Tate acquires its earliest work by female artist
Tate Britain has announced that it has acquired its earliest work by a woman artist in the form of Portrait of an Unknown Lady 1650-5 by Joan Carlile.
Ms Carlile is thought to be the first woman in Britain to work professionally as an oil painter. Unfortunately, few of her paintings still exist.
Portrait of an Unknown Lady features a young woman in a white dress. The same pose and white dress has been featured in another of Ms Carlile’s works.
Director of Tate Britain, Alex Farquharson, told The Guardian: “Carlile is thought to be the first British woman to become a professional painter and this is one of only ten portraits known to be by her.”
The painting is now set to be taken away for conservation work before being displayed.
In 2014, the portrait was up for auction in Salisbury. At the time, auctioneers assumed that it had been painted by a man. It took the keen eye of an art historian who presents a television show about fake art works to establish that it was the work of Ms Carlile.
Bendor Grosvenor, of BBC One’s Fake or Fortune?, told The Telegraph that he knew it was one of hers after recognising her style.
The reason there were so few women painters in the 17th century is down to permission – they could not paint professionally without the approval of their husbands. Ms Carlile was married to playwright Lodowick Carlile – also known as Carlell.
Prior to the purchase of Ms Carlile’s painting, the earliest works by a female artist were a set of sketches by Mary Beale, thought to be dated around 1660.
Tate has also acquired a number of other notable artworks, including Le Passeur (The Ferry) 1882 by William Stott. According to the Tate, Stott was a central figure in the early phase of British Impressionism and this work is widely regarded as his highest achievement.
Mark Wallinger’s State Britain 2007 has also been acquired. The work has been specially created for the Tate Britain Commission series supported by Sotheby’s. Tate called it “one of the most politically charged works of recent years”.
Outside of the world of paintings, Tate Britain has added Derek Jarman’s Blue 1993 to its film collection. Blue was completed a few months before Mr Jarman’s death, and will be shown in spring 2017. This will coincide with the Queer British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.
Speaking about the new additions to the gallery’s collection, Farquharson said: “We have the greatest collection of British art in the world and it gets better every year. As our latest acquisitions and exhibitions reveal we can look at the most powerful, topical and relevant issues in society from both historic and contemporary perspectives.
“Tate Britain is where we can tell an unending story of British art both by giving British artists a platform on the world stage and by showing how international artists have played their part in our own art history.”