BADA 2018: femininity in art

This year the British Antique Dealers’ Association, also known as BADA, celebrates a century since the first association was set up, and the 26th anniversary since the first fair took place in London.

“BADA was founded in 1918 so, in many ways, the story of British antiques trade in the 20th century is the story of BADA and its members”, says BADA’s CEO Marco Forgione.
From a broader perspective, the 100th anniversary of BADA matches another important event that made the history of Great Britain: the women’s suffrage campaign.This year many in Britain have been celebrating this anniversary with exhibitions, events and talks about the importance of women. 1918, the birth year of BADA corresponds with the year that some women obtained the right to vote when over the age of 30.

The suffragettes movement marked society, and clearly the art world as well. The Artist Suffrage League was founded in the early 1900s as well as the Suffrage Atelier with its poster and postcards, jewellery and dress.

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Though for many years the majority of the exhibitors were male, in the 20th century BADA has welcomed women to their events and annual fair. Sandra Cronan, for instance, was the first female member of BADA and she became head of the jewellery vetting committee. Like many of other members, she has sold interesting pieces related to the suffragettes or powerful women.

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Walking around the fair, we are surrounded by fascinating objects of intense femininity.

Jewellery dealers exhibit their Art Deco rings, Cartier earrings and bracelets with their shimmering gemstones. And, if we look carefully in the Wimpole Antiques Lynn Lindsay booth, we can see Victorian age pendants that prelude colours of the women’s suffrage movement in their precious stones. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper Votes for Women, says: “Purple, as everyone knows, is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity...white stands for purity in private and public life...green is the colour of hope and the emblem of Spring”. Unfortunately, during the BADA’s centenary, we can’t spot suffragettes’ original jewels, because they are very rare. There is a high demand for them and it's very difficult to find even at prestigious Art Fairs like BADA.

This year, many dealers exhibit portraits of women exuding elegance, beauty and charm. This is the case of Walker Galleries that exhibited its “I Sent thee late a rosy wreath” by Charles Adrian Scott. The painter took inspiration from the Ben Jonson’s Song to Celia, a eulogy of one the most beautiful women in the sixteenth century.

But the galleries that show women artists’ artwork are even more interesting when thinking of the impact of the last century for women. The Kaye Michie Fine Art, for instance, exhibited paintings by one of the most famous female artists: Dame Laura Knight. She was the third woman, after Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman, to take part in the Royal Academy and the first woman who effectively and equally became a member. Today, Laura Knight is one of the most well-known female artists in the United Kingdom, not just for her art but for her resolute spirit.

There is also a portrait of a man by Dame Knight that captures one’s imagination: it’s the Major Atherley. The man, portrayed in elegant clothes with a cap on his head, was a close friend of Laura Knight, as well as a collector of her artworks. Looking at her paintings we can appreciate how her exuberant vitality shines through and how she could have attracted attention from both female and male patrons.

Paintings at BADA celebrate the value of women, but, we can find them in sculpture as well. Margot Homan is a contemporary Dutch sculptor who uses art as a medium to explain her view about women and their position in society. She used to represent women in an iconic manner, generating a superhuman atmosphere around her sculptures. If we take a closer look, her idea of femininity is close to the 19th-century artworks at the Garret & Hurst Sculpture stand. I was fascinated by the female shapes in marble and bronze that combine perfectly with each other. The contemporary bronze sculptures of Margot Homan shows female beauty, strength and vulnerability coming together. Margot’s celebrity was due to the fact that she made the bronze statue of Marga Klompé, the first female Dutch minister. For this reason, in 2012, Queen Beatrix unveiled her bronze statue at the University of Tilburg in order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marga Klompé.

This year, design also plays an important part at the fair: the inspiring contemporary space created by the leading interior designer Joanna Wood contains objects from which it is perceived feminine elegance.

After finishing an amazing tour at Bada, I realised that I had been ping-ponging back and forth pleasantly between past and present, art and history, women of the past and contemporary women and maybe this was the best way to celebrate the magnitude of a centenary for BADA.