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1. Still Life, 1918

Nina Hamnett (1890–1956)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery

This work by Nina Hamnet was included in the exhibition, Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935, curated by Jill Morgan at Rochdale Art Gallery, 12 March – 18 April 1990. Hamnet’s work was of particular interest to Morgan and she discussed Still Life extensively in her article, “Speaking in Tongues”, which was published in the magazine, Feminist Art News in the summer of 1990. An illustration of Hamnet’s painting was reproduced alongside Morgan’s discussion of the work: 

In her ‘Still Life’ … it is possible to analyse the psychologically loaded construction of an apparently simple bringing together of objects. The painting is small, confined, forcing the three main objects out to the edges of the canvas. There they simmer in a tense relationship to each other and to the real world on the edges of their reality. The jug and the vase, symbols of life, wisdom, women’s sexual energy are painted as prescient objects, the careful overlaying of the two opposite colours, blues and whites, the moon and the sun of her palette. The journal sits up on the picture plane, pushing the picture into a formal re-definition of time and space, on the left-hand side, the handle of the jug is half out of [the] canvas, animated and undecided whether it is coming or going, whether it will give up its secret, spill its precious contents.

2. Interior, c.1940

Vanessa Bell (1879–1961)
Gouache on board
Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

This painting by Vanessa Bell was acquired by the Friends of Rochdale Art Gallery in 1982 and later included in the exhibition, Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935, curated by Jill Morgan in 1990. This exhibition explored the commonalities shared by women artists working in the early twentieth-century. Jill suggested that in this period, women artists including Vanessa Bell, Gluck, Nina Hamnet, and Frances Hodgkins used modern painting techniques and styles to not only express, but also assert the changing status of women in society. Central to Speaking in Tongues was a consideration of the ‘Still Life’ genre, and the ways in which women artists utilised everyday objects and scenes to convey a range of (often heightened) emotions.

3. Jug and Two Spoons, 1989

Lubaina Himid (b.1954)
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist

Lubaina Himid joined the staff at Rochdale Art Gallery as a part-time exhibitions assistant in 1988, and continued in her post until 1990. During those years, she and Jill Morgan developed a collaborative working relationship. In her article about women artists in the early twentieth century titled, “Speaking in Tongues”, published in 1990, Morgan acknowledged the importance of conversations with Himid in which they discussed the ways that white women artists were often complicit in colonial oppression while simultaneously battling for their right to express themselves. Between 1988 and 1989, jugs, spoons and everyday objects featured in a number of Himid’s paintings and perhaps reflect her engagement with works by Nina Hamnet and Vanessa Bell that were the focus of Morgan’s research. Jug and Two Spoons was first exhibited in the artist’s solo exhibition, Ballad of the Wing, at Chisenhale Gallery, London, in 1989.

4. Textile Flowers in Glass Cloche, c.1860

5. Chaque Matin On se Leve a un Monde moins Fertile, c.1988

Leslie Hakim-Dowek (b.1960)
Encaustic on wood
Collection of Amanda Sebestyen

During the 1980s Leslie Hakim-Dowek created a series of works that engaged with endangered plant species and considered the ways in which humanity abuses our natural environment. Chaque Matin On se Leve a un Monde moins Fertile is one of a series of shrines or meditation boxes that are concerned with the gradual destruction of our natural environment. Hakim-Dowek was born and brought up in Lebanon, and has stated that her early work was largely determined by the violence of war that she experienced. But by the late 1980s, she was keen to move beyond those specificities to think more broadly about the loss and nature under threat. This work was included in the exhibition, Along the Lines of Resistance, curated by Claire Slattery, Sarah Edge and Sutapa Biswas, and staged at Rochdale Art Gallery in 1989. Manchester Art Gallery staged a large solo exhibition of her work in 1991, and has examples of her work in its collection.

6. Mariopteris plant fossil

Carboniferous period

Dendrite formation on sandstone

Date of origin unknown

Alethopteris plant fossil

Carboniferous period

7. Snowdrops and Violets, c.1903

Eva Francis (1887-1924)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

After the exhibition, Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935 which was staged in 1990, Jill Morgan staged a second exhibition of women painters in 1992. Titled, Look Into the Eyes of Flowers, the exhibition considered the genre of Flower Painting as a trope for women’s creativity, where flowers stood a metaphor for women’s passionate relationships with and within the world. When Eva Francis created this work in 1903, the spring flowers depicted would most likely have been understood as respectable and acceptable subjects for a woman painter, however, it arguably conveys the idea at the heart of Morgan’s proposition: that women artists at the start of the twentieth-century used flowers and natural forms to convey a range of emotions and sensibilities. Although Francis exhibited at The Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, little more is known about her and this is the only example of her painting held in a UK public collection. Poignantly, Morgan observed that “Many of the flower paintings by women dating from 1900-1930 can be found unregarded and hardly ever shown in British and Irish galleries, whilst ironically, the most expensive modern painting in the world is a flower painting, Van Gogh’s Irises”.

8. Twin Linden, 2021

Joy Gregory (b.1959)
Archival digital print on fine art paper from scanned Lumen
Collection of the artist

During the 1980s Joy Gregory studied at Manchester Polytechnic, before attending the Royal College of Art in London. Today she is a celebrated artist, whose work addresses a wide range of themes, including of race, identity, and colonialism. In her recent work she has been exploring the connections and intersections of photography and wider concerns about landscape, the environment and sustainability. While thinking about the ways plants sustain human life, whether through consumption as food, or through their medicinal properties, Gregory started experimenting, capturing plant images on light-sensitive paper; she noted: “The thing that really struck me about working with the paper was that if the plant had any life left in it, it would create an aura around it that was almost like the plant was trying to breathe – it would leave its own invisible breath on the page graphically.”

9. Wild Carrot, 2021

Joy Gregory (b.1959)
Archival digital print on fine art paper from scanned Lumen
Collection of the artist

Joy Gregory is a photographer, and she utilises and experiments with all forms of photography, including nineteenth century cameraless printing processes. Since the 1990s she has been interested in the meanings attached to flowers and plants and more recently has been studying economic botany, and the ways in which plants were transported globally during the colonial era. She has cited scholar Londa L. Schiebing, who states, “In the eighteenth-century, epic scientific voyages were sponsored by European powers to explore the natural riches of the New World, and uncover the botanical secrets of its people. Bio-prespectors brought back medicines, luxuries  and staples for their king and country”. Wild Carrot is from a series, ‘The Volatile Hues of Silver Halides’, and captures the beauty of edible plants, but also encourages us to think in a more detailed way about where our food comes from.

10. Arum and Tulips, c.1937-8

Vanessa Bell (1879-1961)
Oil on Canvas
Collection of Salford Museum and Art Gallery

Arum and Tulips by Vanessa Bell was included in the exhibition, Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935, curated by Jill Morgan at Rochdale Art Gallery, 12 March – 18 April 1990. The exhibition explored the work of women artists active at the start of the Twentieth Century. Morgan undertook considerable amounts of research in order to stage the exhibition, and most of the paintings included in the show were loaned from municipal public galleries in the north of England; this work is held in the collection of Salford Museum and Art Gallery and demonstrates Bell’s use of short overlapping brushstrokes to create shifts in tone and shadow.

11. Titan – Wind, Sea and Stars, 2020

Hannah Maybank (b.1974)
Watercolour and mixed media
Collection of the artist

Originally from Stafford, Hannah Maybank studied at Liverpool John Moores University and then at the Royal College of Art, London. She utilises plants, flowers and trees as vehicles through which she can express experiences of joy, loss, awe and sorrow. Although her depictions of flowers are precise, created after periods of close observation, her aim is not to present accurate drawings. In works such as Titan – Wind, Sea and Stars, she explores natural forms to convey the unsettled, unfixed, and uncertain experiences of life. In 2022, she wrote:

To go for a walk on your own in the woods
To lie down in an overgrown garden
Amble in unkempt countryside or over a piece of scrubland listening to the breeze or the branches. 
Listening, through the humus, to the field and forest floor.
The quiet chitter chatter of life creeping, crawling, communicating underneath you.

As dusk comes to dark and dark to dawn, these in-between states re-connect us with the slow emergence or fade of the stars and moons and the consciousness of our pin prick place amongst it all.

10. Commemorative Ceramic Jug to mark the Bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre, 2019

Alex Sickling
Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

Alex Sickling is an illustrator and ceramicist. She graduated from Leeds College of Art in 2012, and her work explores the relationships between illustration – picture making – and three-dimensional objects. Inspired by Staffordshire pottery, her works are both decorative and functional. This jug was created in 2019 to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre. 

13. Tulsi, the Goddess of King’s Cross, 2022

Raksha Patel (b.1972)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Central St Martins Museum & Study Collection

In 2021, painter Raksha Patel was commissioned to create a new work of art in response to the historic botanical prints held in the collection of Central Saint Martins art college, London. Tulsi, the Goddess of Kinds Cross was painted in early 2022, and presents a tulsi – or Holy Basil plant. In Hinduism, the tulsi plant is a manifestation of Lakshmi, Goddess of fortune, power, fertility and prosperity. In her plant form Lakshmi symbolises virtue and purity. Patel’s painting presents the tulsi plant overlooking the landscape around King’s Cross train station in London. This is an area of intense urban gentrification, but which has a long-standing Bengali community. The painting poses questions about the past and future, place and belonging.

14. The Devil’s Altar, 1932

Gluck (1885-1978)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Brighton and Hove Museums

Gluck (1895-1978) was born Hannah Gluckstein, and throughout her life resisted gender stereotypes and social expectations of women. Today she is regarded as a feminist, lesbian icon, who refused to be classified or limited by her patriarchal society. Between 1932 and 1936 Gluck had a relationship with Constance Spry, a florist, who was later commissioned to arrange the flowers at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. During this period Gluck painted a series of evocative flower still lifes, including The Devil’s Altar. In 1992, Jill Morgan included work by Gluck in the exhibition Look Into the Eyes of Flowers, and her painting, Orchestra (1967) featured on the exhibition’s poster. Morgan explained her interest in flower paintings by women artists stating, “The modernist women imbued the painting of flowers with a redefinition of beauty, with a sense of celebration, with passion and sensuality”. 

15. Pea Flower Scientific Model, c1900

Brendel & Co
Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

16. Floral painted wooden letter rack, c.1880

Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

17. Wings Over Water, 1931-2

Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Leeds Museums and Galleries

Jill Morgan curated two exhibitions at Rochdale Art Gallery that examined the work of early twentieth-century women painters. Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935 (1990) and Looking into the Eyes of Flowers (1992) explored how women artists were using the still life genre as metaphors for wider concerns about their place in the world as women. Frances Hodgkins’ work was of particular interest to Morgan, who discussed it in her article, “Speaking in Tongues”, published in the magazine, Feminist Art News in the summer of 1990; She wrote: 

The representation of interiors is a vital part of women’s iconography within modernism; it is also traditionally devalued in the canon of art history. Vanessa Bell, Gwen John, Nina Hamnet, Leonora Carrington, Gluck, Frances Hodgkins all painted closely related interiors, often contracted around an open window, a view through into a garden beyond, an empty chair, a table with a vase of flowers, an open book. Highly restrained and controlled, these paintings use formal composition; the line of a chair on a wall, the shadow from a window, the placing of a vase or a book, to paint silences, through which colour cuts like a knife…

Paintings such as Wings Over Water may be regarded as subversive for the way that it seemingly conforms to the expectation of women to paint domestic interiors and flowers, but in capturing the expansive landscape through the open window, points to aspirations beyond the confines of the home.

18. Flowers, c.1914

Jessie Etchells (1892-1933)
Oil on canvas
Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

Painter Jessie Etchells (1892-1933) was a friend of artist Vanessa Bell and was associated with the Bloomsbury Group. This painting was included in the exhibition Speaking in Tongues: Women Artists and Modernism, 1900-1935 and displays Etchells’ use of expressionistic brushstrokes, bold colour and flattened perspective that characterised avant-garde painting in Britain in the early years of the twentieth century. When Jill Morgan organised the show in 1990 she explained that it included works “from various public collections in the North including our own in Rochdale” and that in bringing these paintings together she sought “to make connections between women painters themselves, between modernist literature and international art; between the time, the place and the politics of beautiful pictures”.

19. Two floral printed stoneware jugs, c.1870

Collection of Touchstones Rochdale

20. Raga, 1984

Jai Chuhan (b.1955)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist

Raga was included in Jai Chuhan’s solo exhibition, Secret Spaces, at Rochdale Art Gallery in 1986-87. In her statement for the catalogue, Chuhan explained that her work derived “from an experience of nature”. For Chuhan, close observation of the natural world not only fed the imagination but also stimulated memories and new ideas. Depicting plants, flowers and the environment in her work, she sought to convey feelings about “growth, change, movement, rhythm, weight and full or empty spaces”. In her catalogue introduction, Jill Morgan explained that the exhibition was one example of the gallery’s commitment to showing the work of artists from the region; Chuhan lives in Manchester and has taught at Liverpool John Moores University since the 1980s.