Hysteria and Victorian Women in Art

In ancient Greece there existed the medical concept of a woman’s “wandering womb”; that is, the womb could move about the body, obstruct breathing and press on other organs to cause various symptoms of illness. It was “an animal within an animal”, according to the celebrated ancient Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia. In the late nineteenth century, the notable French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot began his study of unusual physiological symptoms presenting in women, such as nervous anxiety, faintness, irritability, uncontrolled

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Nelly Erichsen at the Royal Academy, 1880-1886: One woman’s fight to be accepted as a professional artist

To the President and the Council, we the undersigned students of the Royal Academy do hereby respectfully and earnestly petition that rearranging the schools of this institution you will reconsider the question of granting us a life class for the study of the partially draped figure. We beg to lay it before your notice that almost all of us rely on the profession we have chosen as our future means of livelihood. Therefore a class which is considered so essential

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Black Performers in the Nineteenth-Century Circus

The circus has always been, and still is, inclusive by nature. The ‘modern’ circus, founded by Philip Astley over 250 years ago, was underpinned by a wealth of talented black performers. Some became famous in their own right, and were very much in the public eye; their names became household words. Some had just a single named reference in an advertisement, and others were just mentioned by their ethnicity. What has to be remembered, applauded, and celebrated is that in

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The Tricycle and the Camera: New Technologies for Self-Determination

Starting in the late 1870s, the leisure opportunities of a growing body of affluent middle-class photographers were expanded by the development and mass production of new photography and transport technologies: the dry-plate camera and three- or four-wheeled self-propelled machines (tricycles or quadricycles). While the former had removed the need to attend to the glass-plate immediately before and after exposure, as was the case with the wet collodion process, the latter enabled a new experience of mobility as an alternative to

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Wish You Were Here: Victorian women pioneers of travel photography

In September 1835, Constance Talbot wrote to her husband asking if he would be taking his small experimental “mousetrap” cameras on a visit to Wales. She remarked, “It would be charming for you to bring home some views.”[1] Four years later, William Henry Fox Talbot announced his invention of Photogenic Drawing at the Royal Society, London, and started the extraordinary creative phenomenon we know now as positive / negative photography. We all take photography for granted: it’s an indispensable, ubiquitous

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Credit to any Country: E. H. Bostock and Scotland’s first Zoo & Variety Circus

If one thinks of Scotland and zoos, the Edinburgh Zoo automatically springs to mind. This zoological park opened in 1913 and is world-famous for its captive breeding programme and conservation work. However, it was certainly not the first zoo in Scotland. This credit must go to the Scottish Zoo and Variety Circus, established in Glasgow in 1897 by Edward Henry Bostock. Born in 1858 in Buckinghamshire, Bostock came from a family of menagerie owners. Collections of wild and exotic animals

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Joseph Hillier: The forgotten ‘Gentleman of Colour’ of the Victorian Circus

The Victorian era was the golden age of the circus. A popular form of entertainment for the masses, it embraced all classes of society; from the lowly paid factory worker to the aristocracy, and even royalty. Everybody seemed to love the circus. By the time that Queen Victoria became monarch of the United Kingdom, the circus had been in existence for almost 70 years. From its humble roots with Philip Astley on the banks of the river Thames in London,

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Julia Stephen: From Freshwater Bay To The Lighthouse

Pity has no creed. We are bound to these sufferers by the tie of sisterhood and while life lasts we will help, soothe, and, if we can, love them. Women are not all blind followers of men. They have power to think as well, and they will not weaken their power of helping and loving by fearlessly owning their ignorance when they should be convinced of it. Women should not reject religion merely because they desire to please men. Man

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Edwin Moxon’s Embroidered Trunks

Costumes are powerful objects, which carry multiple meanings and memories in their fibres. Through three connected blog posts, I will highlight the importance of costume for performance: revealing the insights costumes offer into the lives of the people who designed, made, wore and saw them. Commencing with Ellen Terry’s ‘Beetlewing Dress’, moving on to Edwin Moxon’s embroidered ‘shorts’ (this post), and concluding with Kitty Lord’s carefully padded ‘Symmetricals’, I will showcase the information which these unique garments offer about the

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Lady Clementina Hawarden: photographic pioneer

Next to a window with shafts of light providing shadowy illumination into a sparsely furnished room stands an adolescent girl. There is a look of casual awkwardness about her, yet she has an enigmatic stare towards the camera, showing a degree of trust shared between herself, the model and the photographer.  Beyond the window is a blurred view of the city, lost in the power of the intimacy of the dramatic pose struck by this girl, the subject of the

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