The women's suffrage movement engaged with art in many different ways, enabling campaigners to express their political views as well as generating publicity for the cause. This chapter discusses the movement's engagement with art in terms of literature, the visual arts, music and drama, indicating how early feminist activists worked in these different fields in collective support of the campaign. It provides a brief outline of the women's suffrage movement in the UK and its key organisations, identifying some of the previous scholarship in the field. It also offers an overview of the contents of the volume, concluding with a one-paragraph summary of each of its chapters in turn. The women's suffrage movement, emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century and gaining momentum in the early twentieth century, engaged with art in myriad ways. Art, in its widest sense, enabled campaigners to express their personal ideologies as well as generate invaluable publicity for the women's cause. Sending a postcard of a women's suffrage poster or a photograph of one of the movement's leaders, or serving afternoon tea to one's guests using a china tea set adorned with the colours and emblems of women's suffrage, effectively constituted a political act. In high street shops dedicated to women's suffrage, as well as regional offices, objets d'art and artistic keepsakes (some of them, such as pin badges, reasonably priced so as to attract women of low income) were available as merchandise, providing a useful
This interdisciplinary, historicist-feminist paper (combining literary and art historical perspectives as well as an awareness of historical context and an application of recent feminist theory) explores the feminist affiliations of the Victorian artists Mary and George Watts, focusing specifically on their close friendships with the writer and women’s suffrage supporter George Meredith and the women’s rights worker Josephine Butler. It introduces the Wattses’ own anti-patriarchal conjugal creative partnership before investigating their relationships with Meredith and Butler through a reading of Mary Watts’s unpublished and hitherto untranscribed diaries (which record their interactions) as well as a discussion of George Watts’s paintings (particularly his portraits of Meredith and Butler in his ‘Hall of Fame’). This paper thus offers an unprecedented insight into the Wattses’ personal and professional relationships as well as their progressive socio-political positions, reclaiming them as early feminists who were part of a wider emergent feminist community. This paper’s discussion of the Wattses, Meredith, and Butler provides new perspectives on the connections, works, and views of these public literary, artistic, and feminist figures as well as the ways in which they supported and promoted the women’s rights movement that escalated over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century. It thus offers a fuller understanding of these figures as well as of the rise of early feminism in the Victorian period.
This article explores the subversive representations of women and death – and specifically the ‘M/Other’ – by the eminent Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) and his lesser-known wife Mary Seton Watts (née Fraser Tytler, 1849–1938). Using a historicist-feminist approach which combines an awareness of historical context with an application of twentieth-century feminist theory to nineteenth-century visual texts, this paper explores: the neglected works of Mary Watts in relation to the more famous paintings of G.F. Watts; the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership; their progressive socio-political positions; and their (proto-)feminist works featuring the mother figure. These are all understudied areas in existing scholarship on the Wattses. Through a comparison of Mary and G.F Watts’s visual works in relation to those of their contemporaries, this paper aims to show how the Wattses supported and promoted female emancipation and empowerment through their art, thus reclaiming them as early feminist artists. Central to the originality of this paper is the primary focus on Mary Watts, who has been historically overshadowed by the dominant critical focus on her husband, ‘England’s Michelangelo’; the socio-political (and specifically, feminist) influences, messages, subtexts and functions of her work have never before been explored in detail.
While much has been written about the famous Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817–1904), dubbed ‘England’s Michelangelo’, the life and works of his wife Mary Seton Watts (1849–1938) are comparatively neglected. Mary was not only an artist and designer but also a writer and diarist, although her diaries have never before been studied. This article explores the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership through a reading of Mary’s diaries covering their marital years (1886–1904), offering an unprecedented insight into their professional and personal relationship. It not only reveals their facilitating roles in each other’s creative practices, but also the tensions and gender-role inversions in their partnership, challenging traditional perceptions of Mary as George’s peripheral, submissive wife. Unlike her self-effacing published biography of George Watts, Mary’s private life writing reveals her role as a respected artistic equal, intellectual companion and even ‘brutal taskmaster’. This article explores the Wattses’ artistic collaborations, joint reading practice, and life/death writing through a reading of Mary’s long-forgotten diaries, which document her approach to marriage, gender, art and literature. It recovers her culturally-important life writing, traces the emergence of her artistic identity and feminist voice, and reclaims her as a remarkable diarist.
While much has been written about the eminent Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), dubbed ‘England’s Michelangelo’, the life and works of his wife Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) are comparatively neglected. Mary was not only an artist and designer but also a writer and diarist, although her (currently unpublished) diaries have never before been studied. This article explores the Wattses’ conjugal creative partnership through a reading of Mary’s diaries covering their marital years (1886-1904), offering an unprecedented insight into their professional and personal relationship. It not only reveals their facilitating roles in each other’s creative practices, but also the tensions and gender-role inversions in their partnership, challenging traditional perceptions of Mary as George’s peripheral, submissive wife. Unlike her self-effacing published biography of George Watts, Mary’s private life writing reveals her role as a respected artistic equal, intellectual companion and even ‘brutal taskmaster’. This article explores the Wattses’ artistic collaborations, joint reading practice, and life/death writing through a reading of Mary’s long-forgotten diaries, which document her approach to marriage, gender, art and literature. It recovers her culturally-important life writing, traces the emergence of her artistic identity and feminist voice, and reclaims her as a remarkable diarist for the first time.
This is the first book dedicated to examining the marital relationships of Mary and George Watts and Evelyn and William De Morgan as creative partnerships. The study demonstrates how they worked, individually and together, to support greater gender equality and female liberation in the nineteenth century. The author traces their relationship to early and more recent feminism, reclaiming them as influential early feminists and reading their works from twentieth-century theoretical perspectives. By focusing on neglected female figures in creative partnerships, the book challenges longstanding perceptions of them as the subordinate wives of famous Victorian artists and of their marriages as representatives of the traditional gender binary. This is also the first academic critical study of Mary Watts’s recently published diaries, Evelyn De Morgan’s unpublished writings and other previously unexplored archival material by the Wattses and the De Morgans.
Mary Watts (1849-1938) was a leading designer of the Arts & Crafts period, the founder of the Compton Pottery and the wife of the great Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). She was also an avid diarist and filled copious volumes - each known affectionately as 'Fatima' - with her musings on art and society and her day-to-day life with an artist at the height of his powers. Never previously published, due to the tiny, almost illegible handwriting, the diary volumes have now been painstakingly transcribed by Desna Greenhow, who has extracted the most illuminating passages for reproduction here. Including detailed annotations, an introductory essay and short writings at the start of each year represented, this book chronicles life in the artistic, literary and political circles of the time, while also providing invaluable insights into Mary's own achievements - most notably her management of the building and decorating of her unique Watts Cemetery Chapel. For all those fascinated by the Wattses and the society in which they lived, this is an invaluable resource that makes an important contribution to nineteenth-century studies.
Novelist, short story writer and poet Christina Liddell (née Fraser Tytler) (1848-1927) is one of the many neglected non-canonical women writers of the nineteenth century. Despite her fame during her day and her familial and professional connections to Victorian celebrities, including Julia Margaret Cameron, she is now relatively unknown and no study of her currently exists. She is herself a silence in the archive. It was Christina who introduced her artistic younger sister Mary to ‘England’s Michelangelo’ George Frederic Watts, facilitating and remaining at the heart of one of Victorian Britain’s most famous conjugal creative partnerships. Indeed, George called for Christina on his deathbed, and she is now buried beside the couple. This article explores their unconventional triangular relationship and analyses evidence of their eroticised interfamilial creative partnership, which reconfigured hegemonic family structures and represented a progressive if not radical approach to gender and marital politics. Through a reading of Mary’s private diaries alongside her published biography or quasi-hagiography of her husband, this article investigates censorship, suppression and silence in the form of textual subtexts, ambiguous intimacy, dying words and hallucinations, secret parentage, missing diary pages and posthumous interventions. It addresses omissions in auto/biography and in the archive, bringing previously unseen material to light and illuminating institutional silence. Combining literary, art historical and theoretical perspectives, it analyses neglected diaries, auto/biography and letters alongside poetry, paintings and photographs in order to offer insight into the untold complexities of Victorian familial relationships and sexualities. This article uses Victorian women’s life writing to explore the complex interconnections of married couples, adult sisters and sibling-in-laws, offering a broader understanding of filial bonds, conjugal arrangements and eroticised relationships in the long nineteenth century.