Arsenic and Old Wallpapers

“My wallpapers are killing me; one of us must go!” Oscar Wilde’s infamous last words are usually construed as a rueful comment on the ugliness of the decorations in his Paris hotel bedroom. Yet they could also be interpreted literally, and applied to the thousands of Victorians who fell victim to the deadly pigments in their wallpapers. Even from the vantage point of the recent pandemic, the nineteenth century was a hazardous time to be alive: subject to regular outbreaks

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New issue: JVC 28.1 is now available!

Our latest issue, 28.1, features an extended Round Table entitled ‘Sculpture and Faith at St Paul’s Cathedral, c. 1796—1914‘. Lavishly illustrated, the collection boasts fifteen mini-essays, each devoted to one of the cathedral’s important monuments from our period. Many of these are free access. The Round Table is fuelled by the energies of multiple disciplines and approaches: art history, theology, history, ecclesiology, biography, empire- and queer studies, to name a few. As the introduction by Marjorie Coughlan, Jason Edwards and

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Lady Clementina Hawarden: the silhouette motif in photographic art

1st June 2022 marked the bicentenary of the birth of pioneering photographer Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865), one of the most significant women to contribute to early photography. In this blog I highlight a specific genre within the extensive Hawarden photographic collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, concentrating on use of the silhouette as a stylistic motif in her photographic portraiture. Viscountess Clementina Hawarden, née Fleeming, left an extensive oeuvre of collodion photographic images marking her brief embrace of the

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Who’s Wearing the Pant(aloon)s Now?: Women Illustrators and Rational Dress

In “‘Rational’ Dress”, a cartoon published in the 6 June 1883 edition of Judy, or the London Serio-comic Journal, Marie Duval (1847-90) parodies the rational dress movement, which strived for improvements in women’s clothing, through a series of individual figures (fig. 1). The figures, or ‘characters’, represent various ways in which rational dress has influenced fashion trends and women’s place in society. Printed underneath are captions pertaining to each character on the page or ‘stage.’ Everyone has a unique ‘role’

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Venerating Verses and Disrespectful Ditties: Informal Music Inspired by Queen Victoria

Over the course of her record breaking six-decade reign, Queen Victoria was the subject of numerous formal and informal musical compositions alike. While most formal music was reverential in nature and sought to praise the monarch, by and large the informal music that Victoria inspired among the lower classes tended to contain derogatory or mocking depictions of the queen. However, there were a small number of compositions that celebrated Victoria’s personal and political successes. Still, most of these were informal

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Crafting in the Classroom: Hands-On Approaches to Victorian Material Culture

This is the third post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part One and Part Two. At a virtual roundtable on Victorian material culture held in February 2021, Andrea Korda presented on The Plough, a large-scale print published by London’s Art for Schools Association in 1899 for classroom walls. By large-scale, we mean enormous—five by six feet, to be exact, a height that would tower over most schoolchildren, and even over the teachers, once mounted on a

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Spotting Wildlife in Arts and Crafts Textiles: The Red Squirrels of Morris & Co.

Red squirrels had reason to be wary of the Victorians. Nineteenth-century culture popularised the animals – they were even kept as pets – but the Victorians also unwittingly caused the decline of the red squirrel population by introducing the rival species, the grey squirrel, to Britain.[1] Today, sciurus vulgaris stands at the centre of an emotionally charged debate about the conservation of native habitats. The red squirrel’s persistent appeal most likely has to do with its endearing looks. But in

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Crafting Communities: Rethinking Academic Engagement in Pandemic Times and Beyond

This is the first post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part Two and Part Three. It is July 2020, the summer of Covid. Libraries are closed. Museums are closed. University courses and conferences have moved online. A small group of Victorianists gathers on Zoom to learn how to make hair art. Led by Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba), the event is a test run for the upcoming semester, when Vanessa plans to make hair art with

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Kitty Lord’s Padded ‘Symmetricals’

This final post (see Parts One and Two) was inspired by a pair of pale pink knitted tights worn by the music hall singer Kitty Lord (1881-1972) in the early 1900s. Part of a collection of Lord’s costumes held at the Museum of London, these ‘symmetricals’ were carefully padded with wool to ensure that her thighs and calves looked suitably shapely and voluptuous [Figure 1]. As these padded symmetricals reveal, and this post will discuss, in late nineteenth century Burlesque

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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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