Artist Sarah Richardson (left) with Newnham Principal Professor Dame Carol Black and her portraitNewnham College

Students, fellows, staff and invited members of the public gathered at Newnham College on Saturday afternoon to enjoy an exhibition of portraits of the world’s most inspirational women, including Newnham alumnae.

The Portrayed! 25 years of inspiring women exhibition was conceived and put together by the Lots Road Group, an association of artists, in order to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) UK. The exhibition featured portraits of four of IWF UK’s founding members, as well as its first 12 chairs.

IWF is an organisation which aims to promote female leadership by linking high-achieving women through a global network, comprising over 6,500 members in 35 countries. Members join the organisation exclusively by invitation, after which they are encouraged to exchange ideas at discussion groups, seminars and special events.

The portraits, all in the medium of oil or print, showcased a diversity of influential female leaders, including the Baroness of Wakefield Jean Denton, a two-time British Women Racing Drivers’ Champion and, as Northern Ireland minister, the first woman to hold a ministerial position at the Northern Ireland Office. Also featured was Barbara Hosking CBE, speechwriter to Harold Wilson.

The event, which has been touring since May 2015 but was open in Cambridge for just five hours on Saturday afternoon, was attended by many of the portraits’ creators, all of whom belong to the Lots Road Group. The group was formed in 2013 by former students of The Heatherley School of Fine Art in Chelsea. The artists hold an annual exhibition, dealing with a different theme every year, which have previously been shown at several university colleges, including Somerville College, Oxford.

According to their website, “the group places special emphasis on narrative to accompany their paintings. The intention is to give the sitters a voice and to inform and further entertain their audience.” They add: “The group believe they are unique in combining words and images in this way.”

Several of the portraits featured Newnham alumnae, including Rosamund Gilmore, who served as private secretary to five cabinet ministers, and Katharine Whitehorn, a columnist for the Observer and a founding member of IWF UK. Both women attended the exhibition, and described to the audience their experiences of sitting for their portraits. The audience was also addressed by Professor Dame Carol Black, Newnham’s principal.

Katharine Whitehorn’s portrait will now become a feature of the College’s permanent collection. In a letter to its artist, Sarah Richardson, the chair of Newnham’s Valuable Possessions Committee wrote that the portrait “captured something of the essence of [Katharine’s] personality and humour”. Speaking to Varsity, Sarah Richardson said that “she was a gem to paint as she is a legend, of course, in the world of women’s journalism.” She added: “She was generous with her time in sitting for me and very amusing to spend time with.”

A portrait of Barbara Mills, which also features in the exhibition, has been accepted into the private collection of her alma mater, Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford. Mills held the position of Director of Public Prosecutions, and as such is widely celebrated as the first woman to break into the upper echelons of the legal profession.

A Newnham spokesperson told Varsity that the college was “delighted” to host the exhibition, citing the college’s long history of empowering students to reach influential positions. “Newnham College offers academic excellence to ambitious women aiming for leading careers, and the IWF aims to connect the world’s female leaders to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The exhibition was a great opportunity for us to work together whilst showcasing the work of the Lots Road Group,” she said. The exhibition also coincided with the Annual General Meeting of Newnham Associates.

Sarah Richardson told Varsity: “as a group of artists we are particularly concerned with the interest amongst Oxbridge colleges to redress the balance of men’s and women’s portraits lining the hallowed walls. Too many men to not enough women.”

As one of the few remaining Oxbridge colleges to only admit women, Newnham regularly holds events aimed at developing the leadership skills of its students. Recent initiatives include a series of Career Women seminars, the second of which, on 21st November, will feature Alexandra Shulman OBE, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue.

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