Friday, October 19, 2007

Rule England, But You Still Can't Study Painting

After learning more about Queen Victoria from Marissa’s posts, I stand amazed. Here a young lady became queen of one of the most powerful nations in the world, but young ladies her own age could be denied the right to study painting.

I didn’t know that when I first started researching the story behind La Petite Four. My lead character, Lady Emily Southwell, has a passion for painting. And not watercolors, oh no. She likes oil paints, the bold strokes, the strong colors. Give her a bloody battle scene or the death of a great leader any day. Originally, I thought she’d make a fine candidate to join the Royal Academy of Art. After all, famous painters Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were founding members. Surely an artist of Lady Emily’s talents would fit right in.

Or not.

It seems that during the nineteenth century, women were not allowed to study at the Royal Academy school. Oh, they could exhibit their paintings in the Summer Exhibition, the only one open to outsiders. But they could not sit with their equally talented fellow painters and architects, learning from the masters. Not because they weren’t as good, not because they couldn’t handle the course work.

They couldn’t join the Royal Academy because the models they’d have to draw were nude, and watching nude models was deemed inappropriate for a woman. In fact, when Johann Zoffany painted a scene immortalizing the founding members of the Royal Academy, he painted them surrounding a naked male model. Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were present only as portraits on the wall, for they too were denied that right. When they died, it wasn’t until 1936 that another female was elected to full membership in the Royal Academy.

It’s enough to make a girl take up watercolors.

1 comment:

Marissa Doyle said...

Victoria herself was actually a very talented watercolors, of course. :)

However, her eldest daughter was very good in oils, and one of her younger daughters was a talented sculptor--I believe one of her statues is still in Kensington Park. I wonder if she got to study from life?