Letter: Where are the modern muses?

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The Independent Online
Where are the modern muses?

Sir: While I welcome the fact that you placed nine women on the front page ("The Muses for a modern Britain are unveiled", 25 October), I fear that the chosen Muses do not live up to their original models - not least because they include not a single poet or literary figure.

Richard Samuel's original painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy annual exhibition in 1779, portrayed a group of controversial intellectuals of cultural prominence and commercial success.

These important predecessors of Mary Wollstonecraft included Charlotte Lennox, poet, author of The Female Quixote and first scholar to uncover Shakespeare's sources for the plots of his plays; Elizabeth Carter, poet and translator of Epictetus; Elizabeth Montagu, Voltaire's impressive adversary in her best-selling Essay on the Genius and Writing of Shakespeare; Catherine Macaulay, Whig historian, pamphleteer and educationalist; Anna Barbauld, poet and critical editor of The British Novelists; Hannah More, poet, playwright and moralist; and Angelica Kauffman, a co-founder of the Royal Academy who practised the traditionally masculine and public art of history painting, as well as portraiture and interior decoration. She produced designs for Montagu's salon in Portman Square, a famous literary meeting place.

These women corresponded and read each other's work throughout their lives, conscious of their status as sister artists and cultural pioneers. In painting a group of ground-breaking professionals, Samuel's painting differs from more conventional portrayals of merely "accomplished" females. He created an important document of feminist and literary history.

Where are the poets and writers in today's version? Where are the Germaine Greer, Wendy Cope, Rachel Whiteread, Marilyn Butler, Iris Murdoch and Jo Brand? A truly modern Muse might paint her own figures of inspiration. Any suggestions?


King's College, Cambridge