The picture, by artist Annie Louisa Swynnerton (1844-1933), depicts Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
Dating from around 1910, the oil on canvas portrait shows Fawcett in the academic robes of the University of St Andrews, which awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in Law for services to women’s education in 1899.
A similar picture is in Tate Britain (which arrived via the Chantrey Bequest in 1930).
Parliament’s version is believed to have passed through auction houses until the 1970s and was recently acquired by art dealer Richard Taylor Fine Art who sold it to the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Taylor has focused on works by Swynnerton (among other artists) and previously lent two paintings by her to the Manchester Art Gallery’s exhibition in 2018-19.
He added: “The painting was rediscovered and researched. I have had an interest in the artist for many years and I recognised the painting when I first saw it.”
The purchase was made possible by the author, dealer and Suffragette specialist Elizabeth Crawford.
She spotted the portrait last year on Taylor’s website and alerted Melanie Unwin, the former deputy collector of the Palace of Westminster Col lection. Fol lowing discussions the purchase by the committee for £87,000 incl. VAT went ahead and the picture was unveiled last month.
Crawford had been aware of the picture’s existence but did not know where it was. She said: “It was a great surprise - and a pleasure - when I spotted that it was for sale. And to me Parliament seemed the perfect home for it.”
Swynnerton also painted friends and family of Fawcett and was herself a leading figure in the various social and political movements, joining the Manchester Society of Women’s Suffrage in 1880.
The committee said: “Portraits of suf f rage campaigners are rare… It represents a rare opportunity for the committee to acquire a highly significant work that not only portrays a major figure in the fight for women’s suffrage - but also created by an artist who was herself involved in the same movement.
“The committee has been actively collecting suffrage related objects for more than 12 years, as well as seeking to broaden the diversity of the Parliamentary Art Collection with more women sitters and artists.”