Before the 20th century, the canon of western art was dominated by male artists. While there had been celebrated female painters, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, and Rosa Bonheur, it wasn’t until the last century that women began to enjoy comparable success with their male counterparts.

Here in Britain, four female artists exemplified this time of flux against that backdrop of radical change, with their lives and work reflecting the almost constant struggle to challenge the conventions imposed upon them by a patriarchal society. They were Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Laura Knight (1877-1970), Gwen John (1876-1939) and Dod Procter (1890-1972). Now the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle is showcasing a major new exhibition, Challenging Convention, which charts how they made a significant impact on the profile of women artists within traditional institutions and in the public eye.

Featuring more than 60 works by the four artists, Challenging Convention represents an immersive introduction to their art, spanning their careers, subjects and most celebrated creations. Through their compelling works, visitors will see stylistic change, impressions of people and places around them, and their emotional and intellectual landscape.

Main image: A Dark Pool , c.1917 (oil on canvas)  by Laura Knight (1877-1970) / Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK / © Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2020.  All Rights Reserved / Bridgeman Images  



Exhibition information 

Challenging Convention is running from May 17 until August 21, 2021. For more information, visit:

Running concurrently with Challenging Convention, the Laing is also exhibiting WOW: Women Only Works on Paper (17 May – 4 December, 2021), a display of over 50 watercolours and pastels complemented by etchings and screenprints. The artists Vanessa Bell, Winifred Knights, Ithell Colquhoun, Annie French, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Thérèse Lessore, Hilda Carline and Paule Vézelay are all represented, as well as other accomplished – but lesser-known – female artists working in the first part of the 20th century. The exhibition has been brought together by the renowned art dealers Liss Llewellyn and includes some works from private collections as well as pictures from the Laing collection. This exhibition will be accompanied by a new Liss Llewellyn publication.