THE challenges faced by female artists working in the early 20th century forms the basis of a new exhibition in the De’Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery.

Featuring works by Suzanne Valadon, Laura Knight, Prunella Clough and Paula Rego, the display also contemplates how representations of women have morphed to the present day.

The concept of the “male gaze” runs through the exhibition – the idea that portrayals of women in art have historically been created and viewed through the eyes of men. Thus, women have been largely characterised within certain stereotypes; the virgin, the mother, the harlot, the Goddess, all of which contribute towards a generalised picture of beauty and sexuality. The aim of this exhibition is to reclaim the female perspective in art.

Early works by artists such as Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) and Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) were created in a period when female artists began to turn to the female body as the primary subject for women’s experience.

Valadon, the daughter of an unmarried domestic worker, grew up in Montmartre and became an artist’s model in the early 1880s after working as a circus performer. She became known in particular for her female nudes which depicted her models as awkward; far removed from contemporary notions of the female form in art. Her critics at the time considered her work to be unfeminine and even ugly.

In contrast, Laurencin’s work was considered exquisitely feminine by contemporary society, but later feminist readings have re-positioned it in the context of her bisexuality and as a means of subverting the patriarchal notion of femininity.

Art historian Elizabeth Kahn has described her as “a young woman in the process of negotiating her way out of conventional femininities”, adding “she seemed to be searching for a unique identity that could resist the historic control of the male viewer”.

In Britain, Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) became a notable female success in the male dominated art establishment. In 1936 she was the first woman elected to the Royal Academy since its foundation in 1768. At the age of 15 she took over her mother’s teaching duties and would later support herself through giving private tuition.

Many of the later works in the exhibition are drawn from Pallant House Gallery’s own archives, including works produced in the late 1980s and 1990s by Jennifer McRae, Lys Hansen and Gwen Hardie.

Who are the artists behind the work?

Cathie Pilkington

Pilkington is a London-based sculptor and artist whose work was most recently seen at the Brighton Festival. A member of the Royal Academy of Art since 2014, Pilkington is known for her often unsettling sculptures that question how the female figure is represented.

Paula Rego

Rego often draws upon the darkness that underpins traditional fairy tales. In her etching The Guardian, Rego has created an image of a bedtime story, subverting it from a comforting trope into something more sinister.

Shani Rhys James

James’ etching The Hand Mirror depicts a small girl holding a hand mirror, surrounded by an oppressive group of mannequins dressed in theatrical costume. She does not attempt to reflect reality in her work but rather explores her own subconscious.

Women Artists: The Female Gaze, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Wednesday to October 15, For more information visit or call 01243 774557