Votes for Women – The Unknown Artists

Shell Postcard, Votes for Women, Suffragettes (1908). Caption reads 'Every lady votes Shell - motor spirit unequalled' and shows a suffragette holding up a can of Shell Motor Spirit, whilst women in the crowd raise their hands. Artist not given.
Shell Postcard, Votes for Women, 1908

To mark the centenary in 2018 of ‘Votes for Women’ the Shell Heritage Art Collection will be highlighting female artists from our collection who have played strong, leading roles in their professions of commercial and fine art. These women helped to create change within their industry and society as a whole.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 allowed some of the women of Great Britain and Ireland to vote for the first time. The act meant that women over the age of 30 could vote, but only if they were either a member, or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency. The 1928 Act widened suffrage by giving women electoral equality with men. It gave the vote to all women over 21 years old, regardless of property ownership. The call for the vote for women was led by a group of strong, inspiring women known as the Suffragettes.

The unknown artists – Angela Barlow, Elizabeth Holman, Bridget Workman

Many artists remain relatively unknown during their lifetime, or afterwards. Of course there are some artists who are now internationally famous but did not sell much work whilst alive, recognised only after their death eg Van Gogh, Vermeer.  But the trend of low recognition is even more common for female artists as their work was rarely exhibited in the past.

In Janson’s ‘Basic History of Western Art’ just eight percent of the three hundred artists listed are female. And unfortunately even today the public can list many artists names, but struggle to name five female artists. The trend of proportionally not exhibiting female artists continues with only thirty percent of the world famous Turner Prize nominees being women.

Transport Poster titled: Hillman Wizard Recommend Triple Shell, E Holman, 1931
Hillman Wizard Recommend Triple Shell, E Holman, 1931

When we started researching the female artists in our collection through our traditional sources we struggled to find anything on the three female artists we have listed at the top of this blog. So we are throwing our search wider – do you know anything about them?

This is what we know of these artists, and it isn’t much!
Elizabeth Holman produced two posters for Shell; Poster 279, Snowflake for lamps and stoves in 1930 and poster 300, Hillman Wizard in 1931.

Shell poster titled: T.V.O. For Maximum Drawbar Pull, Bridget Workman, 1937
T.V.O. For Maximum Drawbar Pull, Bridget Workman, 1937

Bridget Workman produced Poster number 494, TVO for Maximum Drawbar Pull, for the Shell Mex BP brand in 1937.

Angela Barlow – produced poster number 1525A, Wrens in 1952 and a Valentine card design also in 1952.



Shell poster called Wrens, Angela Barlow, 1952
Wrens, Angela Barlow, 1952

These artists may have worked in the Shell Studio as commercial artists or they may have been independent artists paid on commission. Please do get in contact if you have a link to these three women, we would love to hear from you.


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