Two World War II spies, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and and a leading figure in the British military’s women’s corps in World War I are among women being honoured with Blue Plaques this year. English Heritage unveiled plans this week for six female-focused plaques with the first to celebrate Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), a botanist and leader of women in the armed forces during the ‘Great War’. Others will honour Christine Granville (1908-1952) – who served as Britain’s longest-serving female SOE agent in World War II, Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – Britain’s first Muslim war heroine and the first female radio operator working in Nazi-occupied France, and ground-breaking 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Blue Plaques will also be unveiled at the former headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster and the Women’s Social and Political Union in Holborn. While only 14 per cent of the more than 950 Blue Plaques in London commemorate women, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. This year will be only the second the organisation has unveiled as many as six plaques honouring women. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The brief career of controversial artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Aubrey Beardsley features some 200 works in the largest display of his original drawings in more than 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at the Tate since 1923. Highlights include key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career – a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-4), Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896) – as well as bound editions and plates of the literary quarterly The Yellow Book, of which he was art director. There’s also a collection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) The Peacock Skirt – illustration for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ (1893), lineblock print on paper, Stephen Calloway Photo: © Tate

The first major UK exhibition on the kimono – described as the “ultimate symbol of Japan” – has opened at the V&A. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk examines the sartorial and social significance of the kimono spanning the period from the 1660s to today. Highlights include a kimono created by ‘Living National Treasure’ Kunihiko Moriguchi, an Alexander McQueen-designed dress worn by Björk on the cover of the album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. There are also designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano. The exhibition features more than 315 works including kimonos but also paintings, prints, films and dress accessories. Can be seen in Gallery 39 and the North Court until 21st June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kimono.

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Located in Gordon Square Gardens in King’s Cross, this bust commemorates British agent Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), who was executed during World War II.

Khan, who was of Indian descent (in fact, a direct descendent of Tipu Sultan of Mysore), had escaped to England from her home in Paris after the fall of France during World War II. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November, 1940, and in 1942 was recruited to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a radio operator.

In June, 1943, she became the first female radio operator to be flown into occupied France. There she worked for the “Prosper” resistance network under the code name Madeleine but in October she was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo.

Sent to Germany the following month, she was held in prison before, in September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp where they were shot on the 13th of that month. Her last word was said to have been “Liberte”.

Khan, dubbed the “Spy Princess” by her biographer, was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

The bust of her in Gordon Square Gardens was unveiled by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, on 8th November, 2012. A message from her brother Hidayat Inayat-Khan was read out at the unveiling.

The bust is believed to be the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK. The work of Karen Newman, it was commissioned by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust.

Various inscriptions on the bust plinth provide biographical details and also record that Noor lived nearby and “spent some quite time in this garden”.

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)