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