• A mother stands in a landscape holding her baby and feeding sheep.  In the background a maid poicks grass for the sheep.
    Working Women

    Although producing relatively few works on modern-day themes, the Pre-Raphaelites were interested in issues of their day, as evidenced by some of their contributions to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (1856). They were also in contact with several working women themselves: Elizabeth Siddal was a milliner when the group first met her and then became an artist and poet; Jane Morris undertook embroidery for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co., as did May Morris ; Christina Rossetti was a poet; and Georgiana Burne-Jones undertook socialist work. Whilst some of these tasks (for example, embroidery) were acceptable female middle class pursuits, some, such as writing and political work, were more commonly undertaken by men.

    The Pre-Raphaelites and their circle took an interest in the welfare of working-class women. Holman Hunt employed Annie Miller as a model after ‘discovering’ her working and living in a crowded London pub. He had her ‘educated’ in the hope that she would become his wife. His project failed, however, and the marriage did not happen. Similarly, Morris’ wife Jane, was aso of a lower social standing than him, as was Madox Brown’s wife, Emma. Madox Brown, anxious about his wife’s working-class background, can be seen in his Pretty Baa Lambs to have elevated her to a country lady.
  • A group of workmen are shown digging up a road to lay sewage pipes.  Around them are a variety of people from all walks of life.  These include on the right the figures of  Rev. F. D. Maurice and Thomas Carlyle, Victorian thinkers, and sleeping itinerant workers  out of work.  At the back a rich man and his daughter survey the workmen on horseback.  To the left is a lady distributing religious tracts, a woman in fashionable dress and a beggar man making enough to live off by selling country flowers. In the foreground are an impoverished, parentless family of children being brought up by the oldest girl.
    Madox Brown, Work: To what extent is the issue of work gendered in this painting?

    The painting includes a range of working types of the time. The navvies in the centre of the painting are the epitome of male health and strength, undertaking physically demanding work. The women in the painting include a gentleman’s daughter on horseback who does not need to work, a young lady issuing religious tracts and therefore doing voluntary, socially beneficent work and a ragged young girl looking after her siblings.
  • A man tries to rescue a young woman who is crouching by a wall outdoors. A netted calf is on a cart in the background.
    The most pertinent topic concerning working women was prostitution, the subject of Rossetti’s Found.

    What do the composition and treatment of the subject suggest about Rossetti’s view of the woman in this painting? Do you find it a sympathetic or condemnatory representation?

    Further reading:

    Callen, Anthea, ‘Sexual Division of Labor in the Arts and Crafts Movement’, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, Autumn 1984-Winter 1985, pp. 1-6.

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