Best art exhibitions in London 2019: the galleries showcasing inspiring artwork by female artists

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi

At a loose end this weekend in London? Why not head to one of these brilliant and inspiring exhibitions in the capital, and feast your eyes on artwork by and about remarkable women.

London’s galleries and museums are full of world-famous work, but women have long been underrepresented in the art world.

Why? For starters, there’s the fact that women were generally excluded from art academies and highly-prized apprenticeships – where men were trained in arts such as painting and sculpture – until the 20th century. 

The art skills that were deemed appropriate for women, such as weaving and embroidery, were dismissed as feminine and unsophisticated. And when women defied convention to enter the male-dominated world of fine art, they were often later erased from history – women like 19th century African-American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, or Suor Plautilla Nelli, the first-known female Renaissance painter. 

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Gender bias remains a major problem in the modern art world. In 2017, female artists accounted for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection and 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’s, and less than a quarter (22%) of solo shows presented by London’s major commercial galleries were by women artists. According to a report by the Freedlands Foundation, a charity that supports UK artists, art education and cultural institutions, “women continue to be excluded from the mainstream commercial art market despite their best efforts to participate”.

These grim statistics make it all the more important to search out and support exhibitions featuring work by female artists, past and present.

Below, we’ve rounded up upcoming exhibitions at galleries and museums in London which focus on the work of women artists - from Bridget Riley and Mary Quant to Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman.

We’ll keep adding to this guide throughout 2019, so make sure to save it to your bookmarks. 

  • ‘A Letter in Mind – Making Light Work’ at Oxo Gallery

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: ‘A Letter in Mind - Making Light Work’ at Oxo Gallery

    The National Brain Appeal’s ‘A Letter in Mind – Making Light Work’ exhibition gives people the chance to buy original artworks by Tracey Emin CBE and current Tate Modern exhibitor Olafur Eliasson for a tempting £85, with all proceeds going to help people with neurological conditions.

    There is one catch, though. The artwork on display won’t be named, so those buying a piece will only find out who the creator is after the sale has gone through. 

    350 artists have taken part, each one responding to a simple envelope as a stimulus, responding to the theme ‘Making Light Work’. 

    Where: The gallery@oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH.

    When: 26 to 29 September, open daily, 11am to 6pm.

    How much: Free.

  • Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at National Portrait gallery

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery

    Luminescent women with long, lustrous hair and just-bitten lips stare hauntingly from the canvases of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. These women were artists, immigrants, studio assistants, wives and more who helped sustain and shape the movement. 

    They have their own stories that spill out of the canvases and, 160 years after the first pictures went on show, they are being told in Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery. Spellbinding. 

    Where: National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin’s Pl, Charing Cross, London WC2H 0HE.

    When: 17 October to 26 January. 

    How much:  £18-20.

    Image credit: Fanny Cornforth is the model for The Blue Bower by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1865, The Henry Barber Trust, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham.

  • Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous at Fashion and Textile Museum

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous at Fashion and Textiles Museum

    Dame Zandra ‘pink hair don’t care’ Rhodes rose to notoriety in the 60s with her eponymous label, dressing everyone from Freddie Mercury to Princess Diana in her romantic, cascading and patterned pieces. 

    This year, she’ll celebrate 50 years in fashion with a retrospective at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous, showcasing 100 key looks and 50 original textiles. It’s sure to be bright, bold and beautiful. 

    Where: Fashion and Textile Museum, 81 Bermondsey St, Bermondsey, London SE1 3XF.

    When: 27 September to 26 January 2020.

    How much: £9.90

    Image credit: Dame Zandra Rhodes. Photograph by Simon Emmett.

  • The Most Powerful Woman in the Universe at Gallery 46

    British artist, painter and feminist Kelly-Anne Davitt has teamed up with Whitechapel’s Gallery 46 to curate an empowering, punk, pop show to celebrate contemporary female artists.

    The exhibition will feature work from the likes of Nina Mae Fowler, Sara Pope, Salena Godden, Bex Massey, Clancy Gebler Davies, Hanne J Kemfor, Kelly-Anne Davitt and Nancy Fouts, who sadly passed away before the exhibition came together. 

    Speaking about the launch, Davitt tells Stylist, “The theme of the show is a sentiment I hope people can ultimately apply to themselves as well as being an excellent platform for artists to make work. We’ll also be auctioning art of action figure She-Ra to raise money for the Malala fund, which is another exciting aspect of the show.”

    Where: Gallery 46, 46 Ashfield St, Whitechapel, London, E1 2AJ.

    When: 6 to 28 September 2019, Tuesday to Saturday, 1-6pm

    How much: Free 

  • Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern

    Dorothea Tanning’s extraordinary career spanned seven decades and mediums including painting, print, sculpture and writing. This Tate Modern exhibition is the first large-scale exhibition of her work for 25 years, featuring 100 of her works. Tanning’s early work was influenced by surrealism, and after her marriage to fellow artist Max Ernst she began to explore desire and sexuality through her art. In the Fifties her paintings became more abstract; the following decade, she started making sculptures from fabric. Among the highlights on display at the Tate Modern will be a room-sized installation which features bodies growing out of the walls of an imaginary hotel room.

    Where: Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

    When: 27 February to 9 June 2019

    How much: Free for members; from £11 for non-members

    Image: Dorothea Tanning’s Endgame (1944), from the collection of Harold and Gertrud Parker, courtesy Gertrud V. Parker © DACS, 2018.

  • Mary Quant at the V&A

    British fashion designer Mary Quant is often credited with bringing miniskirts and hotpants into the mainstream in Sixties London. The V&A’s upcoming Mary Quant exhibition will feature 200 of the designer’s garments and accessories, including shoes, dresses and unseen pieces from her personal archive – as well as photographs chronicling her journey from suburban schoolgirl to Swinging Sixties icon. A must for fans of Sixties fashion fans.

    Where: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

    When: 6 April 2019 to 16 February 2020

    How much: From £12

  • Sixty Years at Tate Britain

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Bridget Riley at The Tate
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Bridget Riley at The Tate

    In recent years, several galleries and museums have announced plans to make their collections and exhibitions more inclusive. As part of Tate Britain’s effort, it is mounting Sixty Years, a display dedicated to women artists working in Britain between 1960 and the present day. Featured artists will include Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas, Bridget Riley and Mary Martin, with a collection of film, multimedia, photography, sculpture, painting and more.

    Where: Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

    When: 22 April 2019 until April 2020

    How much: Free

    Image: Bridget Riley’s Achæan (1981) will be among the works on display as part of Sixty Years. © Bridget Riley

  • Rabbrexit Means Rabbrexit at the House of Illustration

    YiMiao Shih’s woven display at the House of Illustration is based on a parallel universe in which the UK has voted not for Brexit but ‘Rabbrexit’: the expulsion of rabbits from the country. It’s been described as satirical genius, and has even been picked up for display at the 250th Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. 

    The creation has been made during her time as Illustrator in Residence, a role designed to support artists to create new work that challenges the notion of what illustration can be. 

    Where: House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London N1C 4BH

    When: 29 March to 14 July 2019

    How much: Standard tickets for £7.50

  • Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Lee Krasner, Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Lee Krasner, Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery

    From Jo Hopper to Elaine de Kooning, history is littered with talented women artists who were overshadowed by their husbands. Among these women is Lee Krasner, an abstract expressionist whose work was eclipsed by her marriage to Jackson Pollock. But at this exhibition – the first major presentation of her work in Europe for more than 50 years – the focus will be completely on Krasner. On display will be nearly 100 works from self-portraits to collages, including many that haven’t been seen in the UK before.

    Where: Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

    When: 30 May to 1 September 2019

    How much: From £15

  • Manga at The British Museum

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Manga at The British Museum
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Manga at The British Museum

    Forget any preconceptions you have about manga being the preserve of the nerdy – the Japanese comic books and graphic books are most definitely cool. And in 2019, the British Museum is playing host to the largest ever exhibition of manga outside of Japan. Manga will spotlight internationally renowned female artists including Hagio Moto, Takemiya Keiko and Higashimura Akiko. Akiko’s manga series Princess Jellyfish is primarily aimed at women, and explores ideas of gender and identity through the setting of a fictional apartment building where only female tenants are allowed.

    Where: The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

    When: 23 May to 26 August 2019

    How much: From £19.50

    Image: From Higashimura Akiko’s Princess Jellyfish. © Akiko Higashimura/Kodansha Ltd.

  • Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern

    Often described as a forerunner to avant-garde icons including Marina Abramović and Yayoi Kusama, Russian artist Natalia Goncharova had a varied career. As well as experimenting with painting and design, she designed costumes and backdrops for the Ballet Russes, marched through the streets of Moscow wearing futuristic body art in the early 20th century, and worked on religious murals. This exhibition at the Tate Modern will explore Goncharova’s many influences, from Russian folk art to textile design and beyond.

    Where: Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

    When: 6 June to 8 September 2019

    How much: Free for members

    Image: Natalia Goncharova’s Peasants Picking Apples (1911). © The State Tretyakov Gallery

  • Cindy Sherman at National Portrait Gallery

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Cindy Sherman at National Portrait Gallery
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Cindy Sherman at National Portrait Gallery

    Editing one’s own image is second nature to many people in 2018. But long before the ubiquity of Instagram filters and Photoshop, artist Cindy Sherman was manipulating her appearance in her conceptual portraits, playing characters ranging from a clown to an elderly socialite. In this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, the focus will be on how Sherman altered her own form, exploring the tension between façade and reality. It will also include her famous series Untitled Film Stills, in which she posed as a variety of generic female film characters, such as ‘working girl’ and ‘lonely housewife’.

    Where: Wolfson and Lerner Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE

    When: 27 June to 15 September 2019

    How much: Free for members, £18 for non-members

    Image: Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #15 (1978), courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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  • Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery

    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery
    Best art exhibitions London 2019: Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery

    British abstract artist Bridget Riley is having a moment. Not only will she feature in Tate Britain’s Sixty Years display, the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery is also hosting a major retrospective of her work this year. Come to check out Riley’s iconic black and white line paintings from the Sixties and her only three-dimensional work, 1963’s Continuum, as well as three new wall paintings made especially for the Hayward.

    Where: Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

    When: 23 October 2019 to 26 January 2020

    How much: Free for members

  • Zandra Rhodes: Fifty Years of Fabulous at the Fashion and Textiles Museum

    In celebration of fifty years of the Zandra Rhodes’ label, the Fashion and Textile Museum will be displaying 100 key looks, as well as 50 original textiles. This exhibition will explore five decades of the distinguished career of a British design legend, from ‘70s punk to modern day collaborations. 

    Where: Fashion and Textiles Museum, 83 Bermondsey St, Bermondsey, London SE1 3XF

    When: 27 September 2019 to 26 January 2020

    How much: Standard tickets for £9.50

Images: Lead picture by Cindy Sherman / Provided by venues / Getty Images

Additional words: Megan Murray / Naomi Joseph


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.

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