Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus – ‘Venus in View’: BBC radio 4 March 13, 2014
I have recently been interviewed for a radio 4 programme on the centenary of the slashing of the Velasquez painting ‘The toilet of Venus’ , known as the Rokeby Venus, in London’s National Gallery.
The perpetrator was suffragette Mary Richardson who attacked the controversial painting to gain publicity for the plight of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the WSPU, who was imprisoned and on hunger strike in Holloway prison, saying, ‘You can get another picture but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs Pankhurst’ (The Times, 11 March 1914). For Mary Richardson, the most beautiful woman in art was of little significance compared with the life of Mrs Pankhurst, ‘the most beautiful character in modern history’. This action both secured her fame and eighteen months with hard labour. It also led to many museums closing their doors to unaccompanied women although other galleries including the National Portrait Gallery and the Birmingham Art Gallery would have paintings slashed by other suffrage feminists.
Although,as I have discussed elsewhere, Mary Richardson has received some public attention more for her repeated hunger strikes than her membership of the British Union of Fascists, she is yet to receive a plaque on the site of her death in Hastings in 1961.
Muriel Matters Porter, the suffrage feminist and educationalist, who famously flew in an airship over the Thames, distributing leaflets over the Houses of Parliament, also lived in Hastings. Muriel had lived there from 1924 until her death in 1969, standing unsuccessfully as a Labour MP in the town in 1924. The plaque on her home in Pelham Crescent near the newly restored arts centre, St Mary in the Castle, is somewhat esoteric. Muriel Matters and Helen Fox had chained themselves to the grill of the Ladies Gallery of the House of Commons in 1908 and thus ‘spoke’ some 20 years before all women received the vote.
The radio programme will be broadcast at 11.30 am on radio 4 on Thursday March 13th and can then be heard via the radio 4 website.