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)
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.