Leonora Philipps (neé Gerstenberg) (1862-1915) also known as Nora Philipps, Mrs Wynford Philipps and Lady St. Davids was born in Camberwell. Philipps passed the Cambridge higher examination for women and subsequently studied at Birkbeck University College, the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Mrs Philipps gazes out directly at the viewer with an expression that’s both benign and strong and in her lap she holds a little pile of purple flowers. The work dates from 1896 and along with the blooms and their green leaves the sitter in her pure white dress presciently presents us with the three colours – purple, green and white - chosen by the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 to distinguish them in their political movement.
As a young woman influenced by the ideas of John Stuart Mill and trips to the East End of London and later the United States, Philipps began to appreciate the issues and inequalities associated with and surrounding feminism at this time. This inspired her to become active in the Women’s Liberal Federation (WLF), later becoming president of the Westminster Women’s Liberal Federation. As a prominent public speaker, Philipps strongly supported the progressive faction of the WFL during the split over suffrage in 1891.
During 1892 Philipps was elected president of the Welsh Union of Women’s Liberal Associations and was a co-founder of the Pioneer Clun in London as well as many of the other women’s rights organisations of the day including the Somerville Club and the Woman’s Institute at Grosvenor Square. A prominent member of the executive committee of the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage, Philipps was much in demand as a national lecturer.
This strong and important female is depicted by pre-raphaelite artist Charles Edward Hallé who strongly supported the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery, founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay and Lady Caroline Blanche Elizabeth Fitzroy in 1877. The gallery challenged the traditional methods of the Royal Academy giving avant-garde artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederick Watts and other artists of the Aesthetic Movement the platform to showcase their work in a unique display.
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