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The National Portrait Gallery Displays A Portrait of a Lead Suffragette for the First Time in 80 Years

The National Portrait Gallery Displays A Portrait of a Lead Suffragette for the First Time in 80 Years

A newly acquired portrait of Christabel Pankhurst, a leading Suffragette, has gone on public display for the first time in eighty years, the National Portrait Gallery announced today, Thursday 24 July. The portrait accompanies a new display of photographs and archive material marking 100 years since the campaigners staged their final and most violent protests, including an attack on National Portrait Gallery paintings, just before the outbreak of the First World War.

The striking, full-length portrait of Christabel Pankhurst by Ethel Wright shows the sitter in a flowing green dress and boldly wearing a sash with the distinctive coloured stripes adopted by many Suffragettes - purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. Depicted in a theatrical pose, and illuminated against a dark background, Pankhurst is portrayed as though she could be marching or speaking passionately on a stage. The artist, Ethel Wright, was a society painter who supported the suffrage cause.

The portrait was first displayed at the radical Women's Exhibition which was staged in Kensington, London, in 1909. Organised by the Suffragettes, and cleverly promoted as a traditional village fete and a showcase of women's skills and potential, the real motivation behind the exhibition was to raise funds for the militant group and to raise awareness of their cause. Since then it has only been seen at two small exhibitions in the early 1930s, organised by suffrage societies. The portrait was purchased by prominent Suffragette Una Dugdale Duval in 1909, and has remained with the family until this bequest.

Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, was a primary strategist in the Women's Social and Political Union, the suffrage organisation founded by her mother to galvanise the campaign for women's right to vote in the early twentieth century. Despite petitions to parliament demanding women's enfranchisement, by the first decades of the twentieth century, women still had virtually no influence in the making of policies that would affect their lives. Christabel Pankhurst trained as a lawyer at Manchester University and gained a first-class law degree but, as a woman, was unable to practise as a barrister. Pankhurst used her legal knowledge in speeches and pamphlets to highlight the inequality faced by women and, as an inspirational speaker and astute strategist, she became a figurehead for the militant suffrage movement.


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