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.

WSG Workshop 2017: keynote speaker Karen Hearn

WSG is pleased to announce that its next annual workshop will be held at the Foundling Museum on 6th May 2017.  Our keynote speaker will be art historian Dr Karen Hearn, whose paper will reflect her work on seventeenth-century portraits of women.

The Cholmondeley Ladies c.1600-10 British School 17th century 1600-1699 Presented anonymously 1955 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00069
The Cholmondeley Ladies c.1600-10 British School 17th century 1600-1699 Presented anonymously 1955 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00069

Karen is Honorary Professor at University College London, and was previously Curator of 16th & 17th Century British Art at Tate Britain, 1992-2012. She is a long-standing member of WSG.

At Tate Karen curated the landmark 1995 exhibition Dynasties: Painting in Tudor & Jacobean England 1530-1630, for which she received a European Woman of Achievement Award. She also curated the major exhibition Van Dyck & Britain (2009), and another on Rubens & Britain (2011-12).  Her 2002 exhibition and volume Marcus Gheeraerts II: Elizabethan Artist established the theme of the ‘pregnancy portrait’ (which is the subject of her next book).

We invite all those attending to give a five minute presentation which is inspired by the topic. It may consist of thoughts or associations, current work or research questions which relate to women and representation, and may be drawn from within the broad historical period which our group covers.

We hope to see many of you there, for a day of discussion and conviviality.

Helen Draper: Mary Beale’s self-portraits

During the WSG’s recent trip to the Geffrye Museum, member Helen Draper gave a talk about the seventeenth-century artist Mary Beale.  She writes more below.

As already described so beautifully by Miriam Al Jamil, members of the WSG met for this year’s annual outing at East London’s Geffrye Museum, an institution devoted mainly to the study and representation of England’s middle classes from 1600 the present day. A particularly interesting example of a middling family of the mid- to late-seventeenth century, that of artist Mary Beale, is represented in the collection by a very novel object. Beale’s Self-portrait with her husband and son (c.1660, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.2 cm) is the earliest of her firmly attributed works, and in it she put a daring new slant on a well established male genre – that of the artist’s self-portrait with his family. At first glance this slightly sombre yet affecting portrait appears too small and unassuming to be of revolutionary importance in the canon of British art history, yet in it Mary very purposefully placed herself, a virtuous Christian wife and mother, in the role of creator, the author of her own and her family’s painted biography.

Mary Cradock (1633-99), born the daughter of a clergyman in the hamlet of Barrow in Suffolk, married Charles Beale (1632-1705) in 1652 just days before her father’s untimely death left her an orphan. By 1654 the couple and their newborn son, Bartholomew ‘Batt’ Beale, were living in Covent Garden, the centre of metropolitan art production and patronage during the Interregnum. Mary’s near neighbours included fellow artists Peter Lely (d.1680), who prospered and went on to become Court Painter to Charles II, and the innovative Joan Carlile (d.1679) who was engaged in what proved to be an abortive strategy to earn a ‘fortune’ as a society portraitist. In 1658, when Charles Beale was appointed Deputy Patents Clerk, the family moved eastwards to occupy the Patents Office house in Hind Court, a narrow alley off Fleet St and just ‘Without’ the London Wall. It was in that house – full of family, lodgers and servants – that Mary made her way upstairs to her top floor studio to paint the triple, perhaps quadruple, portrait now at the Geffrye Museum. I have suggested elsewhere that it is entirely possible that the artist was pregnant with her son Charles at the time, and that the space in the portrait between her, her husband and young Batt alludes to the other member of the family who was at once absent and present.

When, in 1665, plague spread through the city the Beales swapped their cramped little street for five years on a smallholding in Allbrook, Hampshire. Although we know little of Mary’s painterly activities in the countryside, brief references confirm that she continued to work, while Charles prepared her canvases. During their sojourn Mary Beale painted her second surviving Self-portrait (c.1666, oil on canvas, 109.2 x 87.6 cm, NPG), this time openly in the guise of an artist with her palette hanging on the wall nearby, and as mother to two young children who appear as the subjects of a small double portrait held at her side. Here Beale is again gently subversive, playing with the concept of likeness and asserting her power to create progeny in paint as well as flesh – an undeniable advantage over her male colleagues, and one shared by many women artists through the centuries.

In 1670/1 the family left their rural idyll and returned to London, this time as householders in a newly built terrace of well-to-do middling homes on the north side of Pall Mall. It was there, a stone’s throw from the mansions of St James’s Square and Charles II’s palace, that Mary Beale established the fully professional portrait studio in which she created fashionable likenesses of patrons who were stalwarts of Court, County and the City. Mary also found time to paint several other self-portraits, and dozens of gradually ageing studies of her husband Charles. Her last known ‘selfie’ (c.1681, oil on bed ticking, 121.9 x 104.1 cm, private collection) painted when she was almost fifty, shows a self-possessed woman, well, but not opulently dressed, a pet spaniel by her side. Echoing the still, interrogative gaze of the earlier images, her expression in this portrait is again characteristic of the inner three-way visual conversation being conducted between Beale the creator, subject and viewer of her own likeness.

Helen is a conservator and is currently completing a PhD thesis on Mary Beale part-time at the Courtauld Institute and IHR. You can read more about her work on her very elegant website, www.draperconservation.com.

Miriam Al Jamil: thoughts from the Geffrye

This year the WSG’s annual outing was to the Geffrye Museum.  WSG member Miriam Al Jamil writes about the day:

Family portrait (artist and sitter unknown), c1750, Geffrye Museum
Family portrait (artist and sitter unknown), c1750, Geffrye Museum

“This year our group visit was to the Geffrye Museum, coming close on the heels of our workshop.  So from discussions centring on the public voice increasingly claimed by women we turned to the traditional private sphere of domestic spaces.  The museum occupies a modest almshouse building which opened for pensioners of the Ironmongers Company in 1714.  It was built by the wealthy merchant Sir Robert Geffrye, and rooms in a side wing of the museum have been restored to display the accommodation offered to pensioners until the early twentieth-century. The emphasis was on cleanliness, godliness (regular attendance at the small chapel was compulsory), but also on a degree of comfort and stability. As a ‘Museum of the Home’ there is an emphasis on the variety and development of material culture from the seventeenth century onwards. The personal items included in the reconstructed pensioners’ rooms are the first examples we saw of the carefully displayed objects that characterise the Geffrye’s approach to historical engagement.

The main gallery conducts us through an enfilade series of period room settings beginning with 1630 and concluding in 1998. Although our visit mirrors the experience of progressing through the rooms in stately homes the emphasis is specifically on middle class life and culture. Informative displays of materials and construction, the trades and markets supplying necessities and luxuries are well presented introductions to each room. We are encouraged to imagine that the residents have just slipped out and we are thus voyeurs encountering the possessions that defined a family’s status and interests at particular points in time.

Arrangements and contacts made by WSG members Angela Escott and Marion Durnin meant that archivists had prepared a selection of books, documents and objects from the archive as part of our visit. This was certainly a highlight and I am sure will encourage further exploration by WSG researchers. The archive focuses on domestic material, mainly from London, and with an inevitable accent on women’s history. There is a fine collection of cookery and medical recipe books, household accounts and diaries, prints and manuals. A small chest of drawers with a pencilled note indicating that it was made for a woman in 1728 has rare provenance, as does a japanned corner cupboard of around 1750 with the japanner’s stamp inscribed. The museum keeps a selection of shipwreck porcelain tea ware, complete with barnacles, to demonstrate what might have been kept in the cupboard. These pieces could be handled, and are among resources available for a variety of educational programmes.

Items from the Geffrye Museum library and archive
Items from the Geffrye Museum library and archive

Our trip concluded with WSG member Helen Draper’s fascinating insight into the life and work of her research subject, the artist Mary Beale. Beale’s self-portrait with her husband and son of about 1660 is her first known painting and it was a treat to have the opportunity to examine and discuss it. The possibility that the artist had depicted herself in late pregnancy was of particular interest. Helen showed us sketches related to the work, and placed it within the context of Beale’s career. Our trip provided much food for thought as I am sure everyone who attended would agree. Many thanks are due to the organisers for such a pleasant and stimulating day!”

WSG member Helen Draper will be writing more about the artist Mary Beale in a forthcoming blog post.

Felicity Roberts: Mary Delany and her collages

Front cover of Materializing Gender (Routledge, 2016)A new book edited by Jennifer Germann and Heidi Strobel, Materializing Gender in Eighteenth-Century Europe, has recently been published by Routledge.  The collection was actually seen through the press by Ashgate USA’s Margaret Michniewicz, until Ashgate’s acquisition by Routledge.  Margaret is now pursuing new projects as Bloomsbury’s Visual Arts/Art History Acquisitions Editor, and she tweets as @BburyViaAshg8.  Expect some exciting announcements from her account soon.

Materializing Gender includes essays on the needle artist Mary Linwood (see her fantastic portrait of Napoleon at the V&A here), and almanacs, mantillas, guns and silver, amongst objects, as well as WSG member Felicity Roberts’ chapter on the eighteenth-century gentlewoman Mary Delany whose hybrid scientific and art practices included diary- and letter-writing, botanising, shellwork, collaging, needlework, and the writing of a novella.  Felicity explores how Delany’s class and gender shaped her serious botanical interests, and how she expressed and shaped this complex subject position through her famous flower collages and novella.  Felicity hopes to follow up her interest in Mary Delany with a wider study of women, natural history and material culture in the long eighteenth century soon.  Beginning with Charlotte Smith’s ‘Beachy Head‘… what do readers think? What other ‘hybrid’ literary, art and scientific works are there in this period?