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Title: "The Arts are All Her Own": How Women Artists Navigated the Revolutionary Era in Britain and France, ca. 1760-1830
Authors: Spies-Gans, Paris Amanda
Advisors: Colley, Linda J
Bell, David A
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: art market
French Revolution
Paris Salon
public exhibitions
Royal Academy
woman artist
Subjects: History
Art history
Gender studies
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: From 1760 to 1830, more than 1,300 women exhibited more than 7,000 works of art in Paris’s and London’s premier art venues. Yet these women have been systematically dismissed as “amateur” artists who lacked the status of male “professionals.” This usage of “amateur” is anachronistic and inaccurate, and has led generations of historians to miss the revelatory nature of their art. In fact, in the very years when citizenship was being defined explicitly as a male privilege, Britain and France witnessed an unprecedented surge in female artistic activity and its public reception, part of a transformation in which women entered the politicized public sphere as professional artists in significant numbers for the first time. These women engaged deeply and publicly with the cultural and political currents of the era, skillfully navigating institutional inequalities and restrictions to establish profitable careers. By revealing the quantitative and qualitative importance of these women’s artistic activities, this dissertation contends that the Revolutionary era was a watershed moment for female artists in Britain and France. It argues for recasting the period’s historical narrative to integrate women’s omnipresence in the public, professional art world, and challenges the historiographical argument that the Revolutionary era was principally a defeat for women in both nations. Accordingly, each chapter of this dissertation examines vital steps by which women built public careers and fashioned artistic identities. Chapter One analyzes data from both nations’ leading exhibition venues, tracing women’s activity and its reception over the era. Chapter Two explores how over a thousand women acquired the skills to exhibit art, even while being denied access to official Academic training. Chapters Three and Four detail women’s subject choices; contrary to common perception, women mainly submitted portrait and narrative works—extremely marketable and often politically evocative pieces, hundreds of which survive. Chapter Five examines the careers of women who publicly reoriented their domestic use of needle, thread, and wax to achieve unprecedented recognition and remuneration. Chapter Six studies the commercial networks these artists constructed. My Conclusion redefines women’s participation in both nations’ public art worlds as a professional pursuit—in their terms, and our own.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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