Focus on women artists

Barbara Hepworth, Bridget Riley and Tracey Emin are some of the many great women artists who have works in the Collection. Although there are a few early works by women in the Collection – including  a portrait of Ada, Countess of Lovelace a mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, painted in 1836 by Margaret Sarah Carpenter – the majority are modern or contemporary.

Conoid, Sphere and Hollow III (1937)

© Alan Bowness, Hepworth Estate

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Twentieth century works include 'Conoid, Sphere and Hollow III' (image 1) a smooth, polished marble sculpture of three forms by Barbara Hepworth (and some bronzes) and Eileen Agar's 'Bride of the Sea', with its strange, tangled juxtaposition of sea and shore. Bridget Riley is represented by 'Reflection'  a colourful work inspired by paintings decorating the walls of Egyptian tombs and there is a thickly encrusted, colourful abstract by Gillian Ayres. There are two distinctive portraits by Vanessa Bell; works by Scottish painter Joan Eardley (image 2) and several paintings by the St Ives abstract artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, full of light and movement.

There are a couple of interesting paintings by Jessica Dismorr (1885–1939) the only woman artist in the Vorticist group. With their simplified, bold shapes and unusual colouring, these works show her awareness of the early twentieth century movements of Fauvism and German Expressionism (image 3).

Both Sandra Blow (1925–2006) and Prunella Clough (1919–1999) are two twentieth-century abstract painters whose work has been getting a good deal more attention since their death than in their lifetime. Concerned primarily with organic, expressive forms, Sandra Blow's monochromatic work 'Composition' (image 4) has an uneven textured surface and thin lines, which Blow says she used to give the composition 'the thrill of a leap, a daring, a lightness'.

Prunella Clough has been the subject of a recent, major retrospective at the Tate Gallery. The Collection holds eleven paintings by Clough and several prints. From the 1960s, 'Grey Aspect 2' (image 5) is representative of the period in which she began to concentrate on organic forms, while simplifying her images and eliminating unnecessary incident.

Among the contemporary works there is a sculpture of an upside down plinth by Turner Prize winning artist Rachel Whiteread; several eerie and intense lightboxes by Catherine Yass and some acrylic studies for Crivelli's garden, the wall mural that Paula Rego completed while in residence at the National Gallery.

'Sustenance 101' (image 6), a large-scale print by Neeta Madahar (born 1966) is from a series showing birds feeding in trees. This heightened image of reality uses rich colour and artificial lighting to suggest the sense of wonder to be found in the familiar, yet often overlooked.

The stillness in the Madahar print finds an echo in the work of Jane Harris (born 1956). Harris is an artist who works in a subtle, quiet way creating images that hover between a sense of presence and absence. The violent orange colouring and dramatic title of this painting '(Oh! Oh!)' (image 7) do not detract from its inherent tranquility.

A conceptual artist who works in a range of media, Cornelia Parker (born 1959) created a series of photograms after collecting a number of feathers from different sources. All the feathers have been on a grand adventure; 'Feather that went to the Top of Everest' (image 8) came from the jacket lining of Rebecca Stevens – the first woman to climb Everest. Parker's work helps us to see poetry in the everyday and the elusive connections between things.

The painter Elizabeth Magill (born 1959) creates wistful and romantic landscapes. 'Shaman' (image 9), purchased in 2008, is a typical work of a predominantly empty, isolated rural scene which simultaneously reminds us of the power of nature and the dread it can inspire.

One of the best known artists working today, Tracey Emin (born 1963) uses a variety of media to produce work that is highly autobiographical. There are two monoprints by Emin in the Collection of Margate, the British seaside town in which she spent many of her emotionally angst-filled teenage years. In 'Margate 1 Sand' (2006) (image 10), in front of the promenade, the Ferris wheel and the town clock tower, a couple lie together on the sandy beach. With their arms and legs entwined, they remind us of our own adolescent dreams, when the possibilities of what we could achieve in our lives were endless.

Both Chantal Joffe (born 1969) and Gillian Carnegie (born 1971) are contemporary painters whose work has been exhibited widely in the UK and abroad. Chantal Joffe's 'Red-Haired Woman in the Park' (image 11), a small oil painting on board, is a striking composition in which an anonymous flame-haired woman appears to pass right by, deep in thought. Joffe's work relies on a series of portraits of contemporary young women, seemingly familiar yet generally anonymous and isolated.

'Overlook XXIII' (image 12) by 2005 Turner Prize nominee Gillian Carnegie is part of a series of paintings that she has made based views from her window. The exact location is less important than the fact that this view is very familiar; its unremarkable nature has drawn her to it, literally because – in both senses of the word – it is overlooked.