The Queen’s Gambit, women in chess & Purling London

The Queen's Gambit Netflix The Queens Gambit Women in Chess
The official poster for the hugely successful Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit
(Photograph credit: Netflix)
women in chess the queen's gambit Art Chess by Nette Robinson
Artist, Nette Robinson poses for a picture inspired by ‘The Queen’s Gambit‘ with her Christie’s Russia inspired Purling chess set

The hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit has inspired many people to take up or rediscover chess. What’s really exciting, though, is that it’s bringing more women to the game, and sparking important debates about women and girls as chess-players and role models.

In making a woman its star, The Queen’s Gambit throws welcome light on the fact that there are, and always have been, great female players at the apex of the international game. In 1991, Hungarian prodigy Judit Polgar became the world’s then-youngest Grandmaster at just 15 years and four months; by her retirement in 2014 she had beaten 11 current or former world champions, including Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky, in either rapid or classical chess.

The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Anna Rudolf with Purling London Bold Chess
International Master Anna Rudolf with Purling London Bold Chess
(Photograph credit: Anna Rudolf)

Yet the idea of high-level chess as a bellicose, male-dominated world is hard to shake off. It’s revealing that the show’s lead character, Beth Harmon, is based not on a woman like Polgar, but the legendary American grandmaster Bobby Fischer. And Beth’s rivalry with Vasily Borgov has strong echoes of the era-defining 1972 World Championship match between Fischer and Spassky, viewed then and now as a proxy for the Cold War. 

The myth that chess somehow ‘isn’t a game for women’ is one that Purling London has always consciously sought to overturn. Since our earliest days, we have been supported top female players, and commissioned around a dozen female artists to create our Art Chess sets, starting with Olivia Pilling, whose jewel-like, impressionistic sets remain among our most popular ever. Other collaborators include Daniela RaytchevSophie Matisse and Michelle Hold; their work often has social or political messages, as well as celebrating the beauty and complexity of the game itself.

The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Daniela Raytchev witih art curator Shannon Bailey at World Chess Hall of Fame
Daniela Raytchev with her feminist ‘Glass Ceiling’ Art Chess set inspired by Grandmaster Judit Polgar at the World Chess HOF with curator Shannon Bailey
Olivia Pilling‘s Art Chess inspired by interior design colour palettes
Queens Gambit Women in Chess Art Chess by Kate Brinkworth photo credit: Bartholomew Hawkins
Kate Brinkworth working on her Art Chess
(photo credit: Bartholomew Hawkins)
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Artist Michelle Hold working on a bespoke Art Chess set
Michelle Hold working on an Art Chess set

We’ve also worked closely with London-based chess player, teacher and artist Nette Robinson, who kindly agreed to pose for our recent Queen’s Gambit-inspired photoshoot. She created a new board to display a set of rare 1930s Soviet chess pieces called ‘The Reds and the Whites’, with red representing the noble Communists and white the decadent Capitalists. After the originals were sold at Christie’s in London, Nette created a new set of Art Chess pieces to complement her Russian-style board.

Purling has collaborated with women artists for two exhibitions at the World Chess Hall of Fame, St. Louis, MO, USA: Ladies’ Knight: A Female Perspective on Chess’ (2015) and Painted Pieces(2018). The former showed Art Chess sets by Daniela Raytchev and Crystal Fischetti around the themes of addiction and love. The later included Raytchev’s feminist ‘Glass Ceiling’ chess set, Sophie Matisse‘s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Kate Brinkworth‘s examination of chance verses strategy through chess.

We believe chess is a universal game to enjoyed and engaged with by women and men, young and old alike. And as Beth Harmon says, and our Art Chess sets prove: ‘Chess doesn’t have to be competitive, it can also be beautiful.’

The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Hand painting chess pieces
Nette Robinson painting a bespoke chess queen inspired by the flag of Hungary as a gift for Grandmaster Judit Polgar

13 Women artists who have created Art Chess for Purling:

Olivia Pilling
Sophie Matisse
Daniela Raytchev
Nette Robinson
Michelle Hold
Zizi Donohoe
Kate Brinkworth
Crystal Fischetti
Tahnee Lonsdale
Virginia Griffith-Jone
s
Joanna Scislowicz
Alice White
Alla Popova

The Queens Gambit Addiction chess set
Daniela Raytchev x Purling Art Chess ‘Addictions
Queens Gambit Women in Chess Art Chess by Nette Robinson
Inspired by ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ with Art Chess by Nette Robinson
women in chess queen's gambit Art Chess by Sophie Matisse
Art Chess by Sophie Matisse working on her Art Chess sets
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess women playing game of chess at a Purling Games pop up London
Guests playing chess at London Purling Games Pop-up
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Art Chess by Sophie Matisse
Art Chess by Sophie Matisse ‘Alice in Wonderland
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Olivia Pilling working on her Art Chess
Olivia Pilling signing her Art Chess sets
inspired by the Queen's Gambit Beth Harmon
Art Chess by Nette Robinson
Inspired by ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Netflix series
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess women at Purling Games pop up
Guests playing chess at London Purling Games Pop-up
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Art Chess in progress
Art Chess by Michelle Hold in progress
Queen's Gambit Women in chess Nazí Paikidze with Purling London Bold Chess
International Master & former US Champion, Nazí Paikidze with Purling London Bold Chess
(Photograph credit: Nazí Paikidze)
women in chess queen's gambitArt Chess by Sophie Matisse in progress
Art Chess in progress by Sophie Matisse
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Nette Robinson Chess board for Christies Important Russian Art Sale
Nette Robinson with her specially designed Art Chess board for ‘the Reds and the Whites’ antique Soviet chess pieces at Christies Important Russian Art Sale
Zizi Donohoe Art Chess in progress
Art Chess by Zizi Donohoe in progress
(Photograph credit: Zizi Donohoe)
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Galiya Karjakina with Purling London Bold Chess
Chess Arbiter Galiya Karjakina with Purling London Bold Chess
(Photograph credit: Galiya Karjakina)
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Kate Brinkworth in her studio photo credit Bartholomew Hawkins
Kate Brinkworth painting a Bespoke Art Chess set
(Photograph credit: Bartholomew Hawkins)
Art Chess by Zizi Donohoe ‘Untitled (Clouds & Marble)’
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Tania Sachdev with Purling London Bold Chess
WGM Tania Sachdev with Purling London Bold Chess
(Photograph credit: Tania Sachdev)
Zizi Donohoe painting her Art Chess
Zizi Donohoe painting her Art Chess
(Photograph credit: Zizi Donohoe)
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Nette Robinson live painting at Harrods
Nette Robinson painting in store at Harrods
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Art Chess by Purling celebrating the complexity and beauty of chess
Art Chess by Nette Robinson ‘Golden Path’
Celebrating the complexity and beauty of Chess
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk
Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk with Purling London Bold Chess
(Photograph credit: Alexandra Kosteniuk)
The Queens Gambit Women in Chess Kate Brinkworth painting a piece photo credit Bartholomew Hawkins
Kate Brinkworth at work on her Art Chess
(Photograph credit: Bartholomew Hawkins)
playing chess at a Purling Games pop up London
Guests playing chess at our Games Pop-up

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