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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Based on their unpublished letters, papers and diaries coupled with contemporary portrayals of female sculptors by novelists, critics, essayists and colleagues, this is an unprecedented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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Epilogue 287


Epilogue The final supplement to the original Dictionary of National Biography bears the intriguing title Missing Persons; it comprises biographical entries on noteworthy individuals who were overlooked by earlier compilers.1 Used in this way, ‘missing persons’ aptly describes the status of the female sculptors of the Victorian era. These were not unknown entities living in deserved obscurity. During their lives they achieved an enviable degree of name recognition in a populous field, but they were passed over for reasons of gender and fashion by subsequent generations of historians. Like those recorded in Missing Persons, each of the professional women sculptors was distinguished from the others by her personality, convictions and achievements. Nonetheless, all four were very much women of their time and social location. As daughters from the middle and upper-middle classes they were af fected by the ‘surplus-woman’ issue which emerged as a catalyst for social change at mid-century. Perhaps encouraged by the social commentators who prescribed employment in the fine arts, they joined the ranks of genteel women who entered the workforce. Along with most of their American and European counterparts, Hill, Durant and Grant represent a notable departure from previous generations when female sculptors were almost exclusively the daughters of sculpting fathers, as was the case with Thornycroft. 1 C. S. Nicholls, Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). Two recent pieces, Talia Schaf fer’s ‘The Mysterious Magnum Bonum: Fighting to Read Charlotte Yonge,’ Nineteenth-Century Literature 55/2 (September 2000) and Angelique Richardson...

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