Got 20 minutes to spare? From England’s first professional female painter to one of the most notable sculptors of the twentieth century, see it all in our tour of women artists in the collection on display at Tate Britain.

Mary Beale, 'Sketch of the Artist's Son, Bartholomew Beale, Facing Left' c. 1660
Mary Beale
Sketch of the Artist's Son, Bartholomew Beale, Facing Left c. 1660
Oil paint on paper
support: 325 x 245 mm
Purchased 2010
Mary Beale, 'Sketch of the Artist's Son, Bartholomew Beale, in Profile' c. 1660
Mary Beale
Sketch of the Artist's Son, Bartholomew Beale, in Profile c. 1660
Oil on paper
support: 325 x 245 mm
Purchased 2010

1. Sketch of the Artist’s Son, Bartholomew Beale, in Profile c. 1660 and Sketch of the Artist’s Son, Bartholomew Beale, Facing Left c. 1660, Mary Beale

Begin in the second room of Tate’s early works, made in the year 1650 onwards. These two small paintings by Mary Beale are delicate oil sketches of her eldest son Bartholomew. Born in 1633, Beale is claimed as England’s first female professional painter. When these sketches were made, the Beale family was living in Hind Court, off Fleet Street in London. Her husband Charles went on to become her studio assistant and in the 1670s, alongside his younger brother, Bartholomew also assisted his mother in her commercial painting studio in Pall Mall.

View in room 1650, of the BP Walk through British Art display.

Gwen John, 'Self-Portrait' 1902
Gwen John
Self-Portrait 1902

2. Self-Portrait 1902, Gwen John

Head straight through the galleries to the late 1800s and you’ll soon see this searching self-portrait. There are four works currently on display by the artist Gwen John; three in this room 1890, and one next door in room 1910. This early painting, said by people who knew her to be one of the best likenesses, is most likely to have been painted after she left the Slade School of Art in London. John was part of a group of artists and intellectuals who lived experimental lifestyles, known as Bohemians in this period. As a woman in a career still largely dominated by men, including her successful brother Augustus, she had to struggle for recognition.

View in room 1900, of the BP Walk through British Art display.

Dora Carrington, 'Farm at Watendlath' 1921
Dora Carrington
Farm at Watendlath 1921
Oil on canvas
support: 611 x 669 mm
frame: 774 x 830 x 58 mm
Presented by Noel Carrington, the artist's brother 1987

3. Farm at Watendlath 1921, Dora Carrington

Stay in the room and you’ll clearly see the variation of work being produced in Britain at this time. At the time of painting Farm at Watendlath, near Keswick in the Lake District, Carrington’s subjects were mostly intimate portraits and landscapes. This scene is where the newly-wed Carrington holidayed with her husband - she often depicted women at different stages in their lives contemplating their own femininity. At the Slade School of Fine Art, Carrington had met Mark Gertler, whose figure paintings influenced her own approach to portraiture (you can see his work on the same wall). Having rejected Gertler, she set up home with the homosexual essayist Lytton Strachey. In 1921 she married a soldier, Ralph Partridge, and together they lived in a ménage à trois. 

View in room 1910, of the BP Walk through British Art display.

Winifred Nicholson, 'Sandpipers, Alnmouth' 1933
Winifred Nicholson
Sandpipers, Alnmouth 1933
© The Trustees of the estate of Winifred Nicholson

4. Sandpipers, Alnmouth 1933, Winifred Nicholson

Hop through the shop and across the rotunda and you’ll hit the 1930s. Born in 1893 in Oxford, Nicholson was also known by her maiden name of Roberts and by her mother’s surname Dacre (this was the name she exhibited her first abstract works under, one of which is on display at Tate Modern). She was the first wife of artist Ben Nicholson (more on him in a moment). Sandpipers, Alnmouth was made whilst on holiday in the Northumberland coast in 1933. The painting features the application of real sand to the paint for the beach, and is typical of her work in its few simple areas of colour.

View in room 1930, of the BP Walk through British Art display.


BP Walk through British Art is open every day at Tate Britain, for free

Have a bit more time? Try one of our free, daily guided tours in the gallery