Reminder: WSG seminar March 2022

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 March 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place at The Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ and sessions start promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30pm, and there is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session. The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.


Sophie Johnson

History’s ‘other’ sculptors: The under-representation of historic women sculptors (1558 – 1837) in the history of art

Since Linda Nochlin’s seminal essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971), research has been increasingly published on women artists. However, the focus of this work has primarily been on painters, or artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One group who are still largely absent from art historical research are historic women sculptors. In particular, we see very little research into women sculptors from before the mid-19th century, the point at which women were formally admitted into art academies. It appears that these women are almost as absent in modern scholarship as they were in the artists’ dictionaries of their day. Not only is there a lack of research on these women compared to their painter or contemporary sisters, but we also see very few examples of their work in UK public art collections. An invisibility not simply resulting from a lack of women practicing sculpture historically, but a continued hierarchy in the perceived quality of sculptural materials. A preference for marble and bronze inadvertently prejudices historic women sculptors working in wax and organic materials; the more popular materials for them to work in. Furthermore, the view that the physicality of sculpture would have been prohibitive for women has not yet disappeared from the academic or indeed public consciousness.

This paper will briefly highlight the women sculptors who existed from 1558 – 1837 and the structural constraints which prevented many from achieving recognition. Moreover, the biases in art-historical research and museum practice which continue to obscure their visibility today. Arguing that we must go further than simply uncovering historic women sculptors but challenge outdated standards of ‘quality’ and an exclusionary art-historical canon. Demonstrating how the under-representation of historic women sculptors is a crucial part of today’s wider discussion around diversifying our collections and research for a contemporary audience.

Charlotte Goodge

‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the ‘long’ Eighteenth Century.

This paper will explore how the ‘exercise’ recommended for genteel women in the ‘long’ eighteenth century was orientated around the concept of ‘delicacy’ (as promoted by Samuel Johnson in an anecdote recorded in Hester Piozzi’s Thralina and discussed frequently as a topic in conduct literature of the period). These ‘exercises’ were not exercises in the way we think of fitness today. Indeed, the exercises deemed appropriately feminine often did not involve physical activity at all (one such exercise being a carriage ride), and when they did, they were notably gentle – a promenade about the room or garden.

Thus, it seems unsurprising that when the genteel woman did physically exert herself, it was understood to undermine the expectation of delicacy (as touched upon in the scholarly works of Donna Landry and Kerri Andrews). Her participation in certain sports, such as horse riding (especially as a member of the hunt) or rambling, was seen as much too over-active for her sex, and, consequently, ‘masculine’. In literary culture especially, there are notable instances of ‘fat’ women participating in these unfemininely, over-active pursuits. Charlotte Lennox’s ‘Miss Groves’ in The Female Quixote (1752) and Thomas Love Peacock’s ‘Susannah Touchandgo’ in Castle Crotchet (1831) demonstrate this.

Although the image of the ‘fat’ woman exhibiting her sporting prowess may seem incongruous, this paper examines how the ‘fatness’ of these literary protagonists was used to draw attention to what the ‘fat’ woman’s overexertion could enable, rather than the indelicacy of the act of overexertion itself. Indeed, as I intend to argue in this paper, ‘fatness’ in these literary instances signified a distinct autonomy. By being pointedly mobile and unprohibited in her movements, the overly active ‘fat’ woman suggested an ability to challenge sexual propriety (by displaying her body on her terms) and confused others’ perception of her social rank, translating an indelicate physical mobility into a disruptive social mobility.

Moira Goff

Evered Laguerre: a Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

Evered Laguerre (1702-1739) has a good claim to be the leading female dancer in the company at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields and then Covent Garden Theatres during the 1720s and 1730s, although her name is rarely to be found in the writings of modern dance historians. In this paper, I will evaluate that claim as I survey her dance repertoire and look at her status within the company in different seasons. Mrs Laguerre was also an actress, but I will not deal with this aspect of her stage work except in passing. I will try to place her in context alongside the other dancers, particularly the female dancers, who appeared on the early 18th-century London stage. Mrs Laguerre’s career is linked to that of the French professional dancer Marie Sallé, who danced at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden during several seasons over the same period. Mlle Sallé’s career has received much attention from dance writers and historians, who tend to overlook her contemporaries in London. In my paper, I will explore how and where Evered Laguerre’s repertoire intersects with that of Marie Sallé and what this might tell us about the dancing of both women as well as dancing on the London stage more generally.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

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