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Genteel Mavericks

Professional Women Sculptors in Victorian Britain


Shannon Hunter Hurtado

Sculpture was no occupation for a lady in Victorian Britain. Yet between 1837 and 1901 the number of professional female sculptors increased sixteen-fold. The four principal women sculptors of that era are the focus of this book. Once known for successful careers marked by commissions from the royal family, public bodies and private individuals, they are forgotten now. This book brings them back to light, addressing who they were, how they negotiated middle-class expectations and what kind of impact they had on changing gender roles.
Based on their unpublished letters, papers and diaries coupled with contemporary portrayals of female sculptors by novelists, critics, essayists and colleagues, this is an unprecedented picture of the women sculptors’ personal experience of preparing for and conducting careers as well as the public’s perception of them. The author examines each woman’s ability to use her position within the historical and cultural context as a platform from which to instigate change. The analytical emphasis throughout is on the art of negotiation and the result is an interdisciplinary work that delves deeply into the experience of an undervalued cohort of artists who had a disproportionate influence on Victorian social norms.


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PART I Personal Experiences 11


PART I Personal Experiences CHAPTER 1 Family Matters As the primary and perhaps most enduring contributor to an individual’s identity, the family is a vital place to begin an examination of the per- sonal experience of the female sculptors. Given Victorian conventions this is doubly advisable. Until roughly 1880, when work and educational opportunities for women expanded, the overwhelming majority of middle and upper-middle-class women lived in the families of their childhood or marriage. Young girls were characteristically educated at home by their parents or governesses, although for some, home-schooling was augmented by sporadic short-term boarding-school attendance.1 Consequently, the family bounded its daughters’ experience and mediated the world to them much more than it did with sons, who were ordinarily educated outside the household or trained in the family business. According to Philippa Levine, ‘[f ]requently that meant also that the choices [daughters] made were heavily reliant upon family obligation and opinion’.2 Yet, it would be a mistake to assume that girls’ lives were sealed of f from external inf luences. Travel, access to books and periodicals, involvement in benevolent work, and contact with extended kin and family friends contributed breadth to their lives.3 With adulthood came considerably more personal choice. A Victo- rian woman could elect to marry, remain in her parents’ home, or set up 1 Leonore Davidof f and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes. Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 290– 293; Philippa Levine, Feminist Lives in Victorian...

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