Date: 18th February 2020

Women in Art at Cambridge Colleges

New Exhibition at the Heong Gallery

6 March - 24 May 2020

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 ż 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 ż 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 ż 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.