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The aim of International Women’s Day 2015 on Sunday 8th March is to encourage effective action for advancing and recognising women.  This year’s theme is Make it Happen, which echoes the spirit of the militant suffragette’s motto of a hundred-years’ earlier, ‘Deeds not Words’; a call-to-action for disenfranchised British women.   Two portraits of leading militant suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst by Georgina Brackenbury and her daughter Dame Christabel Pankhurst, painted by Ethel Wright, are currently on display in the twentieth-century galleries.  The portrait of Dame Christabel was bequeathed in 2011 by the daughter of the prominent suffragette Una Dugdale Duval who had acquired the portrait soon after it was completed in 1908.  It shows Christabel in the throes of oratory; wearing the purple, green and white sash of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. 

The Pankhursts and their achievements are well-known today, but what of the far less well-known painter Ethel Wright, who made this unique image?  Contemporary art periodicals reveal that Wright enjoyed modest success as a fashionable ‘lady artist’ in the 1880s and 90s, regularly exhibiting at the Royal Academy , and known for her paintings of pierrots.  Her portrait was included in ‘The Year’s Art’ in 1896, as part of a feature on ‘the more celebrated Lady Artists of the present time.’  In exhibition, Wright’s work was more often presented or critiqued in the context of ‘women’s work’.  Frustration with the limitations imposed on women’s artistic output and ambition may have led Wright to the suffrage movement.  Her portrait of Christabel was exhibited at a large exhibition organised by Pankhurst’s WSPU in 1909, and embodies the ‘awakened spirit’ of women that was identified in the catalogue for that exhibition. Wright continued her association with the suffrage movement whilst continuing to exhibit annually at the Royal Academy until 1927.

Dame Christabel Pankhurst
by Ethel Wright
exhibited 1909
NPG 6921

Ethel Wright
after Hayman Seleg Mendelssohn
circa 1896
NPG x139620


Got something to say?

steve iceton

18 July 2018, 19:17

I have an oil painted portrait of christobel Pankhurst a label on the back says it was painted in 1918 by a p.m. Talbot could you tell me anything about it? regards steve

Thom Priemon

05 December 2017, 03:59

Rosie excellent material...Thom


07 March 2016, 18:45

I am so happy to see Ethel Wright finally getting recognition. I have four of her paintings, which I would love to share jpegs of them if I could have an email to send them too. I have great pleasure in looking at them every day. My Fathers family were close friends of hers.

Rebecca Arnold

25 August 2015, 16:32

I just saw the portrait of Christabel Pankhurst this morning - so wonderful to see it in the gallery and then to read more about the artist here. It is such an interesting depiction and so important that she be included in the galleries. Thank you.


07 March 2015, 06:54

A fascinating insight into an artist who should be better known and how restricted opportunities were for her to be judged as an equal. Telling that so little is known to even allow the Gallery to precisely date the making of the portrait. In the context of 'Make it 'Happen' and International Women's Day on 8 March it is also worth remembering the great activist Louisa Hubbard - born on 8 March 1836 - who did so much for increasing opportunities for British women in education and employment. Sadly not represented in the Gallery's collection.

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