In 1946, two paintings made their way into college art collections, causing bemusement and some outright hostility. The portrait of Lady Margaret Downing by Thomas Gainsborough and that of ballerina Lydia Lopokova by Duncan Grant were given to Downing College and King’s College respectively, two years before women won the right to receive degrees from the University of Cambridge and a full twenty-six years before hitherto all-male colleges began to accept women into their membership. Both women are part of college lore, Lady Downing as the doughty nemesis of the Trustees instructed to set up Downing College and Lopokova as an overlooked member of the Bloomsbury circle so enmeshed in King’s College’s recent history. They graced the walls of both colleges well before women won the right to enter the halls as full members.
College art collections are relatively unfamiliar to outsiders. They comprise a mixture of gifts and commissions, reflecting the patronage of founders and alumni as well as memorialising heads of house and fellows. Women’s colleges, despite the uphill struggle to attain parity, took care to look the part of a legitimate Cambridge college, providing the earliest images of female role models available to the women of the university. Today, over three decades after all colleges voted to accept women, the visual representation of women and the appearance of art by women have both proceeded apace, albeit unevenly in different colleges.
Forty years after Downing College accepted its first female undergraduates, We Are Here tells the story of women in college art over the twentieth century, through works that help transform colleges into more inclusive spaces for women and interrogate what it is to be a woman at the University of Cambridge.
PARTICIPATING COLLEGES Churchill College • Darwin College • Downing College • Girton College • Jesus College • King’s College • Murray Edwards College • Newnham College
ARTISTS Cathy de Monchaux • Dame Elisabeth Frink • Thomas Gainsborough • Duncan Grant • Lady Christiana Herringham • Lubaina Himid RA • Claerwen James • Mary Kelly • Henry Lamb • Juliette Losq • Melanie Manchot • Louise Nevelson • Kate Nicholson • Winifred Nicholson • Yelena Popova • Gwen Raverat • Sophie Seita• Alison Wilding RA