Research Paper No.1

The following report was commissioned by Freelands Foundation in order to establish current and objective data in relation to the representation of female artists. The intention of the report is to contribute to existing debates, as well as to aid the Foundation in making a philanthropic intervention on the basis of evidence, research and an in-depth understanding of current conditions.

Research compiled by Charlotte Bonham-Carter


This report began with a question:
Are female artists under-represented in Britain?
There are many reasons for asking this question.

Charlotte Bonham-Carter


Are female artists

Report Summary

Though female art and design graduates outnumber men, men outnumber women in the majority of activities that signify the development of an artist’s career, such as having a solo exhibition at a national museum in London, or at a large-scale gallery outside of London. Indeed, in major career highlights, such as representing Britain at the Venice Biennale, men substantially outnumber women. The representation of female artists has increased over the years, and fairly significantly since the ELF audit in 2012–13, however the data suggests that gender imbalances persist at, and beyond, the mid-career stage.


1. Undergraduate Education

According to The Guardian

62% of undergraduates studying art and design in 2011–12 were female


2. Commercial Galleries in London

In 2012–13, East London Fawcett (ELF), a campaign group for equality between men and women, conducted an audit of 134 commercial galleries in London, and found that:

31% of the represented artists
were women


78% of the galleries represented
more men than women

Galleries representing more men
Galleries representing more women

Representation by a commercial gallery in London is a major career achievement, however women feature disproportionately less than men in this area of the commercial market. 

The under-representation of female artists is further evidenced by the ELF’s finding that there were no women on the list of the top 100 auction performances in 2012. 

For many artists, success in the commercial market is fundamental to sustaining a career as an artist.


Solo shows in non-commercial
galleries in London

We conducted an audit of solo shows featured in the exhibition programme of 28 non-commercial galleries in London (2014–15), and found that:


of these shows were by female artists


of shows at NPOs and DCMS(1) funded
organisations were by female artists


25% of shows at London’s major institutions were
by female artists(2)

Our 2014–15 data shows that 42% of solo shows were by female artists. This is a marked improvement from the ELF 2012–13 audit, which found that just 31% of solo shows were by female artists. 

However, our 2014–15 data indicates that the percentage of solo shows by female artists at London’s major institutions is only 25%.

Solo shows at London's major institutions 
Male selected artists
Female selected artists

Solo shows in non-commercial
galleries outside London

We conducted an audit of solo shows featured in the exhibition programme of 43 non-commercial galleries (3) outside London (2014–15) and found that:


of these shows were by female artists


For NPOs this drops to 38%


For major institutions outside London this drops to 33%

Our 2014–15 data shows that 40% of solo shows at non-commercial galleries outside London were by female artists. However, as found in London, representation of women at major institutions is far less than equivalent. 

Only 33% of solo shows at major institutions outside the capital were by female artists.


Artists at the Venice Biennale and the
Turner Prize in the UK

Our audit of artists selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale over the last ten years found that:

33% of selected artists
were women

Male selected artists
Female selected artists

Our audit of Turner Prize winners over the last ten years found that:

40% of winners have been
female artists

Female winners
Male winners

Representing Britain at the Venice Biennale or winning the Turner Prize are major highlights in an artist’s career. 

And yet, despite the fact that the Guardian reported that 62% of art and design graduates in 2011–12 were female, women are under-represented in these pinnacle achievements.


Despite the many advances made by women in the art world over the years, women are still under-represented in all of the indicators we used to measure career achievement.

Notes on the Methodology

Notes on the text

1. National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) are the Arts Council England’s (ACE) regularly funded organisations. Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) funded organisations, such as Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum, receive grant-in-aid directly from the DCMS. In this report they are a way of identifying established, government-backed institutions of some standing. 

2. In this report, ‘major institutions’ are defined as organisations in receipt of over £1 million ACE/DCMS funding.


Charlotte Bonham-Carter is the researcher and writer of this report. The report is one of a series of studies undertaken during the development of Freelands Foundation to investigate issues in the arts sector. Charlotte is a published author, curator and academic at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London. 

The report is copy edited by Sarah Auld, an independent editor and formerly Publications Manager at the Whitechapel Gallery.

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