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Title: Women writers on art and perceptions of the female connoisseur, 1780-1860
Author: Palmer, Caroline Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 2672 965X
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2009
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It has been suggested that women were broadly excluded from the art world of the eighteenth century because of prevailing views on female taste, which considered them incapable of appreciating high art. Satirical representations of women spectators suggest a vulgar mode of art-viewing, associated with a preference for gaudy colour and excessive finish, and for portraiture over history painting, reversing the academic canon. A survey of periodicals reveals that such stereotypes persisted throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, my investigation of women's writing on art between 1780 and 1860 indicates the extent of their involvement in the art world. Initially through travel-writing, and across an increasingly wide range of genres, women published a wealth of material on art, ranging from popular handbooks and painting manuals to scholarly treatises. This study is the first to focus on these largely neglected texts as a collective body of work, and to demonstrate women's sophisticated engagement with contemporary and historical art in this period. Through their social networks, travel, meticulous research and self-presentation as 'proper' women writers, individuals such as Maria Graham (Lady Calicott), Anna Jameson, Mary Philadelphia Merrifield and Elizabeth Rigby (Lady Eastlake) built up a public reputation, despite their unofficial status. Far from being merely industrious 'compilers', these women were in the vanguard of changes in taste, through their promotion of the Primitives and of German connoisseurship, and their iconographical studies. I investigate how these largely self-educated amateurs established their authority, and how their writing negotiated negative perceptions of the female viewer. I show that the strategies they employed were determined as much by their class, education and religion, as by their sex. Given the high praise these writers received from reviewers, artists and fellow connoisseurs, I argue that it was possible to perceive women's taste far more positively than the satirical stereotypes suggest. This thesis offers a substantial reassessment of the scale and nature of women's contribution to the evolving discipline of art history in the early Victorian period.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available