Portrait of a Lady?
16 May – 14 December 2014
The Georgian era is regarded by many as an age of elegance but, as this exhibition reveals, for women it could be anything but.
In the 18th century the law regarded women as the possessions of men. They could not vote or hold land and their children were recognised as the property of their husbands.
Marriage was regarded as the only respectable route through which a woman could better her prospects yet, in spite of this, many chose to forfeit their reputations and pursue a career on the stage or become involved in prostitution.
This exhibition of mezzotint portraits provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse cross-section of Georgian women. Regardless of their backgrounds, accomplishments or titles, these pictures appeared for sale in print shop windows side-by-side, with no distinction made between them. Collectors did not know if they were acquiring a portrait of a flambuoyant stage actress or a disgraced noblewoman.
Once committed to paper, a woman's portrait could be used by anyone for any purpose. It could be bought or sold, displayed, defaced, derided or adored. As women were for possessing, so too were their images.