The Women’s Art Collection: Artworks and Artists in Context 

March 15, 2024 9:30 am - 7:00 pm

A one-day conference which showcased research by academics, researchers, artists, curators and writers to deepen understandings of the artists, artworks and themes represented in The Women’s Art Collection.

See the full programme here

The Women’s Art Collection (WAC) is the largest collection of art by women in Europe. Works in the Collection are displayed across Murray Edwards College, one of the two colleges for women at the University of Cambridge. Featuring over 600 works by modern and contemporary women artists, including Mary Kelly, Maggi Hambling and Lubaina Himid, it offers a unique perspective on art in Britain.

Since the 1970s, scholars have explored the reasons why women artists are underrepresented in public collections. Primary issues include the historicisation of women artists in relation to men, engagement and non-engagement with the ‘woman artist’ label, and biographical approaches to women artists which perpetuate a male-centric history of art.

The WAC comprises a significant art historical resource for reflecting on these issues. Motivated by the acquisition of Mary Kelly’s work Extase in 1986, a group of academics and staff at the College started an ‘artist appeal’ whereby they wrote to living women artists in the UK asking whether they would donate a work that could act as a source of inspiration to students, researchers and visitors.

Within a year, the College had received over 70 donated artworks – an act of collective giving that indicates women artists’ desire to be represented at a time when they were largely overlooked. The history of the Collection and its methods of display therefore present a counter-narrative to traditional modes of collecting and curating. In 2018, The WAC received museum accreditation from Arts Council England.