Material Girls: Women Money and Markets (1750-1850) conference and WSG panel report

The Women, Money and Markets (1750-1850) conference took place at Kings College, London on 11 May 2017 and three WSG members formed one of the panels delivering papers, writes Johanna Holmes. Co-ordinated by Miriam Al Jamil, the panel spoke on married women’s use of their moveable property as security in the credit market in eighteenth-century Scotland (Rebecca Mason, University of Glasgow), women painters constructing careers in the art world of the period 1820-1850 (Johanna Holmes, Royal Holloway) and Eleanor Coade, a woman who meant business in decorative stonework in the eighteenth century (Miriam al Jamil, Birkbeck College).

The conference was extremely well-attended – an estimated 100 or so delegates and panel speakers, including international delegates who had made a special trip. In view of this, conference organisers Emma Newport and Amy Murat also facilitated a visit for delegates the following morning to the Foundling Museum, a trip partly inspired by WSG’s connections there.

With a total of twelve panel sessions and two plenary lectures, it was a long and busy day, but the number and enthusiasm of delegates ensured that every panel had a good-sized (and discerning) audience, and that speakers found plenty to stimulate their thoughts when not on the platform. The full programme and speaker details can be found on the event website. Audio will be available shortly.

The WSG panel’s personal highlights of the day included:

  • The consistency of a number of themes emerging from the discussions, particularly in recognising women’s agency in a wide range of business activities in various forms of family and business relationships with men – this was history with women in equal focus
  • The opportunity to share research and emerging thoughts with other enthusiastic delegates.

WSG member Carolyn Williams gave a paper independently, on women and their makeshift ways of making money, which was full of illuminating quotes and anecdotes about the lengths to which women had to go in order to survive.

So WSG were well represented at the conference. Many thanks to our speakers!

WSG Workshop 2017 ‘The Fruitful Body’ report

Karen Hearn (UCL) giving her keynote at the WSG workshop 2017 (Image courtesy Sara Read)

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 annual workshop took place at the Foundling Museum on 6 May, with the theme this year of “The fruitful body: gender and image”, keynote speaker Karen Hearn speaking in the morning on ‘Women, agency and fertility in early modern British portraits’, and presentations relating to the theme from participants and discussion in the afternoon. The following report contains references to pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility and bereavement, which some readers may find distressing.

After tea and coffee conference organizer Miriam al Jamil introduced the keynote. Karen is a former Curator of 16th and 17thC British Art at Tate and is currently Honorary Professor at UCL. At Tate she curated several major exhibitions and is now planning a project on early modern representations of pregnancy for early 2019. Karen gave a wide-ranging and fascinating talk focusing on painted portraits of elite British women. She suggested the difficulties of researching these images, as few sources such as diaries or account books that might explain the intention behind and reception of these portraits survive, and the portraits themselves are constructs, the product of decisions as to what to include as well as what to leave out, and thus can be misleading. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot by looking closely and critically at these images.

Early modern elite men and women commissioned portraits for a variety of reasons and life events, and genres such as the marital portrait and maternity portrait are well known, argued Karen, but the pregnancy portrait is less studied.[1] It was popular during the Elizabethan and Jacobean period and Karen showed workshop participants a number of images by artists such as Marcus Gheeraerts II and Hans Eworth. Eworth painted a portrait of Mildred Cooke Cecil, Lady Burghley pregnant with what would turn out to be her son Robert in 1563, which is now in Hatfield House. Cecil had miscarried several times prior to this successful pregnancy, by contemporary standards she was an older mother and the portrait represented the continued hopes of the family that she would produce a male heir.[2]

Themes of loss and gain ran throughout Karen’s talk. Pregnancy was a risky time for early modern women and its representation would be freighted with fears of miscarriage or death, but also hope for or in celebration of a successful birth. These portraits therefore suggest interesting questions and interpretive challenges as to time – when were such portraits began, late in pregnancy when it was likely a woman would carry to term, or earlier? When were they ended, before or after the birth? Did some paintings end up as memento mori, if the mother died? And since women were pregnant so often, were pregnancies actually routinely erased in the process of representation?

Afternoon discussion at WSG workshop 2017 (Image courtesy Sara Read)

Lunch was followed in the afternoon by participants’ 5-minute presentations and discussion (for images and comments from the day, see the twitter hashtag #wsg2017). The chair Felicity Roberts had organized speakers into broadly chronological and thematic groups of three, and in the first Jennifer Evans discussed early modern aphrodisiacs, followed by Sara Read on diagnosing early modern pregnancy and Carolyn Williams on seventeenth-century pregnancy cravings or ‘Pica’. Carolyn described how women who claimed cravings for exotic fruit were suspected of exaggerating this desire, exploiting the special status that being pregnant brought in what might be termed an early modern “power play”.

In the second group of presentations, Helen Draper described the 17thC professional portrait painter Mary Beale’s art practices, and detailed how a portrait of her cousin-in-law Alice Beale by the artist Peter Lely, was finished after her death by having other female family members sit as model instead. Sara Ayres discussed the gendered portrayal of elbows in early modern royal portraits, while Rosemary Keep looked at the prevalence of maternity, where the mother is shown with her children, over paternity portraits. These presentations provoked questions concerning the ir/replaceability of women subjects.

Following this, Rebecca Whiteley looked at early modern anatomical images of the gravid uterus, which functioned “analogically”, depicting the uterus as ripe fruit. Helen Hackett described early modern male poets’ use of pregnancy metaphors to describe the labour of literary invention, while Helen Hopkins discussed some uses of maternity in Shakespeare’s plays. Clearly there were rich resonances between visual and literary metaphors of early modern pregnancy.

Just before the break, Jasmine Losasso discussed the representation of female homicides in 1630s broadsides, noting the way their bodies were still described as maternal, thus making their crimes seem more monstrous.

Gillian Williamson looked at images of landladies in the mid-18thC, including a lurid print of a real life case in which a landlady was murdered by her lodger, an artist, after a disagreement about… her portrait, which he had undertaken. Yvonne Noble described the 1730s actress Anne Oldfield’s directions for her burial clothes, arguably her last great performance.

After a break for tea and coffee, Annette Rubery discussed a print of the actress Peg Woffington closely modelled on earlier images of Nell Gwyn. Charlotte Keighron considered the eighteenth-century gentlewoman Sarah Hurst, her diaries and emotional relationships to clothes she wore and made, while Louise Duckling looked at the choices the late eighteenth-century poets Charlotte Smith and Helen Maria Williams made concerning their public images. This group of presentations suggested how the comparative availability of resources for studying 18thC portraiture and material culture gives the researcher greater scope for determining the relative agency of women in shaping their own reputations, representations and identity.

Next Carol Stewart discussed Henry Fielding’s Amelia and the presence of men during childbirth in the eighteenth century, while Angela Escott described the actress Sarah Siddons’ maternal roles and her use of her own son as her fictional child on the stage. Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou looked at William Blake’s representation of the soul as a female figure.

In the last group of presentations, Georgina White discussed the establishment of the Society for Lying In Women in the early nineteenth century, while Moira Taylor looked at women’s efforts to provide inheritances for female relatives during the same period. Finally, Joanna Crosby brought the workshop to a close with a storming presentation on Victorian paintings and the role of apples in gendering images of women as fallen, including this one by the artist Augustus Egg, where the woman seems to reach out of the frame towards the viewer. It had been a whistle-stop tour of women, gender, portraiture and identity from the early modern through to the mid-Victorian period, but many fruitful connections were made.

[1] For a famous example of an early modern woman’s commission of her own portrait, see Karen Hearn, ‘Lady Anne Clifford’s “Great Triptych”‘, in Karen Hearn and Lynn Hulse (eds), Lady Anne Clifford: Culture, Patronage and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Leeds, 2009), 1-24.

[2] For further information see Karen Hearn, ‘A fatal fertility? Elizabethan and Jacobean pregnancy portraits’, Costume 34 (2000), 39-43.

WSG Workshop 2017 the fruitful body: registration open

The fruitful body: gender and image

Keynote Speaker: Karen Hearn, UCL
“Women, agency and fertility in early modern British portraits”

Unknown artist, Portrait of a woman, probably Catherine Carey Lady Knollys, 1562, Oil on panel, 108.6 x 79.4 cm, Image courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Unknown artist, Portrait of a woman, probably Catherine Carey Lady Knollys, 1562, Oil on panel, 108.6 x 79.4 cm, Image courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Early modern painted portraits are constructs. They result from a series of choices – what to include, what to exclude – made to suit specific contexts and purposes. Karen’s paper will consider 16th and early 17thC British portraits of women, addressing the types of information they offer to present-day users/viewers.

Date: 6 May 2017

Time: 11am-4.30pm (registration from 10.30)

Venue: Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ

Cost (inc lunch & refreshments): £18 (WSG members), £15 (students/unwaged), £22 (non-WSG members)

The workshop is now fully booked, but to join the waiting list please email the address given in the registration form

All attendees should bring a 5-minute presentation, from any discipline and any period covered by the Group, exploring the workshop theme. Topics might include:

* caricature * texts * novels * conduct manuals * medicine *philosophy *motherhood * women artists

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For readers who would like to publicise the event, please download the WSG Workshop 2017 poster and the WSG Workshop Registration 2017 form.

For further information, see the annual workshop page.

Reminder: WSG January seminar 2017

WSG’s next seminar takes place in just over a week, with papers on seventeenth-century sequestration, Mary Beale’s portraiture, and imagining the future in the (very long) eighteenth century.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Saturday 21st January, 2017. Chair: Lois Chaber
Charlotte Young: “Our Wives you find at Goldsmiths Hall”: Women and sequestration during the English Civil War.
Helen Draper: Mary Beale and the Performance of Friendship.
Mascha Hansen: Beyond Marriage: Envisioning the Future in Women’s Writings, 1660-1830.

WSG Women, Money and Markets 1750-1850 abstracts

The WSG’s panel proposal for the Women, Money and Markets 1750-1850 conference taking place at King’s College London on 11 May 2017 has been submitted.  (Full disclosure! It is co-organized by WSG member Emma Newport).

‘Material girls: trading and maneouvring in a material world’
Our panel proposal is for three papers, each dealing with different ways by which women negotiated and managed their material survival and their individual rights to financial control, to thereby claim and fashion a degree of independence. They faced the complex problems of financial and commercial markets as they developed through the eighteenth-century with courage, persistence and determination, and the new research represented in our papers uncovers more active and imaginative economic management by women than has hitherto been recognised.

‘Moveables, markets and married women’s access to credit in eighteenth-century Scotland’
Rebecca Mason

When researching early modern women in relation to their ability to access and attain credit, historians have tended to focus on women’s work in weaving, brewing, and skilled and unskilled trades, with paid labour dominating discussions of married women’s active participation in their local economy and beyond. Instead, this paper will focus on how married women in Scotland understood and utilized the property they attained through marriage, and how they employed this property when engaging in moneylending, pawnbroking, and purchasing merchandise from local market stalls. Wherever commerce took hold, it affected ideas about property, marriage and exchange; resulting in ever-shifting boundaries between what constituted married women’s separate property, which was her own to sell, pawn and bequeath; alongside her and her husband’s conjugal property, which was explicitly under his administration. This paper will focus on those married women who placed their separate and conjugal property in ‘wad’ (Scots legal term meaning ‘in pledge’) as a means of attaining access to credit either alongside or independently of their husbands, and will investigate the extent to which married women could act on behalf of their husband when contracting debts for the benefit of the household. By focusing on burgh court records and family papers pertaining to the west of Scotland, it will investigate how women established informal and formal networks of exchange amongst other members of the burgh communities they resided in and beyond, and investigate the extent to which married women attained access to credit through property ownership, social credibility, trustworthiness and reputation.

Rebecca is a second year PhD student at the University of Glasgow working under the supervision of Prof Alexandra Shepard and Dr Karin Bowie as part of a wider project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council entitled “Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice, c.1100-c.1750.” Her PhD thesis, “Married Women and the Law in Scotland, c.1600-c.1750”, investigates the transmission and procuration of property, both landed and moveable, acquired by married women in the west coast of Scotland from 1600 to 1750.

‘Enterprising painters: women in the art market 1820-1850’
Johanna Holmes

In 1832 a talented young female artist came from Norfolk to live in London for a period wondering whether she might make some extra money from her work. She discovered that she was not alone in a competitive market and, ultimately, that a literary career would suit her better. This paper considers the art world she encountered, the many female artists who were successfully making a living in it and the constraints imposed by their gender upon their income, their careers and their art.

Based on new research and analysis of secondary material, the paper examines three aspects of the art practitioner’s world critical to making a living – skills, marketing and pricing. Analysis of a group of over 300 female artists who exhibited at the Royal Academy during the period together with thumbnail sketches of individual female painters’ careers reveal women artists’ personal circumstances, the scale of their output, the length of their careers and the media in which they worked. The factors in their favour and the strategies they adopted which contributed to their success are discussed, which perhaps challenge the popular assumptions of today about women’s opportunities at this time. However, the overall outcome from their persistence and compromise was in many cases a respectable but modest living within a predictable, unadventurous market. In the last decade of this period, it was becoming evident that a burgeoning market for art, linked to economic growth and British national and imperial identity construction, would offer their male contemporaries wealth, celebrity and diverse career opportunities from which women were excluded.

Johanna is a second year PhD student at Royal Holloway University of London (History), working under the supervision of Dr. Alex Windscheffel and Dr. Jane Hamlett, in the field of nineteenth century visual and material culture. She has a previous career in public sector management consultancy and policy advice. Her PhD thesis, “Strong women: Images of womanhood and their female audience 1820-1880” proposes a continuity of female resistance to the idealisation and stereotyping evident in visual culture through the examination of six women’s motivation and experience at critical points in their careers.

‘The “fiery force” of Eleanor Coade’s business success’
Miriam Al Jamil

Eleanor Coade (1733-1821) developed a successful manufactory of artificial stone statues and decorative items from 1769 at her premises in Lambeth. Her customers eventually included major architects, civic and church officials and the royal family. Clearly, she was a shrewd businesswoman and inspired loyalty from her employees and associates, but she was not afraid to litigate and to insist on her rights. Due to a lack of information about her as an individual, she has received little scholarly attention and has necessarily been represented through her products and their locations.The uniqueness of her case is thus less apparent when she is subsumed as a footnote within discussions of taste and luxury goods, and neoclassical architecture.

My paper examines the evidence that points to Coade’s marketing strategies, to business problems and the assumptions which denied her a role as entrepreneur. She was unusually not engaged in the businesses associated with a feminised luxury trade, although she began as a draper. Her trade card and catalogue demonstate how she utilised classical iconography and prints from Grand Tour collections to promote and design her goods.They feature sculpture and emblematic images which were owned by or demonstrate the prerogatives of powerful and wealthy men who were also her customers. However they also point to the religious and charitable interests of her customers for which she provided evidence in enduring stone. Her nonconformist background and connections are likely to have contributed to her success, but hers is still a remarkable achievement in a highly competetive market.

Miriam has just begun her research at Birkbeck, University of London, supervised by Dr. Luisa Calè and Dr. Kate Retford, looking at the ways in which eighteenth-century women accessed and engaged with Classical sculpture. She has MA’s in Eighteenth-Century Studies and in Early Modern Studies, and has taught at all levels in the past, currently in EFL.