The Woman in the Window – new show at Dulwich Picture Gallery

photo of woman at window
Tom Hunter, Woman Reading Possession Order, 1997 courtesy of Tom Hunter.

Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Reframed: The Woman in the Window, is the first exhibition to explore the motif of ‘the woman in the window’. It is a fascinating, imaginative and insightful overview of one of the most common images in art.

Featuring sculpture, painting, print, photography, film and installation art from ancient civilisations to the present day, the exhibition brings together over 40 works to reveal how this image has been used over the ages and what it reveals about gender roles and visibility.

A carved ivory panel from the 10th century BCE is the start of a journey which ends in the present day, and travels through the renaissance, the golden age of European art and the various art movements of the twentieth century. It confirms the lasting influence of the composition and how it has been reimagined to convey different ideas. 

photo of Picasso painting
Pablo Picasso, La Femme à la fenêtre (Woman at the Window), 1952 Photo: Tate.

Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window (1645) is the initial point of inspiration for the exhibition. These early works focus on women passively enclosed within a domestic interior and looking longingly out of the window. As the exhibition progresses, other themes emerge which explore and illuminate women’s experience of the world. As it moves from representing women as passive objects of men’s attention to much more active agents in their own destinies, the artworks become more of a story than a portrait.

Particular highlights include Tom Hunter’s deeply moving photograph of a woman receiving an eviction notice; Picasso’s La Femme à la fenêtre (Woman at the Window); Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled and Vanessa Bell’s Woman in a Red Hat.

Along the way the exhibition considers the personal and often intimate relationships between artists and their models and muses through works by artists such as Walter Sickert and Wolfgang Tillmans.  

Louise Bourgeois, My Blue Sky, 1989-2003, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Another theme explores the abstracted or fragmented representation of a woman framed by a window, a composition that removes a sense of particularity or personality as in Howard Hodgkin’s Girl by a Window. 

The final section of the show challenges notions of spectatorship, desire and display with works such as Marina Abramović’s Role Exchange and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #15 in which both artists place themselves in the role of the woman at the window. 

The exhibition concludes with a poignant epilogue, a selection of works created during national lockdowns to recognise the new meaning the notion of a ‘woman in the window’ has acquired in the context of the global pandemic. 

The exhibition is curated by Dr Jennifer Sliwka (King’s College London)  who said: 

“This show will allow visitors to explore a powerful motif across geographic boundaries and time periods to discover why the ‘woman in the window’ has been so important to different cultures at different times. It will provide insight into the ways artists have taken up the device of the window as a kind of ‘portal’ between two realms: the real and the imagined, the sacred and the profane, between this life and the afterlife or between the public and the private.” 

Reframed: The Woman in the Window  runs until 4 September in Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Rd, SE21 7AD

Open 10am – 5pm Tuesday to Sunday

Friends/Under 18s go Free, Adults £16.50, Concessions £8, Under 30s £5 (sign up required)

For further information call 020 8693 5254 or visit www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

What's your opinion?