Now You See Us: Women artists in Britain 1520–1920

Spanning 400 years, the Tate Britain’s ‘Now You See Us’ exhibition celebrates women as professional artists and seeks to dismantle the stereotypes surrounding women artists in history.

Mary Delany painting of Rubus Odoratus which is on display in the Tate Britain for the Now You See Us exhibition
Mary Delany, Rubus Odoratus, British Museum

A remarkable exhibition, Now You See Us includes over 150 works by women who were determined to succeed and daringly painted subjects usually thought only suitable for male artists, such as history pieces, battle scenes and the nude. From Tudor times to the First World War, artists such as Mary Beale, Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Butler and Laura Knight paved a new artistic path for generations of women.

The exhibition sheds light on how these artists championed equal access to art training and academy membership, breaking boundaries and overcoming many obstacles to establish what it meant to be a woman in the art world. The artists championed in the exhibition, challenged what it meant to be a working woman, having commercial careers as artists and taking part in public exhibitions.

As well as challenging subjects, the artists also worked on botanical and floral pieces, to which an entire room is dedicated in the exhibition. Artists such as Augusta Withers, one of the (Royal) Horticultural Society‘s official painters of fruit, and Mary Delany – known for her incredible floral collages, are featured. In the Victorian era, the idea that flower painting, especially in watercolour, was an exclusively amateur pastime has damaged the legacies of many accomplished artists who successfully worked within this genre. Many were employed as professional illustrators, importantly recording plant species for horticulturists and botanical publishers.

Now You See Us: Women artists in Britain 1520–1920 runs until the 13th of October at the Tate Britain.