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Women in the galleries: new angles on old masters in the late nineteenth century

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 23:26 authored by Meaghan ClarkeMeaghan Clarke
The subject of this issue of 19 might raise a series of questions: Who were the women writing about old masters? What do we know about these women? How and where were they able to see old masters? Where were they writing? There were in fact many women working across the period and an overview of research on these women reveals recurring themes, such as the importance of networks, travel, translation, and empirical research. Anna Jameson, while ridiculed by Ruskin for knowing ‘as much of art as the cat’, set a precedent for later generations of women writing at the end of the century. This article will initially consider women’s contributions to art writing and the patterns that emerged as the century progressed. The recent National Gallery exhibition ‘Reflections’ brought together Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites, and in the second half of the article I will look at how the Victorian fascination with old masters re-emerges at the end of the century. The study of the early Renaissance in Italian painting was foregrounded by a group of writers, the best known being Roger Fry and Bernard Berenson. This article will ask how and where women in this circle foregrounded analysis of historical techniques. Two case studies will be considered: the National Gallery and the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Art writers discussed will include Julia Cartwright, Vernon Lee, and the writer and artist Christiana Herringham. I will argue that gallery spaces were a nexus for the development of expertise on early Renaissance techniques and their dissemination. The involvement of women in not just art writing, but exhibitions of ‘masterpieces’, offers insight into the shaping of art history at the fin de siècle.


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19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century




Open Library of Humanities





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  • Art History Publications

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