Histories of modernism—in which Jessica Dismorr (1885–1939) has been accorded an inconspicuous position—have written out or dismissed the active participation of women. As visibly rendered in Alfred Barr’s well-known flow chart of 1936, which maps art production from 1890 to 1935, canonical traditions have been founded and sustained on masculine myths of artistic creativity. Women artists neither figure in the diagram, nor do they have a substantial presence in the massive literature on modernist art; modernism has not been structured to accept an amalgamation of the roles of “woman” and professional artist. Women’s art has been seen as “other,” lacking the signs that the masculinist modernist institutions found in the art of men. These obstacles have never stopped women producing in any of the movements or moments of twentieth-century modernism and beyond. They have, however, progressively ensured the invisibility of women artists in the consolidated narrative texts and celebratory exhibitions that canonized the history of modern art…
Apart from the brief catalogs that accompanied the retrospective exhibitions of her work in the 1960s and 1970s, Dismorr has never formed the predominant subject or chapter of any book or exhibition. Her name has been mentioned in connection with the Rhythm and Vorticist groups, in collective monographs on women artists and in other books and articles noticeably attempting to restore the normally disproportionately represented gender balance. More often, however, references to her name merely pay lip-service to an artist about whom little is documented… In fact, Dismorr seems to have only survived artistic obscurity due to her artistic “validation” as a member of the Vorticist circle and her subsequent, albeit marginal, position within histories of Vorticism. — Catherine Elizabeth Heathcock*
The exhibition RADICAL WOMEN—JESSICA DISMORR AND HER CONTEMPORARIES “explores how Dismorr—an artist at the forefront of the avant-garde in Britain—and her female contemporaries engaged with modernist literature and radical politics through their art, including their contributions to campaigns for women’s suffrage and the anti-fascist organizations of the 1930s.”**
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog by curator Alicia Foster:
Dismorr was privileged to work and exhibit alongside some of the most exciting female artists of the time, including Barbara Hepworth and Winifred Nicholson, to lesser-known figures such as Dorothy Shakespear, Anne Estelle Rice, and Helen Saunders. Bringing a web of fascinating connections to light for the first time, this publication provides a fresh interpretation of a pioneering period and the role women played within it.
Through February 23.
Thursday, January 16, at 6 pm.
Pallant House Gallery
8-9 North Pallant, Chichester.
*Catherine Elizabeth Heathcock, from the introduction to her 1999 University of Birmingham thesis Jessica Dismorr (1885–1939): Artist, Writer, Vorticist.
Barr’s flow-chart was reproduced on the front cover of Alfred H. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936; reprinted Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).
Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and Her Contemporaries, Pallant House Gallery, November 2, 2019–February 23, 2020, from top: Jessica Dismorr, Self-Portrait, circa 1928, oil on board, private collection; Betty Rea, Mother and Child, 1934, Caen stone, private collection; Paule Vézelay, Paule Vézelay, circa 1927–1929, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery; Helen Saunders, Untitled (Female Figures) , circa 1913, ink and watercolor, Courtauld Gallery, London; Anne Estelle Rice, Self-Portrait, circa 1909–10, oil on board; Edith Rimmington, Family Tree, 1937, photomontage with collage and gouache, Murray Family Collection; Jessica Dismorr, Izidora, Illustration in Rhythm, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 1911, private collection; Jessica Dismorr, Landscape with Figures, circa 1911–12, oil on panel, Museums Sheffield; Alicia Foster, Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and Her Contemporaries exhibition catalog (Lund Humphries, 2019), cover image Jessica Dismorr, Abstract Composition (detail), circa 1915, oil on wood, Tate, London. Images courtesy and @ the artists, their estates, the publisher, the curator, and Pallant House Gallery.