Gender and Sexuality - Working Women
Created by Amelia Yeates
21 May 2009
This is a learning resource on Gender and Sexuality. This is the second of seven parts.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Discuss this collection