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Gender in Towner: Regional Collections, Histories and Exhibitions

Project Description

Applications are invited for a collaborative doctoral project between the Department of Art History, University of Sussex and Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. The project will use Towner as a case study to investigate histories of gender representation in regional UK galleries. Primarily collections-based, a key objective of the project will be to conduct a critical analysis of Towner’s repositories, examining artworks acquired from the moment of the gallery’s inception in 1923 through to the present day.

The lack of female representation in public galleries is widespread. The National Gallery recently upped the number of works by women artists in its collections to twenty, which still represents one percent of its total holdings. There is a growing consensus that regional galleries likewise need to assess and redress gender imbalance in their collections: This project will focus on histories of gender representation at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. While Towner’s history is dominated by the names of male collectors and artists, 18% of the artists in the collection are women, and female collectors, including an important early gallerist, have made major donations of works during the twentieth century. As Towner approaches its centenary in 2023, a deeper awareness and understanding of the role women have played in the gallery’s history will help to support its commitment to improved gender representation in future acquisitions, exhibitions and public engagement with the collection.

The project builds on a recent surge of scholarly and curatorial interest in 20th century British women artists, collectors and dealers. The project has been designed to contribute to the Towner exhibition ‘Lucy Wertheim: Patron, Collector & Gallerist’, which will provide a unique opportunity to examine Wertheim’s key role in a broad network of relationships with female artists and collectors, within the region, across the UK and internationally. Wertheim, an influential gallerist and an important link between Towner and New Zealand, bequeathed a large number of works by twentieth-century British artists to Towner in 1971. Her donation during her lifetime of 154 works by twentieth-century British artists to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki includes paintings by Walne, as well as by Frances Hodgkins (also represented in Towner’s collections); thirty of these works toured New Zealand in a travelling exhibition in 1948. The research project will also contribute to Towner’s forthcoming exhibition of the little-known New Zealand artist Eileen Mayo. This provides the opportunity to consider her career as a British born artist who worked in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, alongside that of New Zealand-born Hodgkins, who was active both in New Zealand and in Europe. The studentship provides funding for a research trip to New Zealand to investigate these parallels across collections and archives.

The project offers a student the opportunity to make a real contribution to Towner and its activities by changing institutional practices as a result of its research findings. The student will participate in revising Towner’s Collection development and acquisitions policy and in the development of future exhibitions programming. They will work with Towner’s dedicated and knowledgeable staff team, directly supervised by Towner’s Head of Collections & Exhibitions, and alongside the Collection Curator and wider curatorial team. They will also at times work across Towner departments, including Development, Learning, and Marketing, when relevant to the project. This unique opportunity will prepare the student for a future career in both academic and cultural sectors, providing them with opportunities to build up transferable employability skills and extending their research network. In addition to being given access to the permanent collection of nearly 5000 artworks, and the associated research materials and archives, the student will have access to the temporary exhibitions and the talks and events programme. They will be given a work space and access to free high-speed wi-fi, as well as to the appropriate internal computer files and the TMS collection database.

This doctoral project builds on the firm partnership base between the Department of Art History, University of Sussex, and Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. At the Sussex end, supervision will be undertaken jointly by Dr Meaghan Clarke and Dr Flora Dennis, while Sara Cooper, Head of Collections and Exhibitions, will be responsible for supervision of the project at Towner.

Funding Notes

We are looking for an excellent, highly promising and appropriately qualified student who will embrace the opportunity to bring together academic research with experience and training in a leading regional collection.

Applicants should hold or be expecting to obtain a Master’s degree in Art History or a related discipline at good merit level or above. We are committed to welcoming students from different backgrounds to apply for our studentships.

For informal enquiries about the project contact Dr Flora Dennis ().

For enquiries about the online application process contact Paige Thompson ()


The scholarship covers Home/EU PhD fees, research costs and the standard UKRI stipend (a tax-free maintenance allowance of £15,285 in 2020-21) for three years (or 6 years if taken up part-time)

Non EU Overseas students are not eligible to apply. EU citizens must have been resident in the UK for the three years prior to October 2020 to receive the full award. (Otherwise they are eligible for a fee waiver and research costs only).

Apply online on the Sussex postgraduate application system listing Art History as the PhD course and mentioning Dr Flora Dennis as the supervisor and CHASE/Towner CDA in the Funding section. You will need to provide references and to upload your CV, transcripts and a personal statement/research proposal outlining your interest in and suitability for the project.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Sussex in Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 11.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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