Background to Sylvia:

The missing paintings

In 1991, as part of Lynx's continuing research on Sylvia Pankhurst, Jacqueline Mulhallen acquired a copy of The London Magazine from 1908 which had an article in it both written and illustrated by Sylvia. In putting together the show for Lynx Theatre and Poetry, William Alderson had seen and photographed nearly all the original paintings by Sylvia Pankhurst, including most of those in the two main collections of her work at that time, the collections of Richard Pankhurst and Mollie Cook. As a result William and Jacqueline were in a good position to recognise how important this magazine was.

 

To their surprise, they discovered that only one of the seven illustrations was still extant, that of the Leicester boot factory. A different painting appears in Sylvia of another young woman working at the factory. The pictures of the pit-brow lassies had been mentioned by Sylvia in her book The Suffragette Movement, but no-one knew about these in 1989.

 

Most importantly, the painting of a chainmaker was reproduced in colour as the frontispiece of the magazine, and it provides a vivid record of the physical labour of these women and the circumstances in which they worked – the forges were not in a factory, but at the women's homes. From this picture we can get some idea of what the one of a nailmaker would have looked like.

 

Following this discovery, Lynx got a piece in The Times Diary and a spread in the East london Advertiser, while Jacqueline was interviewed on Women's Hour. Unfortunately, no paintings turned up from this coverage, and so Lynx accompanied all subsequent performances of Sylvia with a talk by Jacqueline Mulhallen on the missing paintings.

 

Chainmaker

Chainmaker

A chainmaker at Cradley Heath. This was the magazine's frontispiece.

Boot factory

Boot factory

A co-operative factory in Leicester.

Boot factory worker

Boot factory worker

One of the women working at the co-operative boot factory.

Nailmaker

Nailmaker

A nailmaker at Cradley Heath

Pitbrow lassie

Pitbrow lassie

One of the women pushing the coal tubs around at the top of the pit.

Picking shale

Picking shale

Two women picking shale out of the coal.

Cotton mill

Cotton mill

A woman working in a Glasgow cotton mill.

Jacqueline  later gave the 2009 Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Lecture on this subject, using slides of the magazine and from the show. She also gave versions of this talk at an International Women's Day event for the King's Lynn and District Trades Council, at University of East Anglia, and at Anglia Ruskin University.

 

When Mollie Cook decided to sell most of her collection in 2003, the auctioneers found that they had underestimated the interest in Sylia Pankhurst's art, and they all sold for more than the anticipated amount.

 

In 2013 Hester Reeve and Olivia Plender organised an exhibition of Sylvia's art and design work at the Tate Gallery in London. They included a reproduction of the 1908 London Magazine article.

© 2015, 2017 by Lynx Theatre and Poetry. Site designed by William Alderson.

Lynx Theatre and Poetry is a charity and company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales, number 2595688. Registered Address: Poppyseed Cottage, High Street, Stoke Ferry, Norfolk PE33 9SF.  Charity number: 1071119.

New_Members_Logo_Colour_edited.jpg