Women at Guildhall Art Gallery

Guildhall Art Gallery

Women have not always been recognised as talented artists or creators, and we want to change that at Guildhall Art Gallery. Many pieces in our collection were created by incredibly talented women from around the world, who's stories may have been celebrated or who's stories we now shed light upon. Enjoy some of the works and collections created by women that sit proudly in our gallery.

'London Wharves' by Grete Marks (1899-1990)

a relief panel depicting docks using a range of coloured ceramics. On the left is the blue of the water and the sky. On the right and over the water are buildings and a crane.

A ceramic artist of Jewish origin, Grete Marks was one of the earliest women to be admitted to the Bauhaus School of Art and Design in 1920. She may be best known for creating and manufacturing modern ceramic designs, initially in partnership with her husband, but continuing after she was widowed in 1928. By 1934 her work was condemned as of inferior standard by the National Socialist German Workers' Party and featured in the Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937.

She coped with the many challenges she faced. When her company was seized, she emigrated with her two young children to the UK. She made a brief attempt to recreate another ceramics company, based in Stoke-on-Trent, becoming known for her ‘Grete’ Pottery, and was a designer for Minton & Co.

After WW II she moved to London and became increasingly interested in watercolours, painting and drawing London’s docks since the 1950s. This ceramic relief panel (London Wharves, 1972), one of the latest additions to the gallery’s collection, keeps us connected to the nostalgia of a London of a bygone era and helps us remember the life and story of a lesser-known, but no less important artist of her day.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marie.

'Portrait of a Lady' by Flora Lion (1878 – 1958)

portrait of a brown-haired lady wearing an off-the-shoulder garment. She looks over her left shoulder at the viewer.
'Portrait of a Lady' (1907)

This elegant Edwardian was painted by portrait painter Flora Lion. One of the pre-eminent artists of her day, Flora had a long and successful career painting musicians, suffragettes and future Queens.  

She was also one of the first of a very small number of women to work as an official War Artist, tasked with recording the women and girls employed in one of Bradford’s many munitions factories. Her wartime work is a celebration of female strength and camaraderie and its purples and greens remind us that in 1918, women were still fighting for the right to vote.

As we move forward, let’s reappraise and celebrate the work our female artists and accord them the attention they deserve.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Laura.

'Celebrating City Women'

a lady wearing a yellow safety waistcoat standing on a block of tiles looking at the Shard through the windows of a building site.
'Architect Karen Cook' by Hannah Starkey

'Celebrating City Women' by the 2019 Guildhall Artist-in-Residence Hannah Starkey. The choice was motivated by the artist's desire to highlight the diversity of the working women in the City. 

“When you see a woman, just doing her own thing, maybe on the way to work, there is something about her self-confidence that I want to capture”.  - Hannah Starkey

Starkey is committed to configuring the experience of women as they go about their everyday life, she represents the experiences of contemporary women as bold images that help to make a connection to the viewer, particularly the female viewer who might recognise something of herself within them.

Starkey is aware of the ways in which women are constantly evaluated and judged; this cleverly constructed portrait is a break from the male lens that permeates society and the portrayal of women. The artist shines a light on how women have participated in different trades and industries in the Square Mile, a place which was built on the achievements of women whose roles have been often overshadowed by their male counterparts.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Claudia

'Mother and Child' by Anna Lea Merritt

A dark brown pencil drawing of a mother covered in a blanket sat and bent over a child which she cradles against her face.
'Mother and Child' (1911) by Anna Lea Merritt
“The chief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife … It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time saving help. A husband would be quite useless.”

Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930) had intended to give up her work as an artist after her wedding. Sadly, her husband died very soon after, and she resumed her career. Although she considered that she’d not faced particular discrimination herself as a female artist, in fact she was the first female artist whose work was purchased for the Tate Gallery, she was quite articulate on the challenges Victorian women faced.

Anna had studied anatomy, which is often evident in her work, but her studies of the female form were often shown in drapery – more acceptable to Victorian sensibilities.

-Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Jackie.

Wendy Koop

Red Coleus by Wendy Koop, Guildhall Art Gallery

Wendy Koop taught art in a number of London schools, certainly from 1938 – 1959, in particular, Queens College, Harley Street, Overstone School and Holland Park School. She appears to have taught senior school aged children between the ages of 11 and 15. In the early part of her career she also taught at a Psychiatric unit. She was involved with the Society for Education in Art, which promoted new methods of teaching art, focusing on a more imaginative approach to art teaching rather than the purely mechanical aspects. It also championed closer links between Art Education and child psychology. Koop wrote at least one article for the society’s journal, Athene and submitted many of her students’ artworks to Alexander Barclay-Russell who gathered a large collection of child art much of which appeared in the 1983 exhibition “Revolution in Child Art: 1930 – 1960, which took place at the Festival Hall on the South Bank.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Jackie

June Mendoza

Harvey William Hinds (1920-2000) by June Mendoza (b.1924), Guildhall Art Gallery

Following the appreciation of female artists generated from International Women’s Day, Australian portrait painter, June Mendoza, comes under the spotlight… Mendoza was born into a creative family in Melbourne: her mother and father musicians, her brother an actor. Whilst on tour with he rmother as a child, she started sketching to fill the time and realised from the age of 12 that art was where her future lay, portraiture eventually becoming her forte.

One of the world’s foremost portrait painters, Mendoza has worked consistently, her impressive commission repertoire include a number of portraits of the Queen and other Royal family members, and personalities from the arts, sports, government and business fields. This oil portrait captures a thoughtful Harvey Hinds, clergyman, educationalist, youth campaigner and politician, whose remarkable work influenced London politics, benefiting the lives of many young people.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Lucy

Käthe Strenitz

Seacole Lane, London by Käthe Strenitz, Guildhall Art Gallery

The Czech artist, Käthe Strenitz, came to England in 1939 on the Kinder transport organised for Jewish children escaping the Holocaust by the British humanitarian, Nicholas Winton. However, this was clearly a difficult time for Strenitz as she left the farm she was sent to and did not finish her teaching at the Regent Street Polytechnic, where she had been awarded a scholarship after Mrs Winton sent some of her drawings to the Austrian émigré artist, Oskar Kokoschka. She moved into a hostel where she met her future husband, who owned a plastics factory near Kings Cross Station. It was here that she would set up her studio and focus on depicting the local landscape, mostly in industrial settings.

Her many paintings of railway tracks and large, gloomy station buildings perhaps reflect her first impressions of Liverpool Street Station when she arrived there as a teenager. This painting, Seacole Lane, is one of the few paintings that she did in the City of London.  The lane, in Farringdon, was named from the coal that came from Tyneside on barges to be unloaded here from the Fleet River before the formation of railways in the 19th century.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Anne

Lisa Zirner

Worlds End by Lisa Zirna (b.1937), Guildhall Art Gallery

Here we have another artist forced by her Jewish heritage to leave her home country of Austria, aged two, in 1939.  She travelled to London with her British mother, leaving her Austrian-Jewish father in Vienna.  He was denied entry into Britain to be with his wife and daughter and sadly, Lisa’s mother died of tuberculosis only a year later.

Lisa studied art at the Chelsea School of Art and Goldsmiths College and has taught art in schools in southern England, at the Open University, and at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. She is a published author and illustrator, with works such as the colourful children’s book ‘Time Upon a Once’.

The painting we see here was painted when she was studying at the Chelsea School of Art, which was close to this scene, and it shows the chimneys of a power station, a brewery on the right and prefabricated huts on a bomb site. Like Strenitz’s work, this painting focuses on a scene from a city still recovering from the ravages of World War II and is testimony to its industrial past.

 - Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Anne

Hermione Hammond

The Barbican by Hermione Hammond, Guildhall Art Gallery

A Post-War British artist, Hammond’s works include line drawings, street scenes, busy markets, landscapes and portraits along with interior commissions and church altars. She is most famous for capturing aspects of bomb-damaged London. Hermione was born in Northumberland in 1919, but went to school in London. She studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and later attended the Royal College of Art, where she learned mural decoration and etching.

She funded her studies by winning art prizes and commissions including the design of several altarpieces. She received a scholarship to study in Rome in 1938 but the outbreak of war forced her to return to England where her art career paused as she became involved in war service. In 1949 she resumed painting, taking up studios in Chelsea’s old artistic quarter. Hermione remained active into her 90’s as one of the few surviving painters able to describe themselves as a “Chelsea Artist”.

This picture “The Barbican” is in fact a view of Chiswell Street, a short walk from the Guildhall Art Gallery. This watercolour with its sense of charm and calm, demonstrates a delicacy of painting. By recording our heritage through her art, we can appreciate and remember the little details of London’s streets as they once were, scenes that we normally take for granted. As lock-down eases, what better reason do you need to stroll the streets of London once again?

 - Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marie


Karen Raney

Brecknock Estate by Karen Raney, Guildhall Art Gallery

Karen Raney is an artist, writer of fiction and an academic. Born in America but living in London, Raney is currently senior lecturer at University of East London. She leads the Doctorate in Fine Art and has been Editor of ‘Engage’ the international journal of visual art and gallery education.

A colourful urban landscape as viewed by the artist from a balcony in the Brecknock Estate in Islington, North London. It’s a wintry day, the few trees are bare and heavy grey clouds sweep across the top of the painting. From this high vantage point the eye is drawn to the road below in the centre of the composition as it disappears around the distant bend. It appears to pass downhill towards the grey shapes of Hampstead Heath in the distance. Victorian terraced houses follow the left-hand side of the road, with the back gardens of modern flats opposite, with their array of washing lines. Strong colours of yellows, blues, oranges and white, are blended using bold loose strokes which add movement to the whole scene from the red car passing below out of the frame to the moving clouds. It’s possible to imagine the sound of the wind that the artist hears.

 - Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marian


Heather Copley

View of St Bride's Church from Ludgate Hill, London by Heather Copley (1918-2001), Guildhall Art Gallery

Still celebrating women painters who may not now be household names, Guildhall Art Gallery’s ‘View of St Bride Church from Ludgate Hill London’ is by twentieth century artist Heather Copley.  Born in Stafford, she trained in London at Clapham Art School and the Royal College of Art.

Here she celebrates the work of architect Christopher Wren, choosing not to feature his masterpiece Cathedral but the church that launched a thousand wedding cakes - St Bride Fleet Street. Painted in 1962 this is a view of bygone London and a view of the church of St Bride not seen since the 150 ton Ludgate Hill bridge was demolished in 1990. St Bride was the journalists’ choice of church too – and of course they have also gone from view, not demolished but to Wapping!

 - Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Jill

Peggy Angus

The Birthday Feast, Peggy Angus (1904–1993) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© estate of Peggy Angus. All rights reserved, DACS 2021.

Margaret MacGregor Angus was a teacher, painter and pattern designer. Peggy was born in Chile, the eleventh of thirteen children of a Scottish railway engineer in 1904.  She moved back to London as a child, entered the Royal College of Art aged 17 and later won several painting and teaching scholarships, the first to Paris. With the tragic loss of her brothers and father in the First World War it became apparent she would need her art to provide a financial future for herself. As a trainee art teacher she quickly transferred to the Design School at RCA, where she was taught by Paul Nash, who is said to have found her stubborn.

Despite being somewhat intimidating, she was a great source of inspiration to her students and firmly believed we all have a duty to explore our creative side. On her first trip in 1932 to Russia she was impressed by the country’s attitudes towards women and the view of the artist as a potential for good in the world. She became one of the founding members of Artists International, an organisation born out of the social and political conflicts of the 1930s.

Starting out as a figurative painter, capturing scenes of everyday life, like The Birthday Feast, it was not until the post-war increase in building new public architecture that there was more wide spread interest in Peggy’s work in industrial designs, tiles and wallpaper. Much of Peggy’s work in public spaces has not survived, but the talented and prolific artist made a lasting impact on the world of design with both her work and exuberant character. Her bold and eye-catching designs are still available commercially today, but perhaps her greatest legacy can be judged by the number of artists and craft workers who today follow in her wake and came to their art through her inspiration.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marie

Nigella Bittleston

1711 - The Cat in Whittington Gardens, London Nigella Bittleston (1921–2006) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© the artist's estate.

Painted by Suffolk born artist Nigella Bittleston, this charming painting reminds us of London’s most famous Lord Mayor, Sir Richard (Dick) Whittington. As a young woman, artist Faith Nigella Bittleston attended the Ipswich School of Art, but when war broke out she enlisted and was sent to work at Bletchley Park, where her name appears on the Code Breakers Roll of Honour.  

By 1965, Nigella was teaching and exhibiting artwork in London and it was at this point that the Guildhall Art Gallery acquired the Cat in Whittington Gardens, winner of a Lord Mayor’s Award. Today, the City of London continues to celebrate the work of its female artists, ensuring that their paintings will be enjoyed and preserved for many years to come.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Laura

Kate Hayllar

1662 - Sunflowers and hollyhocks, Kate Hayllar (fl.1883-1900) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Like something we’d see today in a Homes and Gardens magazine, this still life of flowers and decorative ornaments typified most of Kate Hayllar’s brief portfolio.

Born in 1864, Kate’s father was a well-known painter and he trained her and her three sisters at their large house on the banks of the River Thames.  Kate exhibited many of her works at London galleries and at the Royal Academy, and her first painting was bought by the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra).  The subjects of her paintings were aimed at the home market to bring in an income. These were domestic items fashionable in the late 19th century, particularly with an oriental theme, which she painstakingly drew, sometimes over months and using a magnifying glass to capture detail.

Kate exhibited her work for thirteen years before leaving home and taking up nursing in 1900.  This may have been to assert her independence and she may have been inspired by her famous pacifist cousin, Edith Cavell. Kate never painted again, other than small pieces of and for her family.  She never married but lived until the ripe old age of 95.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Anne

Constance Violet MacKenzie

1642 - The Children’s Beach at the Tower, C V Mackenzie (1896 – 1975) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© The Copyright Holder

This delicately detailed study in watercolour and crayon, shows children and families playing on Tower Beach that was specially created on the foreshore of the Tower of London. Hugely successful with 500,000 visitors between 1934 and 1939, it reopened in the 1950s and closed in 1971. The little boy in the foreground is shown making sandcastles while others paddle in the river and picnic. Crowds can be seen coming down the steps to join the beach to find their spot on the sand. The view is looking westwards towards London Bridge. The artist captures the excitement and pleasures of a beach in the warm sunshine.

Constance was a British artist, who worked in oil, pen, crayon and pencil. She was a Member of the Society of Women Artists and exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibitions of 1924, 1953, 1962 and 1966. Also known are her colourful early illustrative domestic paintings of children and later subjects exhibited at the RA included “A Sunny Afternoon” “Hop- Pickers near Penshurst, Kent”, and “Study in Kent Hop Field”.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marian


Phyllis Nunn

1714 - The Pool of London, Phyllis Nunn, Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London ©The Copyright Holder

Formerly a Civil Servant, Phyl Nunn quit her job in the 1960s to apply herself wholly to painting. Her output could be prolific, producing 17 works over a period of 6 months for an exhibition at the Canaletto Gallery, a converted barge moored on the Grand Union Canal.

A journalist from Marylebone Mercury wrote at the time;

“The most striking feature of the exhibition is the complete lack of pretension and refreshing variety of subjects. Phyl Nunn deals ambitiously but modestly with the colours, shows imagination and respect for her medium. She has the courage to experiment, the imagination to improvise and a quick eye which embraces detail.”

Almost entirely self-taught she later became a member of the group known as the Chelsea Artists. In 1968 she exhibited at the 29th annual exhibition of the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at the Federation Galleries,Westminster. The Hesketh Hubbard Art Society, of which Phyl was treasurer in the late 1960s, is the largest life drawing society in London and has been holding weekly life drawing classes since its foundation in 1930.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marie

Effie Spring-Smith

3552 - A Fleet Street Warden, Effie Spring-Smith (1907–1974) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© the copyright holder

This portrait of a WW2 Warden who covered Fleet Street, London,was painted by Effie Spring-Smith in 1945, when the war was coming to an end. He is looking up from writing his report – what was he thinking or hoping for,having survived a cruel war? He must have witnessed many dreadful sights, which is reflected in his sad and sombre look.

Effie Spring-Smith was part of the Suffolk School of artists of the 20th Century, an area of the county that has a large artistic heritage. She trained under Professor Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Art specialising in painting figures, portraits and flowers in oils as well as watercolour. She exhibited at many prestigious galleries including The Royal Academy in 1936 and 1940.

In 1939 she married the artist Herbert Cutner (1881 – 1969) and her later paintings were signed Effie Cutner. This particular painting was purchased by the City from John Denham Gallery in 1985. An exhibition at Wolsey Art Gallery in 2014 called “Obscure Secure” displayed the works of female artists including Effie Spring-Smith, some for the first time.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Jan

Renée Théobald

1937 - London Bridge in Arizona Renée Théobald (1926 - 2014) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© the artist's estate.

Yes, this is the 1832 London Bridge, all the exterior granite blocks of which were bought in 1968 and transported to the US where the bridge was re-constructed at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Renée Théobald’s painting shows the Bridge from a high aspect, making a distinctive diagonal across the painting, with celebratory flags flying along it. Beyond the Bridge are the outlines of the Arizona mountains, the horizon painted high up the picture giving a sense of distance and vast space. In the foreground are shapes of buildings with splashes of green along the shoreline indicating some trees and perhaps lawns. The paint has been applied in quick strokes and there is a light tone to the colours, which gives the viewer a sense of Arizona’s hot arid climate.

An internationally acclaimed French artist with a figurative, post-impressionist style, Théobald’s work included portraits,landscapes, flower paintings using oil, gouache, acrylic plus lithographs. She was a colorist; her strokes of the palette knife are bold and clean, revealing pure crisp colour and a richness of light. Inspiration for subjects came from her travels in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and the US. At the beginning of her career she never signed her first name on her work in order to avoid being considered a ‘female painter’ and to escape the prejudices of the time. She continued to only sign her surname throughout her career.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marian


Margaret Thomas (1916-2016)

4104 - Christmas Table, Margaret Thomas (1916–2016) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© the artist's estate. 

Born in London and educated at the Sidcup School of Art, Margaret Thomas won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art and studied at the Royal Academy Schools. Early influences included Ethel Walker, with whom she later exhibited, Georges Braque and Philip Watson Steer. When the Royal Academy Schools closed during WW2, Thomas moved to the Wiltshire countryside where worked on a dairy farm, then in an apiary. Immersed in nature, the experience proved to be a source of early inspiration.

In 1943 she exhibited her first painting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition; this was the start of what was to be a run of 46 consecutive years. After the war she built up a career with portrait commissions and solo exhibitions. She gained membership of the Royal Society of British Artists and the New English Art Club, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She was a staunch devotee of the Women’s International Art Club.

Described as a lyrical painter, her works generally depict the everyday, like flowers in interiors, and occasionally landscapes. One pundit noted “There is a down to earth quality to her work, returning often to the motif of a dying flower.” She herself once said;

"Fading, dried and left to themselves, flowers begin to die from the beginning. When picked they must be left alone to fulfil their destinies, to orientate to the light, to sort out their relative strengths, to stabilise and to mature.”

Who would have thought a faded or drooping plant can have its own sad charm and it is here where she finds unexpected beauty.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Marie

Lorna Wigney

Sir William Geoffrey Fiske (1905–1975), Leader of the Greater London Council, Lorna Wigney (1916–2003) Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London© the copyright holder.

Backstories to portraits of political figures can be inspiring and enlightening; as is the one behind this portrait. Painted by Lorna Wigney (1916-2003), this predominantly blue portrait shows Sir William Fiske, seated at his desk, his tie lending a splash of red. As Leader of the Greater London Council, Lord Fiske chaired a committee from 1967, to oversee the introduction of decimalisation. His ambitious public campaign leading up to the 1971 decimalisation switch, ensured every business and consumer would be ready.

Lorna Wigney was also politically active, as well as being a successful businesswoman, and of course an accomplished artist, exhibiting works at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. This artwork represents a significant commission of an influential figure in our country’s history that was hung in the member’s hall of the Greater London Council.

- Artwork selection and text by Gallery volunteer Lucy