100 Years of Voting: The Art of the Suffragettes

100 Years of Voting: The Art of the Suffragettes

It is a century since women in the UK won the right to vote. A fraught and relentless campaign from the fearless suffragettes brought a sea-change to British politics and to celebrate, here at PopUp Painting HQ, we are looking at the art that helped in the fight for democratic parity.

Much of the art created by the Suffragettes took the form of posters, banners and badges. Although used as political propaganda these pieces were also artworks in their own right; juxtaposing domestic sensibility with radical ideas.

The artists were media savvy and took design inspiration from the tabloids by using eye catching headlines, large cartoons and photographs. Print production played a large roll in getting images and words out to a wide audience, the posters addressed women from both working class and upper class backgrounds. The suffragettes wanted all women to fight for a say on the matters and regulations that affected their lives, men would no longer have sole power to vote on what they believed would be best for women.

One of the protagonists in the production of these artworks was activist and artist Sylvia Pankhurst.

Pankhurst trained at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art and was a key figure in the work of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In 1907 Sylvia spent several months touring industrial communities documenting the working and living conditions of women workers. Working predominantly with gouache paints, which she found ideal for working quickly under factory conditions, her studies of women at work were unusual for the time in their unsentimental observation and their focus on individual workers. Her combination of artworks with written accounts provided a vivid picture of the lives of women workers and made a powerful argument for improvement in working conditions and pay equality with men.

Pankhurst designed badges, banners and flyers for the WSPU, several key images from which became emblems for the campaign. All of these were executed in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green, introduced by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence in 1908 and symbolising dignity, purity and hope. The most widely used of Pankhurst’s designs was the ‘angel of freedom’ blowing a trumpet.

Others included a woman breaking free from prison gates, stepping over broken chains and carrying a ‘votes for women’ streamer, and a woman sowing the seeds of emancipation.These vivid depictions of the oppression faced by women helped bring momentum to the Suffragette campaign and gave women symbols of hope that things were changing. They are also wonderful pieces of design and can be appreciated for their artistic value. Below is a selection of our favourite works created by the Suffragette artists, we will also be sharing more works on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts so keep your eyes peeled for that!


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