A Woman’s Place
An exhibition of artworks explores how women have
helped shape Knole’s story and maintain its spirit
Ciaran McCrickard/National Trust
For more than five centuries, women have played a crucial role in the history of Knole, the former medieval palace in the heart of Sevenoaks. Now, 100 years after the Representation of the People Act of 1918 gave some women the right to vote in the UK, the National Trust is highlighting a selection of their stories.
A Woman’s Place, currently running at Knole, showcases a series of installations that have been specially created by six leading female artists. Each was challenged to respond to themes of women and power at Knole through sculpture, film, online content and other media.
Women’s rights impacted on many of the women who called Knole home, notably,
Vita Sackville West, who was prevented from inheriting the estate from her father, the third Baron Sackville, due to the rules of inheritance that existed in 1928.
Vita felt the loss deeply and it impacted the rest of her life, including her love affair with writer Virginal Woolfe, who based her novel Orlando on the story. London-based artist Lindsay Seers has created a website around this, and the rest of Vita and Virginia’s story on their visit to Knole.
2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid has chosen to
focus on the little-documented ‘blackamoor laundry maid’ listed in the house inventory as Grace Robinson. Lubaina honours Knole’s many overlooked maids and domestic workers through a series of miniature paintings and clothing motifs. A flag she has also designed will fly over Knole for the duration of the exhibition.
Sculptor Emily Speed has taken inspiration from the relationship between Vita Sackville West and her mother Victoria. She has installed a working fountain in the Orangery, based on a dressing table design that shows the complicated relationship that can exist between a mother and her daughter alongside moments of tenderness, care and sensuality.
A glasswork by CJ Mahony looks at the nature of ownership and how women have helped care for Knole for centuries without ever expecting to actually own it. Including the National Trust staff who look after it today and love the house and grounds.
Love of a very different nature is explored in Melanie Wilson’s audio film based on 17th-century love letters between Lady Anne Clifford and Lady Frances Cranfield. And finally, filmmaker Alice May Williams looks at how society formally categorises people through such labels as gender, nationality or family.
Vita Sackville West wrote that gender is “a technical fault over which we have no control.” Alice’s film explores this concept and investigates how labels can impact on the way our lives are shaped.
Co-director and curator Lucy Day says: “Knole gives us new ways to see how the lives of women have been and continue to be influenced by notions of gender, place and time. The responses by these six inspiring artists provide a space to pause and reflect on the historic and current fight for equality in this anniversary year.”
ABOVE: A Woman’s Place launch at Knole, dressing table and fountain in the Orangery, by Emily Speed