John Everett Millais, is on display as part of the Gallery’s year-long ‘Rebel Women’ season to coincide with the ‘Votes for Women’ and ‘Votes for Women: Pioneers‘ displays.

And along with this, the National Portrait Gallery has revealed archival accounts of the incident, which was carried out by Anne Hunt following the re-arrest of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

On the morning of the attack, which occurred on a student day, meaning all non-students paid an entry fee, gallery staff attendant David Wilson recognised Anne Hunt from the previous day; he had thought her American ‘from the closeness from which she then examined the pictures.’

Wilson’s suspicions were aroused because ‘no American would have paid the 6d entrance fee twice over’.

He was unable to follow her beyond his post as she moved on, but he heard glass shatter.

Two female students were copying portraits when Hunt struck at least three times, slashing Carlyle’s portrait. One student, followed by an attendant, rushed to restrain her.

Unsympathetic press coverage characterised Hunt as a ‘Hatchet Fiend’, ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Fury with a Chopper,’ and the Gallery immediately set about restoring the work.

At her trial Anne Hunt said: ‘This picture will be of added value and of great historical importance because it has been honoured by the attention of a Militant’.

She was sentenced to six months imprisonment, complained about forcible feeding in custody, and was released on 27 July.

She went back to the Gallery on 31 August. And as Assistant Keeper Milner reported: ‘Wilson said he got quite a shock when he saw her, she smiled and nodded to him… if Carlyle’s mutilator should return she is not to be admitted…’

With a response ‘to keep the Gallery open outrage or no outrage,’ records show a lack of engagement with the political aims underlying militant attacks, with senior staff often only preoccupied with everyday business.

From as early as January 1913, however, fear of Suffragette action at museums and public buildings meant female visitors were instructed to leave bags, muffs and parcels in cloakrooms in case they had concealed weapons.

But referring to efforts to safeguard the Collection, the Deputy Chairman of the Trustees said: ‘we really are at the mercy of women who are determined.’

The ‘Votes for Women’ display, which runs until 13 May 2018, also contains the document issued by Scotland Yard to the National Portrait Gallery following Mary Richardson’s attack on Velázquez’s painting The Rokeby Venus (The Toilet of Venus) at the National Gallery in March 1914.

The display also includes the sheet of identity photographs issued to the National Portrait Gallery by Scotland Yard of women serving sentences in Holloway and Manchester prisons, many taken undercover in prison exercise yards.

A selection of the Gallery’s collection of postcards produced by suffrage organisations to promote membership and to inspire loyalty towards their leaders also goes on display for the first time.

In these images the sitters appear well-dressed, elegant and demure, providing an antidote to press photographs, in which Suffragettes often appeared dishevelled or distressed.

As well as portraits of the Pankhurst sisters, the display includes a rarely seen and intimate painting by Ford Madox Ford of Millicent Garrett Fawcett with her husband and fellow ‘suffragist’, Henry Fawcett.

As president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) from 1897, Millicent Garrett Fawcett favoured political lobbying and peaceful protest and was one of the most influential figures in the campaign for women’s suffrage.

And this year she becomes the first women represented by a statue in Parliament Square, in a work by the artist Gillian Wearing.

In a lecture held earlier this month, ‘The art of struggle: Sylvia Pankhurst and how art helped women get the vote’, her latest biographer, Rachel Holmes, discussed her unique contribution to the suffrage struggle in the light of the dual perspectives of her practice.

The red suffragette and second daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst was an accomplished artist as well as activist who shaped the visual iconography and radical aesthetics of the Suffragette movement.

Rachel Holmes is the author of The Secret Life of Dr James Barry; The Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman, and, most recently, Eleanor Marx: A Life, published in 2014 and serialised on BBC Radio 4.

And a richly-illustrated gift book presents 100 pioneering women from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. From Elizabeth I to Zaha Hadid, this book celebrates the work of women throughout history, highlighting not only well-known figures but also women whose stories have been forgotten.

The ‘Votes for Women’ display at the National Portrait Gallery runs until 13 May 2018.

The ‘Votes for Women: Pioneers’ display highlighting Victorian pioneers of the movement runs until 2 December 2018.

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