Suffrage Stories/Collecting Suffrage: Mrs Pankhurst’s portrait

In a previous post on Suffragette Jewellery I commented on the danger of assuming that any piece of jewellery that a dealer described as ‘suffragette’ had, in fact, anything to do with the suffragette movement. However it is still possible to discover items the provenance of which cannot be doubted.

Below is one such.

PENDANT – MRS PANKHURST – ICONIC PAINTED PORTRAIT MINIATURE -presented to Mary Leigh, leader of the WSPU Drum and Fife Band, devoted friend of Emily Wilding Davison, and ardent suffragette.

        

         The image for this original painted miniature portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is derived from the photograph of her by the Kensington photographer, Martin Jacolette (see below). In it she is wearing a Holloway brooch, which dates the photograph to no earlier than April 1909.

The portrait miniature is very pleasingly painted and, although no artist’s signature is visible, I did wonder if it might not be by one of the Brackenbury sisters (Georgiana’s much later portrait of Mrs Pankhurst is in the National Portrait Gallery). The portrait is set in a metal pendant, on the back of which is inscribed ‘Presented to Mrs Marie Leigh Drum Major by the N.W.S.P.U. Drum and Fife Band in memory of her courageous fight for woman’s freedom December 1909’.

In the autumn of 1909 Mary Leigh had been forcibly fed while serving sentences in Winson Green and Strangeways prisons and in December an action for damages was brought on her behalf by the WSPU against the Home Secretary. The WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, reported that, on 16 December 1909, ‘Ushered to the strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” , played by the WSPU Band, Mrs Leigh, the Drum Major received a royal welcome at St James’s Hall. Looking rather pale but as determined as ever, she delivered a stirring address.’ As Christabel Pankhurst, who was presiding, commented, ‘The Government did not know with whom they were dealing.’ The pendant was probably presented on this occasion.

The pendant, which has its original chain, has set around its edge three little stones – one white, one purple and one green. In this case the choice of stones clearly did have WSPU relevance. The pendant is in its original box – similar in material to that used for the hunger strike medals. Contemporary painted portraits of Mrs Pankhurst are exceedingly rare and with this particular provenance – unique. I have never seen another pendant like this, but wonder whether Mary Leigh was the only recipient of such an object. Might there be others waiting to be discovered?

Mary Leigh (right) and the WSPU Drum and Fife Band

 

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