You write the reviews: Brilliant Women - 18th-century, Bluestockings, National Portrait Gallery, London
By Jane Morris
Monday 07 April 2008
With the recent news of the imminent demise of women's studies as a valid academic pursuit, it seems a feat of remarkable timing that an invigorating show about precisely that, the study of women's history, should be mounted at the National Portrait Gallery. Brilliant Women: 18th-century Bluestockings is a collection of contemporary portraits and artefacts from the Georgian period concerning the bas bleu, a group of influential female movers and shakers who were loosely connected by some fundamental shared values.
The fact that most of them were filthy rich, too (the exquisite gold-framed miniature portraiture of a friendship trinket is just one example of their ability to purchase exactly what they wanted), does not detract from the fact that these were intelligent women with inquiring minds and the resources to devote themselves to the traditionally male preserves of natural history, art and philosophy.
We meet up with a range of women. There are those who could make things happen. Elizabeth Montagu comes across as hugely resourceful, manipulative, even, whose salons were arranged precisely in serried rows by la grande dame herself. Others were gloriously talented. Angelica Kauffmann portrays her own tussle with the muses of music and art. One of the great advantages of being your own portraitist is that you can do yourself full justice in the beauty department.
But the most influential were the thinkers, those women who thought that the female estate should be set up differently, and who set down their ideas on paper. There is an original letter penned by a very young Mary Wollstonecraft to her older mentor, Catharine Macaulay. Mary expresses her admiration that Catharine has sought "the laurels" and not "the flowers" in the development of her writing career. What an insight into a visionary mind. Mary's portrait is compelling: hair untended, hunched protectively over an open book, her eyes carrying that near-maniacal gleam of genius. The European dimension is represented with the rebellious Madame de Signy, who was banished from Napoleon's court.
Who are the counterparts of these women today? Has the designer handbag indeed taken over from the lilac ink? There is so much that is vital and thought provoking to be gleaned from this show, and judging by the attendance, many are gleaning, both women and men. Women's studies dead? I don't believe it.
To 15 Jun (020-7306 0055)
Jane Morris, FE lecturer, Rugby
You write the review
Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Canadian actor punched in face after 'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong in wake of Ottawa shooting
- 2 Topshop at centre of row over body image as 'shocking' skinny mannequin photo goes viral
- 3 Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson criticised for beer tweet
- 4 The bubble bursts for Sodastream
- 5 If you think Russell Brand’s new book is confused, you should read what his critics have to say about it
JK Rowling's Harry Potter Halloween stories: Dolores Umbridge was based on real person she 'disliked intensely'
Best horror films of all time
Benedict Cumberbatch describes the 'explosive' Sherlock sex scene that will never happen
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Halloween 2014: The horror films and scary TV to watch on Netflix
Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand'
Huge surge in Ukip support after EU funding row, according to new poll
Ukip ‘exploiting grooming scandal’ to secure party’s first police chief
Nigel Farage: 'There’s nothing wrong with white people blacking up'
Maureen Lipman says 'she can't vote Labour while Ed Miliband is leader'
Muslims, immigration and teenage pregnancy: British people are ignorant about almost everything