Ashtead Art Lovers Monthly Talks

Last Friday of the month at 11 a.m. or 7.30 p.m.

£10 inc refreshments. The same price since 2007.

25th January 2019: The New Woman.

The rapid changes of the 19th century brought about massive changes to society, and particularly the role of women.  By the end of the century women were pushing against the boundaries imposed on them by society.  In art, the French artist Berthe Morisot gives an insight into the life of a middle class woman, which contrasts with the women seen in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, and le Bal de la Moulin de la Galette.  Many of these earned their living as seamstresses, laundresses, or in some cases ballet dancers.  Edgar Degas’s paintings are windows into the world of the ballet dancers, but he also explores the damp and steamy world of the laundry.  Paris had the best laundresses in Europe and the wealthy members of European all society sent their smalls to be laundered by them.  This was only possible by the expansion of the railways.

Mass production led to new ways to shop and the department store came about.  This too led to new positions in retail for young women.  A bit of extra money meant independence.  Many women learnt to ride bicycles and by the late 1800s were taking full advantage of this form of travel to escape the stifling confines of a patriarchal society.  They were also taking up smoking! This cartoon anticipates the chaos a woman riding a bike would cause!  Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 12.22.28

I wonder what my great grandfather would say about today’s women competing in the various cycling events at international level!  Wide legged culottes were worn at the peril of being called a loose woman, but they were more comfortable than trying to ride in a fashionable hobble skirt.

Further up the social scale women were demanding the right to further education. Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson (1836-1917) paved the way in medicine, becoming the first woman physician in Britain. Garrett-Anderson was not just the first doctor, but also the first woman mayor, the first woman to be elected to a school board, the first dean of a British medical school and the first woman magistrate.

Cheaper than painting, photography opened up portraiture to a much wider audience.  Aspiring and ambitious men visited the photographer’s studio to have their photographs taken.  Many of these photographers were women and saw a way to earn a living that was acceptable and gave them some degree of autonomy.  Many were photographed by the pioneer photographer, Lady Margaret Cameron. Unfortunately as well as liberating some women, photography opened up a new way to exploit them and photographic porn was born.

This is just a taste of what we will consider.  Through photographs and painting, as well as some of the literature of the day, we will explore the emerging New Woman of the 19th century and the problems she had to overcome to gain her freedom.