Alice Instone gets the sort of access to powerful women hacks would kill for.

Claudia Winkleman, Cherie Blair, Annie Lennox, Emma Freud and Nicole Fahri have all taken her sitter’s chair. Booked for January are Charlotte Church and Lauren Laverne.

What’s more, reveals Instone, the ladies share all.

“Everyone talks about their love life. Honestly, I can’t repeat any of it. It’s mind-boggling. I always think it is like I am the hairdresser. It must be what it’s like being a hairdresser.”

Instone is a portrait artist who paints only women (except her husband – and only once he’s donned a wolf’s head).

“I know more about women and I have more to say about women. It is only in the past 30 years women have had this level of freedom. We have been possessions until recently. And of course women make for beautiful paintings.”

As she potters around her studio, making coffee for sitters, putting music on, the women forget they are posing.

“If someone is a natural observer, they are busy watching you and it means they don’t relax. You want someone to relax into who they are because it is all about getting some sense of them in the painting.”

But these are public faces, who manage their appearance. Surely the celebrity muses must want to meddle with Instone’s visions?

“They are amazingly trusting and let me get on with it. The model Laura Bailey, for example, sees her body as being her instrument, is completely lacking in any vanity and just takes off all her clothes and says, ‘What do want me to do? Where do you want me?’ “Others are more self-conscious,” she continues, giggly, warm and open.

“That is something different. I would find it hard to sit for someone and take all my clothes off because it would make me vulnerable, but after a while they forget they have taken their clothes off because we are sitting chatting.”

Instone paints portraits of women who break rules. She wants to question gender and female stereotypes. She feels connected to Pussy Riot and the No More Page 3 campaign.

“I have painted Caitlin Moran, who is part of that whole conversation. I have an article stuck to my studio wall about feminism, how it has changed and what it means to us. We don’t want to be part of judgy feminism.”

Even if she has to sell her work – Moran’s portrait hangs in the Times columnist’s bedroom, apparently – asking famous faces to pose makes people engage with her themes because they react to familiarity.

“Using famous faces for me is a bit like a film director using actors. I feel like I am the film director and the film is about what I want it to be about.”

A new collection by Instone, She Should Have Known Better, opening at Henry James’s former home in Rye, Lamb House, takes inspiration from heroines in his novels.

There are “meditations” on flirtatious Daisy Miller, who was shunned by society and bitten by a mosquito before dying of fever. And fiercely independent Isabel Archer, from The Portrait Of A Lady, who finally gives in to marriage only to find misery.

“I didn’t go to art school,” explains Instone of her literary influence. “I did English at university. I studied Henry James and I knew about his novels and it seemed like such a natural fit. His work is about women who broke the rules. They are all punished in horrible ways.”

The show’s titular painting, based on a Salon scene from Daisy Miller, is not portraiture but the anonymous female muse. It has three naked female figures without heads, an explosion of gold at the top, a bright pink curtain down one side and big, black crosses and drips.

When she painted it in August, at the same time as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly executed his pop star girlfriend by firing squad, she wanted to make “a disturbing image”.

“Her family were made to watch,” believes Instone. “And in Korea you are guilty by association, so the families were then sent to prison camps.

“One of theories is his wife was jealous, so they said they had been distributing pornography but that seems unlikely. He basically wanted to be rid of her. That, in my mind, was because it is like something out of more dramatic version of Henry James.”

Instone has included a series of prints in She Should Have Known Better using all the synonyms for “slag”, which aims to highlight the “many words for women of loose morals” compared to the number of words for men of loose morals.

Figures who reappear in her work include Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari and Madame de Pompadour.

“All my usual feisty characters are women who were given a terrible press during their lifetimes because they weren’t following the convention.

“I parallel that with the way we still punish women today who don’t follow the rules.”

Alice Instone: She should have known better runs at Lamb House, Rye, from Saturday, December 7, to Friday, December 20

Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays 2pm to 5pm, free.

Call 01580 762334