Suffragette expressed her arty side in Scarborough

Words and photo by Dave Barry 

A small touring exhibition of artwork by Sylvia Pankhurst is at Scarborough Art Gallery until 6 January.

Sixteen powerful pictures by the suffragette include one painted in Scarborough, entitled Scotch fisher lassie cutting herrings - although the subject appears more of an older woman than a lassie.

She was one of the Scottish fisherwomen who followed the herring fleets down the east coast, cleaning and packing the fish when the boats came in.

Pankhurst found them beautiful, “like a shoal of sea birds”, singing and chattering over their work. It’s unclear whether she knew the difference between shoal and flock.

Her art, in gouache and pastel, supported her argument to increase women’s pay and improve their working conditions. 

Pankhurst’s well-known work as a pioneer for the suffragette movement, and later as an anti-fascist campaigner, overshadowed her abilities as a talented artist.

Her captivating artwork allows a look into the type of experiences which helped forge her strong socialist beliefs.

Pankhurst (1882-1960) spent much of her life juggling art and campaigning.

A tour of the industrial communities of northern England and Scotland in 1907 gave her an opportunity to merge her two passions, resulting in historical and poignant pieces.

She recorded the lives of working women in the pottery, shoe-making, fishing and spinning industries with fluid, simple and emphatic portraits and scenes.

While her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, pushed the Women’s Social Union (which they created together with her sister Christabel in 1903) into the support of the middle class, Sylvia retained her initial beliefs by continuing her campaign for working-class women.

When Sylvia made the decision to devote her life to her political work in 1912, six years before the vote was passed, her focus on art was lost.

The exhibition marks the centenary of women over 30 being granted the right to vote, via the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act.