The title of this exhibition is inspired by the American actress/director Amy Lyndon and her response to a question about her gender and her work: "Yes I'm a woman, and I also direct". Her comment emphasised that Lyndon should not be defined either by her work or by her gender, that the two could co-exist without being dependent on each-other and that her career was just one facet of her life.
This is an exhibition featuring only women artists, and when we first raised the idea, people assumed it would be a bold feminist statement. After all, it's exactly a century ago this year that women received the right to vote in the UK, and campaigns such as those addressing the gender pay gap and #metoo currently feature prominently in the public psyche. Earlier this year, Manchester Art Gallery controversially removed a painting by the Victorian artist John Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, to prompt a debate about "how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester's public collection".
But this is not a feminist exhibition - for it to be so, the artists would have to define themselves by their gender and paint subjects with an underlying feminist narrative. The truth of the work in this show is far from this, but unfortunately the playing field for women in art is still not level and so by bringing these important painters together under a provocative title, we are aiming to make people think about the reality of many female artists' lives.
No matter how much we wish it wasn't, it is different for women, and the art world has its own glass ceiling. Of the 100 artists to have achieved the highest sales prices at auction, only 2 are women - and the record price for a female artist, $44.4m for Georgia O'Keefe's Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1, is less than one tenth of the male counterpart. There is no female equivalent (yet) of Lowry, let alone of Michelangelo, Picasso or Warhol.
An understanding of this is tied up with the place and role of women in social and cultural history and a subject far too large for this brief introduction - but the 20th Century American author Marya Mannes has summarised it well: "Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed and unaggressive".
When discussing this exhibition with the artists, Sarah Carvell made a similar observation - "Are women even allowed to have an ego? I always think of the artist Rose Hilton, whose husband Roger told her 'there's only one painter in this house'. He didn't mean her. When it comes to status, female painters still have to fight to be taken seriously".
Like in many walks of life, the status of women is changing in art and it is estimated that 51% of visual artists today are female, but the process is slow. Frances Morris, the Director of the Tate Modern, captured this when she said: "My advice to women in the arts today is that it is a changed world. But it really is still a case of pushing and pushing and making opportunities and never being complacent."
It has been a pleasure to curate this exhibition. Using the work of 10 female artists, the exhibition showcases a huge diversity of themes, styles and techniques but in presenting these artists' work together, it brings to light a shared groundedness that emanates from all of the work.
Women's lives are often complex and multi-faceted, balancing their own needs and desires with those of others. Even for women without children, there can be many time-consuming ties and commitments that occasionally leave them feeling their work is a postscript rather than the main event. Mary Mabbutt explains this perfectly when she says "painting for me is an active celebration of the life into which it is integrated."
By this she means painting is simply part of life, to be fitted in alongside cooking a meal, trying on a pair of shoes, or going for a walk; it does not define her. Yes she is a woman, she also paints.
But in the final analysis, it is the quality of the art and not the artist's gender that counts. We are confident that in this show, we have brought together some outstanding paintings by artists with outstanding reputation and pedigree.
Moira Beaty was one of the "Glasgow Girls", and on her death in 2015 both The Guardian and The Times published extensive obituaries. Sarah Carvell is busy establishing herself as one of the leading painters of Welsh landscape. Helen Clapcott's work is in the permanent collections of The Royal Academy and the UK Government and commands prices putting her in the highest echelons of artists from the North of England. While at the start of her career, Rebecca Eastment builds on the foundations of a first class degree in Fine Art from Oxford and is sure to have an exciting career ahead of her. Olga Geoghegan was one of the first Russian painters to exhibit in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Joyce Gunn Cairns has been awarded the MBE for Services to the Arts and has 9 works in the permanent collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Ghislaine Howard's importance is nationally recognised, and her work is in the Royal Collection, as well as the Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Gallery. Sue Howells in 2008 was recognised by the Fine Art Trade Guild of Great Britain as the best selling published artist in the UK, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2014 and 2015 and in 2018 was elected as a full member of the Royal Watercolour Society. Mary Mabbutt's award winning work has been exhibited widely, including at Flowers, Cork Street and she has work in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Arts Council in London. Alison McWhirter is establishing a worldwide reputation as "The new Scottish Colourist".