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LONDON.- This summer, fine art auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull bring together the work of the first British female artists for an exhibition in London. “Bright Souls”: The Forgotten Story of Britain’s First Female Artists, featuring works kindly loaned from both museums and private collections, shows how the 17th Century artists Joan Carlile, Mary Beale and Anne Killigrew managed to achieve success in an age when women had few career options, and even fewer rights. 

The exhibition, the first ever devoted to Britain’s pioneering female artists, is being held at Lyon & Turnbull’s London gallery, and includes self-portraits of all three artists. The exhibition has been curated by the art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor. 

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Mary Beale (British 1633-1699), Self-Portrait holding a Palette, c.1670. Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 cm, Kindly lent by the West Suffolk Heritage Service, Moyses Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds, accession no.1993.35.

Previously, the stories of Carlile, Beale and Killigrew have faded from view in British art history, not least because many of their works were later attributed to male artists such as Sir Peter Lely. But all three artists were well known to contemporaries: Carlile as the first professional female British artist; Beale as the most successful; and Killigrew, dying of smallpox at the age of just 25, as the most tragic. 

Killigrew’s death prompted the then Poet Laureate John Dryden to hope that her legacy would nevertheless live on, writing, "Still with a greater blaze she shone, And her bright soul broke out on ev'ry side.” Bright Souls now not only reveals new light on the careers of Carlile, Beale and Killigrew, but also unveils a number of hitherto lost works. 

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Anne Killigrew (British 1660-1685): Self-Portrait, oil on canvas ,The Berkeley Will Trust, Berkeley Castle

Dr Bendor Grosvenor said: “It’s such a shame these artists have been largely ignored by art history, not least because they were so good. For too long, our view of British art in the 17th Century has been dominated by male artists - it’s time to change that misconception.” 

Rohan McCulloch, Head of British & European Art at Lyon & Turnbull London, said: “We are delighted to be putting on such an important exhibition with Dr Grosvenor and hope to welcome many new and existing clients to our gallery to see these fantastic works, shown together for the first time."

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Joan Carlile (British 1600-1679), The Carlile Family with Sir Justinian Isham in Richmond Park, ‘The Stag Hunt’, 1650s. Oil on canvas, 61 x 74 cm. Kindly lent by the Lamport Hall Trustees, accession no.95.