February Artwork of the Month: Emmeline Pankhurst by John Bacon

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01 February 2018

To mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, February’s Artwork of the Month is a sketch of the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst by John H.F. Bacon.

The drawing appears to show Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) either speaking in public or standing in a dock in court. Leaning on a rail, she stands in a typically assured and forthright pose.

John Henry Frederick Bacon (1865-1914) was a versatile painter and illustrator who produced genre and biblical scenes as well as portraits. He also documented social and political events and was a war artist.

The work probably dates from between 1900 and 1910, and is one of the earliest known portraits of the suffragette leader. It may date to February 1908 when, after attempting to enter the House of Commons, Pankhurst was charged with obstruction and imprisoned for the first time.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst was brought up in a politically active family. She became involved in women’s suffrage in 1880 and formed the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) when her local branch of the Independent Labour Party refused to admit women members.

Pankhurst believed that winning the vote would never be achieved by constitutional means. She was imprisoned on a number of occasions for militant action, and went on hunger strike protests.

During the First World War, Emmeline and her daughter Christabel worked to mobilise women for the war effort, believing this was the best way for women to prove they deserved the vote. However, her daughter Sylvia opposed the war and worked to relive suffering of working women in London’s East End.

Representation of the People Act 1918

Passed on 6 February 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met property qualifications.

Ten years later – and shortly after Emmeline Pankhurst’s death –  the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act granted women equal voting rights with men.

Throughout 2018, Parliament is marking these and other related anniversaries as part of Vote100.

Further information 

Image: Detail of 'Emmeline Pankhurst' by John H. F. Bacon, chalk on paper, c.1900-1910 (Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 5438)

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