The Art History Seminar

The Art History Seminar

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"Trailblazing Women Connoisseurs in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain: Art and Reinventing the Past through the Travelling Gaze", Professor Juliet Simpson, University of Coventry

Women connoisseurs formed a potent yet little-studied circle of new artistic taste-making in early nineteenth-century Britain. Indeed, they stimulated networks pivotal to the period’s expanding art and cultural interests in developing fresh ideas of nation, modernity and how the past might be contemporary. This talk explores the activities and artistic innovations of Maria Graham (Lady Callcott) and her close contemporaries, Anna Jameson and Elizabeth Eastlake (née Rigby): a group of prodigious art travellers, collectors and writers whose trailblazing tastes were to encompass Northern European medieval visual culture, the art of the Near East and South-East Asia, challenging Romantic narratives and opening new cultural frameworks for this period’s perception of its art. A focus of the talk is Maria (Lady Callcott) and her 1828-9 Journal, which includes the very first account of the great cathedrals and European treasure-houses of medieval and Renaissance art, viewed in the aftermath of Napoleonic conflict and plunder. We will follow Callcott’s vivid and exhilarating perceptions, her pioneering taste for adventure, the sketch, and the close-up, distilled in her use of the mobile ‘gaze’, making her exemplary for her followers, Jameson and Rigby. This is demonstrable in ways in which Callcott’s travels modelled a practice of connoisseurship that would suggest new agency for women connoisseurs to be both taste-makers and curators of their experiences. In turn, these would lay the foundations for collections, artistic networks and expanded visions of cultural modernity with far-reaching consequences for art beyond the Romantic period.

Maria, Lady Callcott by Sir Thomas Lawrence

'Maria, Lady Callcott' by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1819, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Professor Juliet Simpson, University of Coventry
CB009, 50/52 College Bounds

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