In 2016 The National Museum of Women in the Arts asked the question ‘Can you name five women artists?’ This question kick started a global hashtag, leading people to share and champion the work of female artists. We are focusing a spotlight on five women artists whose work is on display at Royal Museums Greenwich.
Bettina Von Zwehl
Bettina von Zwehl has built an international reputation for her subtle, distinctive photographic portraits.
In response to portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Armada Portrait on display in the Queen’s House, Von Zwehl has created seven portrait miniatures of young women from Thomas Tallis School, Kidbrooke.
Elizabeth I’s wealthiest subjects would wear miniature portraits of the queen around their neck. This acted as a sign of loyalty. Elizabeth often gifted the miniatures without any casing, leaving the expense of this to the recipient, but still ensuring their loyalty was on display.
These miniatures acted as a kind of propaganda. They meant that Elizabeth had direct control over her image. In doing this she ensured that people perceived her in the way that she wanted.
Von Zwehl’s portraits are simple, and show the women deep in thought. Using film to capture the images, she set the subjects against a renaissance blue background.
Marian Maguire’s work draws upon Greek mythology, and the colonial history of New Zealand. Using lithographs and the traditional Greek vase, she blurs time and space to question the established narrative of British colonialism in the Pacific.
Prints from her series Labours of Herakles are on display in the Queen’s House. The series of lithographs and etchings tells the story of ancient Greeks attempting to settle in the New Land. It follows on from The Odyssey of Captain Cook, setting the archetypal hero as a New Zealand colonist. Maguire mixes colonial prints with design of Maori wood carvings and Greek black figure pottery.
The hand painted ceramic tiles of Tania Kovats’ Sea Mark are suggestive of a seascape. By glazing and firing the tiles, Kovats keeps the brushwork visible, evoking the motion of the sea. The repeated pattern creates a meditative feel for the viewer, similar to Kovats practice.
Using traditional genres and materials, Kovats’ work focuses on humanity’s relationship with nature, and how this is becoming increasingly fraught.
One of the Young British Artists, Dean works primarily in film and was nominated for the Turner prize in 1998.
Her work on display at the National Maritime Museum focuses on what was left behind by Donald Crowhurst, after the Sunday Times Golden Globe yachting competition. Crowhurst was an amateur sailor and struggling businessman, who staked his business on winning the race. Soon into his solo sailing mission he realised how ill-equipped and under prepared he was. He reported false co-ordinates, claiming to be further along in the race than he was.
The discovery of this was soon followed by his disappearance. It is thought that he committed suicide.
His trimaran, the Teignmouth Electron, is beached on the Caribbean island Cayman Brac. In 1989 Dean travelled to the remains of the boat, sympathetically photographing it and documenting the story of the abandoned boat. These photos can be seen on display in the Queen’s House.
During his time alone on the ship, Crowhurst kept diaries. These diaries and their entries suggest a downward spiral of his mental health. His last entry ‘It is the mercy’ inspired Dean’s carving on display in the National Maritime Museum.
Susan Derges has made four new works Inspired by the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, each informed by her innovative approach to making photograms or camera-less images of water. Susan Derges has used the moon in her work to represent both metamorphosing qualities and internal, psychological states. Mortal Moon is on display in the Queen's Presence Chamber with the Armada Portrait.
Using cameraless photographic processes, Susan Derges’ work uses water, and its continuous movement. By placing photographic paper in the water, and using a torch and the moon as physical exposure, Derges highlights the relationship between technology and nature.
Her four new works created for the Queen’s House, titled Mortal Moon, use analogue and digital techniques to examine the symbolism within the Armada Portrait, particularly that of the moon.
Elizabeth I was often associated with the moon, as a symbol for purity and power, including in Walter Raleigh’s poem The Ocean’s Love to Cynthia.
Derges’ work is inspired by the vessels in the Armada Portrait, and their fragility. The presence of mythological figures and starlight and moonlight all echo the symbolism in the Armada Portrait.