The portrayal of women who have been labelled ‘mad’ by society is explored in an exhibition at the Lace Market Gallery.

Denise Weston’s exhibition, Women of a Nervous Disposition, which coincides with mental health awareness week (8-14 May), focuses on how women were described as ‘hysterical’ or ‘mad’ ‘in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It features both fictional figures and real people, focusing on three subjects – sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943), writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) and the character of ‘Sister Ruth’ from the novel, Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden – to examine the treatment of mental illness by artists and writers.

Image credit: Lace Market Gallery

Both Claudel and Gilman rejected domestic expectations of women and did not let patriarchal attitudes prevent them from pursuing rich professional and creative lives.

Meanwhile, in her novel Black Narcissus Goden created the character of Sister Ruth, a pathologically jealous Catholic nun who becomes mentally unstable after becoming involved in a love triangle.

Women of a Nervous Disposition offers the opportunity to contemplate the journey each subject endured.

Image credit: Lace Market Gallery

Weston uses muted crimson and bleeding undertones to give her work a ghoulish, haunting quality, which signifies the draining of life from the subjects. Deliberate, sullen features and stark, dark toned backgrounds capture their fragile state of mind, while hints of yellow are deliberately apparent within the portraits.

Image credit: Lace Market Gallery

Although the works display three separate and independent women, the style in which Weston has presented the subjects show a definite connection between their roles.

Weston, who has an MA in Fine Art and has been a practising artist since 1986, has had work showcased nationally and internationally. In between exhibiting and curating events, she is a part-time fine art lecturer and is based in Wollaton Street Studios, Nottingham.

She has also worked with multidisciplinary performance artist Annette Foster, who is researching women’s experience of autism through performance and live art.

Women of a Nervous Disposition kick-starts a two-year project for Weston and is her first solo exhibition since 2012. It will be at the Lace Market Gallery until Thursday 18 May 2017.