Tate Britain has put on show two newly discovered works by Britain’s earliest professional female painter for the first time, as part of a radical rehang of its collection.
Mary Beale, who died in 1699, was a prolific portrait painter but her name is little known outside experts in 17 century English painting.
Tabitha Barber, curator at Tate Britain, said: “I think she’s remarkably important and very underrated. People don’t tend to know her now. She was commercially very popular at the time.”
The Tate had one painting in the collection dated to 1681, but three years ago two oil on paper works of her son were discovered by chance in a Paris antiques shop. The Tate subsequently bought the works from the 1650s, and this is the first time the previously unknown pieces have gone on display.
“She’s represented as part of British art here, as she should be, we’re trying to emphasise her importance.” Ms Barber said, adding there was work to do in buying more of her work
All three are now on display as part of the overhaul of the presentation of the gallery’s collection of British art. Part of which has stressed the importance of female artists.
Chris Stephens, head of displays, at Tate Britain, said: “We sought, wherever we could, to ensure we had as many women artists from the collection on display. It’s been an area where we have underachieved in recent years; it became an important part of our selection for each period.”
The works have now been ordered chronologically, rather than by genre or movement, allowing visitors to walk through rooms from the 1500s to the present day. “It is to unshackle the paintings and sculptures from the weight of art history,” Mr Stephens said.
The 500 art works, from Francis Bacon and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, David Hockney and Rachel Whiteread will be displayed in 20 rooms at the Millbank site.
The re-hang, the brainchild of Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis, has been three years in the making and follows refurbishment work at Tate’s building.
Ms Curtis said: “One of the key aspects of the project was to create a circuit that would always be here” adding: “We wanted to restore some of the symmetry to the gallery.”
The Tate has also opened permanent galleries to two of the greatest figures in British art: William Blake and Henry Moore. The gallery said that, alongside Turner, it had a “special historic relationship” with the artists. Ms Curtis said it would give a sense of what “is British art and how does it evolve.”
As well as the circuit around the outside there will be “spotlight” galleries with works that change every six months.
Nine galleries in the building were reconstructed with new walls roofs and floors. Work remains on going at the front of the gallery and the main entrance will reopen with a new spiral staircase in November.