Thursday, June 08, 2023

Review: 162nd Annual Exhibition of Society of Women Artists (2023)

This week sees the 162nd Annual Exhibition of the The Society of Women Artists' at the Mall Galleries. I highly recommend you get along to the Mall Galleries if you can before it closes 5pm on Saturday 10th June.

This post covers:
  • how to see the exhibition
  • what I liked about this exhibition - and what niggles I had 
  • the Prize and Award Winners
  • an archive of my past reviews of previous SWA exhibitions
West Gallery - the end wall and what you can't see from the entrance!

It's an international exhibition with artwork being produced by women artists from the UK and abroad. 

I was a little apprehensive going see it yesterday. However my concerns about how well I was (recovering from bad laryngitis + experiencing bad hay fever!) went out the window as soon as I arrived and my eyes were assaulted by a visual feast. There's nothing like a good art exhibition to make you feel better!

This was once I'd got past the guard on the door. Lots of visitors to the exhibition and events meant the doorman had to count people in only after people left the previous evening. When I walked in I could see why - the place was buzzing with activity and people viewing the art

What I like about the SWA Exhibition

East Gallery at the end of the day - when you scan the gallery

These are some of the things that the SWA do really well in my opinion.

The SWA create a VERY diverse and eclectic exhibition with a wide variety of media, subject matter, individual styles and LOTS of innovative artwork
  • It's a bit like the RBA Exhibition - but on steroids. 
  • It generated a "wow" from me from the top of the stairs! It's an exhibition you will not forget visiting!
  • those who are interested can review my photos on Facebook (see links above) and those on the SWA's Facebook Page
West Gallery from the stairs

This is a Society which is not afraid of colour and the exhibition is always bright, colourful and energising.  I suspect this probably means dull and worthy artwork gets excluded at the selection stage.

some of the colourful artwork in the West Gallery

Colourful artwork in the East Gallery mixed with perspective on being female

This is a Society which ALWAYS has a ratio of 50:50 for member artworks and those selected from the Open Entry. 
This to me is the mark of an art society which takes it role in starting artists' careers seriously.

The artwork by members and non-members is mixed right across all three galleries. There's none of the nonsense of members insisting they must be in the West Gallery and all the open can go in the North! Hence there's a more unified sense with themes being used in part and a better balance across the exhibition. It feels like a more emancipated exhibition!

a view of part of the North Gallery - with portraits and figurative art

They get a HUGE number entries from a wide range of artists and a lot of good artwork is not hung. 
  • This is unsurprising given the 50:50 ratio of members to non-members in terms of number of artworks in the exhibition. 
  • Interestingly many of the artists are ones whom I never see on the walls of other art society exhibitions in these galleries - and I wonder why. 
  • What's very interesting is they attract a lot of young and new artists who see this exhibition as a platform for generating interest in their work and getting their careers off the ground. 
  • Which maybe explains the high level of diversity of subject matter and innovation in making art....
The exhibition gets a LOT of visitors - and this is not an FBA Exhibition so generating visitors is all down to SWA marketing! Some other art societies might want to check out what they do that works so well! 

The exhibition has a lot of events and the SWA really pack a lot in to the few days the exhibition is on at the Mall Galleries. They support charities (Breast Cancer Now - and donate a percentage of sales - and the SWA's Young People's Art Initiative) and have a Private View and deliver demonstrations for interested visitors

artwork by school students and young people

There is an impressive range of portraits and figurative art in the exhibition. 

Bigger portraits

smaller portraits and 3D artwork / sculpture

The choice and hang of the fine art prints was excellent. I was very impressed on both counts. You can see this close up in my photos....

The Print Wall

The Monochrome Wall

The monochrome corner - at the end of the West Gallery was excellent

The ceramics and sculpture are amazingly diverse both in terms of media used and the nature of the artwork. One of the artists will not be taking any work home. Liz Watts SWA has sold all four of her 3D artworks for a total value of just short of £10,000.

Stands with 3D artwork from end to end of the West Gallery

The exhibition always has a strong theme around artwork about women - and not just artwork by women

(Top) Menopausal self portrait by Lucy Gable - which I loved!
(Bottom) A Day Out by Alex Cooper

The big difference between this exhibition and the FBA Exhibitions is I do NOT walk in and see the "same old same old" subject matter and styles by members at every exhibition - which frankly can sometimes make parts of some exhibitions look really quite tired. 

Which is not to say I don't recognise artists. It's more that they make a genuine effort to bring fresh new art to every exhibition.

Maybe women are just more interested in making new art? Discuss....

What I liked less about the exhibition

I'd like to congratulate the SWA for taking on board some of my previous niggles and addressing them

However, there are always some niggles. Here's mine for this year!

I think there's too much work at 488 artworks. An Exhibition of about 400-450 pieces would be mean it was less crowded on the walls and would allow for a bit of a prune of pieces which I think could have been pruned. It's not that they were bad so much as just not quite good enough. It may well be that this has happened in part because of the digital only selection. 

I had a long chat with the President. I gather this is the first exhibition which they have done from digital images only.  They had the usual experience. Some of the artwork when it arrived somewhat disappointed - while others were much more impressive than they had realised.

Recommendation I'd aim to cut by at least 10% next year and/or be prepared not to hang any artworks which disappoint compared to their digital image. If you say so on the application, nobody can complain - and it also means you'll get better  and more accurate images!

I wasn't a fan of the freestanding blocks being so close to the cafe - mainly because the number of tables and chairs have been reduced - and for a busy exhibition with lots of visitors that's a major issue. I also think they might have been better arranged to aid navigation of the exhibition. Being in the middle of the West Gallery also hampers views of the exhibition from the mezzanine and from the entrance. 

Impossible to see beyond the ends of the blocks except for a sliver either side

Recommendation: Leave the blocks attached to the side walls as normally happens in the other exhibitions. This also allows themes to be developed within these bays.

Prizes and Awards

Cash Prizes and Awards

Below are the names of all the artworks and artists which won a prize or award

  • The Tom Urwin Special Fine Art Award £2,000 Harriet Warren for “Sphere”   
  • Karin Walker Young Artist Award (£500) Terosita Jimenez for “untitled self portrait”
Untitled self portrait (screenprint) by Terosita Jimenez

  • Karin Walker Young Artist Award (£500) Dide YAA for “Portrait of a Dress”   
  • Helen Sinclair Sculpture Award (£500) Jaana Fowler for “Tilting Hoop” (ceramic and copper)
  • Dave Clay Award (£200 for body of work) - Karen Stamper (see below)

Society of Women Artists Awards

  • Princess Michael of Kent Award (signed certificate) Abby Ross for “Mousetrap”
  • President and Vice Presidents’ Award (signed certificate) - Alexandra Warren for “Ancestors” (Pictured below)

Sponsors: Art Materials Companies / Galleries & Publishers


  • Derwent Special Fine Art Award - Established Artist (£500 art materials) - Soraya French for “Homeward Journey”    
  • Derwent Special Fine Art Award - Young Artist (£500 art materials) Issy Gibbs for “Will”
  • The Cass Art Award (£250 vouchers for art materials) Sally Ward for “Boy with Dressing Gown”   
"Boy with Dressing Gown”  by Sally Ward
The Rosemary and Co Award (Brushes value £100) Emma Perring  for "January in Analog"  
Emma Perring with Princess Michael of Kent
and her painting "January in Analog" (top)

Wells Fine Art Award (Personalised leather bound sketchbook) - Fiona Michie for "Seeds" 


Catto Exhibition Prize (£500 plus 5 works in mixed exhibition) - Belinda Eaton for “Twins with Chrysanthemum”   
“Twins with Chrysanthemum” by Belinda Eaton
(oil on canvas)


The Artist Editor’s Choice Award - Feature in The Artist Anne McCormack PVP SWA RI for “Warm Glow” 

The Circles of Art Award (for an artist under 25 years old) - £1,000 plus a feature as ‘Artist of the Month’ in the Circles of Art Magazine - Ruby Hagan for “The Crowd of Abi”  

More about the SWA and past 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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