Out and About: Women Artists at Leighton House & William Morris Gallery

Jessica Juckes, ITP Assistant

At the weekend, I visited two London museums that make up part of the ITP summer programme Museum Project Day (formerly Project Weekend): Leighton House in Kensington and the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

The current temporary exhibition at the William Morris Gallery is May Morris: Art and Life, and at Leighton House, Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (organised by the Fries Museum, Netherlands). Both exhibitions are of interest for how they are bringing to light lesser-known female artists who have lived under the shadow of their famous (male) artist relatives.

May Morris, William Morris’ daughter, is given a solo exhibition encompassing four rooms at the gallery housed in her father’s childhood home. May was particularly gifted in art embroidery – moving from following her father’s ‘Morris style’ to developing her own complex and inventive designs – and is one of the most significant figures of the British Arts and Crafts movement.

As the exhibition text explains:
May worked tirelessly to protect and promote her father’s legacy, yet ultimately his popularity led to her own achievements being eclipsed. This exhibition seeks to address this imbalance, re-establishing May as one of this country’s most important designer craftswomen.

Over at Leighton House, although the exhibition appears to be a solo retrospective of the work of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, his paintings are in fact presented alongside a good number of works by his second wife Laura Theresa (Epps) Alma-Tadema and his daughter Anna Alma-Tadema.

The domestic sphere – necessarily central to so many of female artists of the past – is also vital for understanding the studio-produced paintings of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. As such, the exhibition focuses on the studio practice, studio space and home(s) of the Alma-Tadema family. With their former homes since destroyed or in private hands, Lord Leighton’s house seemed the best location to present this exhibition.

As Daniel Robbins, Senior Curator, says:
It is only appropriate that the works of Alma-Tadema, his wife and daughter are regrouped and shown in surroundings that would have been familiar to all the family members. (Art Daily)

A Highlight:
The William Morris Gallery has partnered with embroidery house Hand & Lock to offer a hands-on experience, teaching oneself to embroider using May Morris’ preferred techniques. A great spot on the upper floor to sit and relax in the quiet on a comfy sofa, in the sunshine, and get inspired by May Morris, without the need to participate in any kind of formal or organised workshop.