Women at the Royal Academy / Rhoda Holmes Nicholls / and …

I HAVE BEEN exmining catalogue entries for the Royal Academy summer exhibitions, 1880-1883, the period when the Manchester Society of Women Painters was created, up to Annie’s move to Rome. Specifically, works by women artists.

The full list is HERE.

The main observations are:

  • The preponderance of male artists, comprising 88% of the works exhibited, but given the disadvantages women had in society, pleasing to see that so many are still represented.
  • The generalised secondary place of women according to the cultural norms of the time, such as being listed with marriage status and indexed secondarily, ‘Jane Smith’ always being listed after ‘John Smith’ even though this is not correct alphabetically.
  • The Metropolitan bias of the selection. Out of 306 artists, 228 are listed with addresses in the Greater London area and another 49 in mostly south-eastern England. There are 12 from northern England, 1 each from Scotland and Wales, 2 from Ireland and 13 with addresses in continental Europe.

Aside from Annie and Isabel, two additional Manchester school women artists exhibited, Mary L. Breakell (one of the signatories on the scoll mentioned in a previous post) with two floral paintings, and S. Louisa Morgan with a single portrait.


There are some real treasures hidden away in these lists. One that stood out for me, being the only artist from near my own home, is Coventry-born Rhoda Holmes Nicholls (1854-1930). She was active in England, France, Italy, South Africa and the United States, and was highly regarded in her time, but has all but disappeared from public consciousness today.

AFTER A CHANGE in personal circumstances, I will be without any internet for a while. I may even go full-Luddite and try living without it completely … sort of. I’ll still have email and some editorial input via mobile, so will be able to post news of discoveries and make any necessary minor edits, but apart from an upcoming page on Mary Florence Monkhouse, there will be a hiatus in site development. After five years studying Annie’s works, perhaps time to move on.

Jonathan Russell, 27 April 2022.

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