Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition 2018

The Society of Women Artists' 157th annual exhibition of 448 artworks - paintings and drawings in all media, fine art prints and ceramics, sculpture & 3D works - opened to the public yesterday in all three galleries of the Mall Galleries and continues until 1pm on 30 September 2018.

The end wall of the Main Gallery

This is an international exhibition with artwork being produced by women artists from the UK and abroad.

President Soraya French (fourth from left) with her fellow exhibition curators and organisers and curators
It's always most rewarding to see a national art society improve the quality of its annual exhibition over time - and the exhibition has improved yet again.

To my mind, this annual exhibition can now hold its own with the annual exhibitions of the FBA societies whose home is at the Mall Galleries.

Indeed the SWA was once a member of the FBA - before it withdrew - and I'm wondering whether this re-invigorated art society might find it worthwhile to review whether it makes sense to apply to be a member again. (I've recommended some number-crunching and weighing up of pros and cons! For the history of the society see the end of this blog post)

Below you can:
  • view photos of the 2018 exhibition 
  • read who won which prizes - which are not insignificant - and see the related artwork 
  • read about what I thought of the exhibition

View of the north wall of the Main Gallery

You can also view
The new SWA President Soraya French attributes the improvement of the quality of work on display in no small part to the practice introduced by the previous President Sue Jelley of SELECTING ALL THE ARTWORK ON DISPLAY - including that by members This means that members must raise their game to stand a chance of selection against an increasingly robust open entry. To me this makes for a robust and sustainable art society in the long term as the open entry is the future life blood of an art society and without regular injections of new blood, an art society is at risk of its members becoming complacent - as has been seen elsewhere in the past.
(See also my comments on this topic in my review of the 2016 exhibition.)

Exhibition Metrics

There are 449 artworks in the exhibition. 
The ratio of artwork by members and non-members selected for the exhibition is 50:50
This is admirable and reflects the description of the annual exhibition as being an "open exhibition".

Members artworks

  • Just under 300 works were submitted for selection by members 
  • 225 works (75%) were selected

Open Entry

  • 1656 entries were received via the open entry from non-members
  • 427 artworks by non members works went to the final selection panel
  • 224 artworks were selected for the exhibition.

Prizes and Awards

Princess Michael (left) with President Soraya French
The Prizes and Awards were presented by Princess Michael of Kent. Below each is listed together with the image which won the award and a mini profile of the artist.

£2,000 SWA Special Fine Art Award - Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf VPSWA


The focus of Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf's practice is centred on the human form, with a particular interest in portraiture and female identity.

The Eye of the Storm by Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf VPSWA
(Oil, ink, acrylic and copper on canvas) £3,700

Karen Walker Young Artists Award £1,000 - Eleanor Johnson


Born in 1994, Eleanor Johnson currently lives and works in London. This is her Instagram account where you can see more work.

Woman w/ by Eleanor Johnson YAA
(charcoal and watercolour on stretched canvas) £3,000

Derwent Special Award Of Materials £1000 - Caroline Wong


Caroline Wong has an ongoing project which aims to subvert both historical and contemporary images of East Asian women, most of which have been created by men

Little boy's suit by Caroline Wong YAA
(Oil on canvas) £8,500

President And Vice-President’s Award - Jessica Arevalo YAA


This was a very curious piece which had small pieces of paper which were all dated and annotated and painted with titanium white. I was absorbed in trying to work out what was going on up and down and across the rows.

Resolution: 365 Days (Titanium White-Zero) by Jessica Arevalo YAA
Powder Pigment Mixed Media on Newsprint, Oil Pastel and Permanent Marker on Perspex (£6,000)

£500 SWA Fine Art Award - Irene Lees SWA


Irene Lees was born in Oldham, UK, and currently lives and works in Cornwall. In 2005 she gained a BA Hons in Drawing and Applied Arts at the University of the West of England, and in 2007 became a member of the SWA. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in many private and corporate collections.

I was invited to judge this award and started by making a short list (of some very diverse artworks). However this work was the one which first caught my eye when I entered the exhibition - the one which called my eye from across the room. I'm on record as saying I'm very impressed by the work of Irene Lees. The entire drawing is created from handwritten words in pen and ink - with no mistakes and no gaps between the lines! What decided me was the fact that it was topical and focused on the centenary of votes for women in the UK. It seemed to me entirely fitting that an excellent artwork which highlighted this celebration should receive an award.

Never Have So Many, Owed So Much, To So Few - by Irene Lees
(Handwritten Text Pen on Paper) £1,500

HRH Princess Michael Of Kent Watercolour Award – A Signed Certificate - Bernadette Marbrow SWA


Princess Michael is apparently a big fan of animals.
Bernadette has worked as a commercial artist and also run an art gallery. She's also a big cat lover.

Siblings by Bernadette Marbrow SWA
gouache (£1,500)

Artist’ Editor’s Choice Award For Work To Be Used In An Article In The Magazine - Rosalind Robinson ASWA


Rosalind is currently a candidate for the Royal West of England Academy. She won the Rosemary & Co Artist’s Brushes Award in 2016. I've seen her work before and have always found it very striking.

Group of works by Rosalind Robinson
top - Robin (oil on linen laid on panel) £1,050
left - Guillaume #2 (oil and copper leaf on panel) £650
right - The Player (oil on paper) £650
bottom - Suffrage heroine #3 Annie Kenney (oil on panel) £650

The Barbara Tate Memorial Award - Silver Ingot To An SWA Member Patsy Whiting SWA


Patsy Whiting exhibits widely with art societies and art competitions across the UK. She always works in coloured pencil on a rough black pastel ground.
Clematis and tools by Patsy Whiting
(Coloured Pencil) £1,950

Premium Art Brands Special Award To A Young Artist (£500) - Gail Mason MA BSA


Gail Mason is a printmaker who uses use screenprint techniques to produce large 'one off' images, together with editioned work in a variety of media.

Aljezur by Gail Mason
Mixed media £1,500

Great Art £500 Materials Award - For Most Innovative Work - Christine Taherian SWA


Christine was born in Cardiff in 1960. During the late 70’s she went to Glasgow and attended a Fine Art Course in Glasgow University. She then moved to Tehran with her family and continued studying and practicing painting - before returning in the mid 90s.

Memories by Christine Taherian SWA
mixed media (£2,000)

St. Cuthbert’s Paper Mill Award For Any Works On Paper - Marjorie Collins


Marjorie Collins was born in Chicago and studied in America (BS in Design, University of Michigan) before moving to Oxford in 1975. She has exhibited at the Barbican, Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Watercolour Society and elsewhere, winning a number of international prizes.

Three Plums in a Copper Bowl by Marjorie Collins SWA SBA
Watercolour (£1,450)

£300 Cavendish Venues Sculpture Award - Alison Allum (for body of work)


Alison Allum is a glass sculptor and the award is for two shoes made of glass. Glass slippers even? You can see more of her shoes here.

Twitter Troll by Alison Allum
glass £1,100

Rosemary & Co - £100 Brushes For Any Work On Canvas Or Paper - Zena Assi


Born in Lebanon, in 1974, Zena Assi lives and works between Beirut and London.

The Great Smog by Zena Assi
(mixed media on canvas) £13,600

The Rest of the Exhibition


Below are some of my photos of the exhibition. The hang mixes artwork by members and non-members. Some of the artworks were very striking and colourful.




One of the things that have changed with this exhibition is that there is a good spread of large, medium sized and small works - which makes for a more interesting exhibition in terms of the flow of the eye across the space and the walls.

small works hung on the Mezzanine Wall
- and a very eye-catching colourful work at the entrance to the exhibition

works were also monochromatic

Oddly although this is NOT an art society with an emphasis on media, what I was particularly struck by was the very wide diversity in terms of the media used to produce some of the artwork. In fact it's one of the main features of the exhibition - come and see how many different ways women can make art!

I think I counted
  • paintings in oil paint and pastels, acrylic, egg tempera, watercolour, gouache, inks, copper leaf  - on various supports
  • drawings in pen and ink, graphite, coloured pencils, charcoal and pastels
  • collages
  • fine art prints as etchings, monoprints, acquatints, colographs, wood engravings, linocuts, silk screen, relief prints
  • sculpture in bronze, glass, iron resin, bronze resin, marble resin, ceramics, copper wire, coloured bead wire and glass beads
Plus freehand machine embroidery, handstitching on wallpaper, cut paper and pyrography on paper (by Rosie Winn which was very impressive).

Pyrography on paper - of dancers - by Rosie Winn

That's all without unpicking the works which were listed as "mixed media".

One might say that mixing media is one the things that characterise this society.

It's also a Society which picks artworks with a sense of humour

Making Art is Hard by Poppy Clover
(Free machine embroidery and emulsion on canvas) £ 450

Threadneedle Space

The Threadneedle Space contained some interesting 3D works as well as some bold paintings and delicate drawings.



The North Galleries


The North Galleries offers enough space for works to be arranged in such a way that works van be arranged in way which follow colours.




The SWA also organised a sketchbook of original works which they auctioned at their Young Artist event on Tuesday evening - in collaboration with the Arts Society.

The concertina sketchbook of original works created by the Society of Women Artists

Future Challenges


The Society of Women Artists has accomplished a lot in terms of its exhibition and sponsorship and social media presence online.

I'd now like to see the Society of Women Artists tackle communication online via its website
  • arrange for the catalogue of their annual exhibition to be viewed online - as now happens for most of the FBA societies
  • convert the Exhibition Page on the website into a MARKETING page directed at potential visitors and art collectors after the selection has been made - with administrative pages then being relegated to a back seat.  At present the page is entirely devoted to the call for entries process and administrative aspects only - and there's nothing about what is happening at the Exhibition - with pics - for those who might want to visit!
  • create a page for the Awards - under Exhibitions - and 
    • list ALL current and past winners where possible. It's a way of verifying artists claims to have won an award.
    • make it visible in the Exhibition section. It acts as an incentive to those whose work might fit the awards on offer.
  • make the sponsors page on the website visible in the topline menu - under Exhibition - linking back to their websites and explaining what it is they do in brief

More about SWA Annual Exhibitions


See my blog posts below for more about past exhibitions

About the Society of Women Artists


The Society of Women Artists was founded in 1855 (as the Society of Female Artists). It held its first exhibition in 1857 at The Gallery, 315 Oxford Street, where 358 works were displayed by 149 female artists (Archives Hub). In 1873 the group adopted as its name the Society of Lady Artists, this was subsequently changed to the Society of Women Artists in 1899. It has had a number of famous women artists as members over the years, notably Dame Laura Knight  1877-1970 (the first woman elected to full membership of the RA) - who was President from 1932-1968 when she became its Patron, the French artist Rosa Bonheur 1822-1890 - whose work was more popular in England than France, Lady Elizabeth Butler 1846-1933 - who specialized in painting scenes from British military campaigns and battles, including the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo and whose work was admired by Ruskin and the illustrator Mabel Lucy Atwell 1879-1964.

Princess Michael of Kent became its Patron in 1980 - but the Society has enjoyed royal patronage in previous years eg In 1865 the Society was reorganised under the patronage of the Duchess of Cambridge.

After the Second World War exhibitions were held at the Guildhall (1947), the Royal Institute Galleries (1948 - 1969), the Chenil Galleries (1970) and the Mall Galleries (1971 - 1986). From 1987 exhibitions were held at the Westminster Gallery, Westminster Central Hall, an exhibition space founded by the Society of Women Artists - until it returned to the Mall Galleries.

The Victoria and Albert Museum's Archive of Art and Design has custody of the archives, which give great insight into the fortunes and struggles of the Society and will be preserved for future generations. The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855 to 1996, is a four-volume dictionary of all the exhibitors collated from old catalogues. Only the Royal Academy and the Scottish Royal Academy produce such records.

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