Estelle ‘Sylvia’ Pankhurst (1882-1960)

Sylvia Pankhurst
Image: Wikipedia.

Sylvia Pankhurst (she preferred to be known by her middle name) was a student at the Manchester School of Art, winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1900. In 1907 she created a series of pictures based on a tour of places of employment of working women. This experience confirmed to her a need to focus her attention on women’s rights, and she gave up the fine arts to pursue these and other interests, such as suffragism, socialist politics, anti-war campaigning and support for soldiers’ wives during war-time.

Over the years she became distant and eventually estranged from other Pankhurst family members because of her political views and personal matters – she had a child by the Italian anarchist Silvio Corio, but refused to marry him, causing a rift with her mother. Later, following campaigning against Italian colonialism in Ethiopia, she became involved in development issues in that country, moving there in 1956 with her son. On her death a few years later she was granted a state funeral by Emperor Haile Selassie in recognition of her humanitarian work.

Studio (c. 1904-5).jpg
Sylvia in her studio, c. 1905.

Only a very limited number of her artistic works are known and none are (to the best of my knowledge) on permanent public display. Her works rarely appear at auction.

From what can be seen, her general style is that of a realist, rather than the idealism of Annie. However, the couple of street scenes known indicate an early interest in scenic studies before becoming more committed to human subjects and ‘social art.’

As with Annie, one just wonders how many works of Sylvia’s might survive, hidden away in private locations and possibly unrecognised. If you are aware of any, or find images on the internet not included below, please do contact me ( for inclusion on this website.

Miscellaneous works (click on image for larger picture)

Women at Work (1907)

In 1907 Sylvia toured parts of England and Scotland, recording women’s working conditions. What she experienced strengthened her conviction in the suffragist cause and her personal need to focus on campaigning on social issues rather than pursue a career as a fine artist.

Studies for a passion play

Sylvia visited Oberammergau, Germany, in 1910, home of the famous passion play, and these pieces may be from that time.