Mary Moser – Founding Member of London’s Royal Academy

Mary Moser – Founding Member of London’s Royal Academy

Mary Moser (1744-1819) was “one of the most celebrated women artists of 18th-century Britain,” yet today she’s mostly overlooked. Along with Angelica Kauffmann, Mary Moser was one of only two female founding members of 36 member Royal Academy. It would be more than 115 years until the next woman, Dame Laura Knight, would be invited to become a member.

Mary Moser by George Romney

Although Moser specialised in flower-painting, which was at the bottom of the hierarchy of academic art, her ambition for professional standing is nevertheless conveyed in this portrait which shows her at work on an oil painting. By placing her at an easel, dressed in generic painter’s robes, it refers to a tradition of portraits of (male) artists dating back to the Renaissance. But at a time when most male artists asserted their academic status by stressing the intellectual rather than the technical aspects of their work, the oil palette that Moser holds also distinguishes her from the many women amateurs who practised flower-painting in the less taxing medium of watercolour. The close focus, dramatic colours and sidelong glance also emphasised that her professional status did not need to compromise her femininity.

Moser’s flower paintings are less a celebration of the wonders of God’s creation but a careful observation of nature. Flowers were a popular subject and London print sellers sold countless decorative flower prints, depicting them in baskets, vases, or tied in bouquets for use as pattern books for ladies to embroider or draw, for glass painting, japan work or even for copying onto undecorated china-in-the-white. By the later part of the eighteenth-century, drawing masters specialising in teaching this type of painting were much in demand and many women who had given up flower painting on their marriage found it a useful means of support when they lost their husbands.

Moser, Mary; Vase of Flowers; The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Due in part to her father’s royal connections, Moser received several commissions from King George and Queen Charlotte. The most prestigious and famous of those commissions was a floral decorative scheme for the Frogmore House in the 1790s. The “prestigious and lucrative commission” Moser was paid £900 which made Moser “the envy of her male colleagues.”

She married remarkably late in life when she was 49 years old. The man she chose was a man called Hugh Lloyd. It was also one of her last professional works, as she retired upon her marriage in 1793. However, she did not pack up her paint box and retire to the country with her new husband and a cat. Her marriage it seems did not live up to her expectations and within six months she was on a sketching tour of Europe with miniaturist Richard Cosway.

Cosway left his Anglo-Italian artist and composer wife Maria Hadfield who was 20 years Moser’s junior. Cosway was a “well known as a libertine and commonly described as resembling a monkey.” The film Jefferson in Paris which dramatises Maria Cosway’s own romance with the future American President Thomas Jefferson depicts Richard Cosway as effeminate but it seems he was anything but in bed. His diary entries for the time he spent with Mary Moser describe a hot and steamy affair.

Richard Cosway – Self Portrait

Mary Moser’s death in 1819 marked the start of a long stretch of time when, despite no explicit ban, women remained excluded from the Academy. Lady Elizabeth Butler, renowned at the time for her paintings that reported the realities of the Crimean War, came close to becoming a member in 1871 but according to committee reports, she missed out by a mere one vote. It wasn’t until 1936 that Dame Laura Knight became the next woman to be fully elected as an Academician, and although having previously had her work rejected by the Academy on grounds of embarrassing the art establishment with what a critic described as “vulgar” and “obviously an exercise” for a self-portrait, she helped pave the way for greater recognition of women in the arts and the continuation of female membership at the Academy.

Illustrations: Study of flowers; roses, marigolds and stocks Watercolour, The British Museum

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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How is the Modern-day Hipster like a Macaroni?

How is the Modern-day Hipster like a Macaroni?

The emergence of the modern day Hipster is the antithesis of the 18th century macaroni but they did have some things in common.The Macaroni was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who “exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion” in terms of clothes, fastidious eating, and gambling and was the object of some savage British satire. In the Middlesex Journal for November 7th, 1772 Juventis commented on the use of the term Macaroni:

“If I consult the prints, ’tis a figure with something uncommon in its dress or appearance; if the ladies, an effeminate fop; but if the ’prentice-boys, a queer fellow with a great large tail.”

Basically this meant that if a woman looked at an illustration of a Macaroni she would think it was an effeminate dandy, but a working class boy would say the man was a homosexual.

Hipster men, gay and straight, have made Retro their cool, the environment they say is precious to them; they have turned their backs on the ‘the new’. Hipsters want to wear Sylvia Plath’s cardigans and Buddy Holly’s glasses, have beards, wear their hair in ponytails and buns; they revel in the irony of making something nerdy cool. They want to live hi-tech and sustainably; eat organic gluten-free grains and preen themselves in the Edwardian style barbers shops springing up in every town to groom these latter day Dandies. Above all, they want to be recognised for being different, just like the Marcaroni . For the Hipster the way to be cool isn’t to look like a television star: it was to look like as though you’ve never seen a television.The Macaroni on the other hand was only interested in the new, the lavish and the expensive.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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Joshua Reynolds’ Muse Fanny Barton

Joshua Reynolds’ Muse Fanny Barton

Frances Barton or Frances “Fanny” Barton was the daughter of a private soldier and started her working life as a flower girl and a street singer. She performed in taverns and resorted to selling herself as many hard up women did in those days before she made it onto the stage. Her first step to success came when she got a job as a servant to a French milliner, there she learned about costume and acquired some French which afterwards stood her in good stead as she mingled in London’s high society.

Her first appearance on the stage was at Haymarket in 1755 as Miranda in Mrs Centlivre’s play, Busybody. Following that she became a member of the Drury Lane Company, where she was overshadowed by its more established actresses Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive. However she was ambitious and travelled to Ireland where she had her first major success Lady Townley in The Provok’d Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber. She worked at her trade and five years late received an invitation from David Garrick to return to Drury Lane.

Fanny married her music teacher, James Abington, a royal trumpeter, in 1759. It was not a happy and the pair separated but she retained his name calling herself Mrs Abington. She remained at Drury Lane for eighteen years.

Mrs Abington as Miss Prue, Joshua Reynolds

Fanny played Mrs Teasel in Sheridan’s School for Scandal making the role her own. She also played Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia and the comic characters  Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in “High Life Below Stairs” put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mop cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion“. This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear a tall-hat called a ziggurat adorned with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair.

An example of Fanny’s influence on fashion – the high ziggurat style hat.

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her as Miss Prue a character from Congreve’s Love for Love. The portrait is the the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.

Source; Wikipedia

Illustrations: Fanny Abington, Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Marie-Dauncey,1789, James-Northcote, Fanny as Miss Prue, Joshua Reynolds.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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Mary Woolstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Woolstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 she is one of the world’s first feminist writers. She decided to become a writer in 1787, 230 years ago, and moved to 45 George Street, in Southwark, now called Dolben Street. It was from Dolben Street that she launched her career, with the publication of her novel, Mary: A Fiction.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship … I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.”[5] In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life.

The second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, a couple in Hoxton who became parental figures to her; Wollstonecraft credited Blood with opening her mind. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787). In 1780 she returned home, called back to care for her dying mother.Rather than return to Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods. She realised during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealised Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to her and her family throughout her life (she frequently gave financial assistance to Blood’s brother, for example).

Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities. In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green, a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon, Portugal, to improve her health, which had always been precarious. Despite the change of surroundings Blood’s health further deteriorated when she became pregnant, and in 1785 Wollstonecraft left the school and followed Blood to nurse her, but to no avail. Moreover, her abandonment of the school led to its failure. Blood’s death devastated Wollstonecraft and was part of the inspiration for her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788).

She followed Mary: A Fiction, with works on the education of children. Through her association with her friend and publisher Joseph Johnson she met Thomas Paine, the writer of the The Rights of Man. Paine who would become one of the great influencers of the both the French Revolution and the development of the American state opposed the idea of hereditary government—the belief that dictatorial government is necessary, because of man’s corrupt, essential nature. she also met her future husband and one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement William Godwin through Johnson.The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject.

It was after she left Dolben Street in 1791 that she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). There is no doubt that her time at Dolben Street, Southwark was the furnace of her intellectual development, and was the site of her most intense creative years.

Source: Wikipedia

My own novel, Sinclair takes place in Southwark and Beverley at this time. I shall be picking up some of Woolstonecraft’s themes in my next novel.

Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29

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The London Earthquake

The London Earthquake

On the 8th of March, 1750, an earthquake shook London. The shock was at half past five in the morning. It awoke people from their sleep and frightened them out of their houses. A servant maid in Charterhouse-square, was thrown from her bed, and had her arm broken; bells in several steeples were struck by the chime hammers; great stones were thrown from the new spire of Westminster Abbey; dogs howled in uncommon tones; and fish jumped half a yard above the water. London had experienced a shock only a month before, namely, on the 8th of February 1750, between 12 and 1 o’clock in the day and at Westminster, the barristers were so alarmed that they imagined the hall was falling!

Most people (including academics) saw the tremors as the work of God. However, The Gentleman’s Magazine, (founded by Edward Cave, alias ‘Sylvanus Urban’, in 1731) which was interested in everything, told its readers that there were three kinds of earthquake; the ‘Inclination’, which was a vibration from side to side, the ‘Pulsation’, up and down, and the ‘Tremor’, “when it shakes and quivers every way like a flame.” Scholars were agreed that the origins of earthquakes were to be found in the underground voids with which the earth was believed to be honeycombed, especially in mountainous regions; but whether it was the surges of air, water or fire within these caverns that were the actual cause of the shock was still disputed.

Despite only the minor damage, Londoners were worried. One earthquake was remarkable, but two earthquakes in a month was unprecedented. Were they a warning from God? Thomas Sherlock, the Bishop of London, was sure of it. In a letter to the clergy and inhabitants of London, he called on them to “give attention to all the warnings which God in his mercy affords to a sinful people…by two great shocks of an Earthquake”. He pointed out that the shocks were confined to London and its environs, and were therefore ‘immediately directed’ at that city.

On Sunday, March 18, at about 6 pm, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight were shaken, and, as they trembled, the air vibrated to a noise like the firing of great guns. The shock was even felt, though faintly, at Bath. On Monday, April 2, at about 10 pm, Liverpool and an area about 40 miles round vibrated to ‘a smart shock of an earthquake’ for two or three seconds.
1750 was a year when the earth trembled up and down the land. The weather was also considered freakish. People lived in trepidation waiting for the next catastrophe.

The last, and strongest, English earthquake of 1750 shook Northamptonshire and several other counties, just after noon on September 30. It was ‘much stronger than that felt in London”, and lasted nearly a minute. Part of an old wall in Northampton was thrown down, a lady in Kelmarsh was tossed from her chair, and all over the shaken district people ran into the street. At Leicester, a rushing noise was heard, and the houses heaved up and down. The convulsion caused terror, but passed off with only the loss of some slates, chimney parts, and a few items of glassware. Near Leicester, an unfortunate child was shaken out of a chair into a fire, and was ‘somewhat burnt’.

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