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The RWA has a proud history of gender equality, providing parallel opportunities for women since its inception in 1844. This history is reflected in the RWA’s collections, which includes many leading women artists of the twentieth century, such as Dod Procter RA RWA, Vanessa Bell RWA, Mary Fedden PPRWA, Dame Elisabeth Frink RA RWA and Dame Elizabeth Blackadder RA RSA RWA.


Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Alison Bevan, Director of the RWA, on 22nd September 2021. You can find a recording at https://youtu.be/OdKFl7uyh5A

6 artworks
  • Painted by her artist daughter, this is a portrait of our founder, Ellen Sharples – an amazing woman who made a living as a professional artist on both sides of the Atlantic at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before settling in Bristol and instigating the creation of the Academy.

    Mrs Ellen Sharples
    Rolinda Sharples (1793–1838)
    Oil on canvas
    H 90 x W 72.4 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    Mrs Ellen Sharples
    Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

  • Dod Procter was the second woman ever to be elected as a Royal Academician and was arguably the most famous British artist of the 1920s. This portrait was painted on a trip to Jamaica, where Dod became fascinated with painting local people.

    Ancilla with an Orange
    Dod Procter (1892–1972)
    Oil on canvas
    H 60 x W 51 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    Ancilla with an Orange
    © the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

  • Daughter of the acclaimed Newlyn School painter Norman Garstin, Alethea was described by Patrick Heron as Britain’s greatest Post-Impressionist painter. She was a close friend of Procter and travelled with her to the Caribbean.

    Caribbean Grey Day
    Alethea Garstin (1894–1978)
    Oil on canvas
    H 22 x W 26.5 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    Caribbean Grey Day
    © the copyright holder. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

  • Towards the end of her long life, Procter lived in much-straitened circumstances and, unable to afford model fees or expensive materials, was often reduced to reusing supports to paint studies of hedgerows or garden flowers.

    Flowers on a Chair
    Dod Procter (1892–1972)
    Oil on canvas
    H 31 x W 42.5 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    Flowers on a Chair
    © the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

  • Perhaps the best known of our female RWA Academicians, Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell was a regular exhibitor for many years, alongside fellow Academician Duncan Grant.

    Interior, 8 Fitzroy Street
    Vanessa Bell (1879–1961)
    Oil on canvas
    H 75 x W 62 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    Interior, 8 Fitzroy Street
    © estate of Vanessa Bell. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

  • The RWA elected its first woman President in 1911, seven years before women in Britain got the vote, and more than 25 years before the RA elected its first woman member. Fedden was our third woman President, incumbent from 1984–1989.

    The Inlaid Tray
    Mary Fedden (1915–2012)
    Oil on canvas
    H 58 x W 75 cm
    RWA (Royal West of England Academy)
    The Inlaid Tray
    © the estate of Mary Fedden / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)