Artful Nature: Fashion and Theatricality 1770-1830

Backlash Against Women as Artistic Agents


The Damerian Apollo

Etching with hand coloring

Published July 1, 1789, by William Holland 

When women asserted themselves as artists, they often received criticism. Sculptor Anne Damer, who showed with the Royal Academy for years and completed several professional commissions, is here satirized as lascivious and immoral. Her chisel is firmly lodged in the buttocks of a glorious nude Apollo, which a young girl ogles from the front. Full-scale nude sculptures on the left are labeled “Studies from Nature,” while a leering figure of Pan anchors the tableau at right. Damer’s commanding position and artistic gaze are glossed as sexualized, unnatural, and corrupting the morality of the next generation.

Attributed to James Gillray

A New Edition Considerably Enlarged, of Attitudes Faithfully Copied from Nature


Published March 2, 1807, by Hannah Humphrey

More than a decade after Frederick Rehberg memorialized Emma Hamilton’s “attitude” performances by producing a set of engravings that influenced artists across Europe and helped spread the fashion for neoclassical dress, James Gillray caricatured them. By 1807 Emma Hamilton was back in England, widowed by both her husband and her lover, Lord Nelson. In A New Edition Considerably Enlarged, Gillray produced prints that repeated Rehberg’s compositions but caricatured Hamilton’s body as corpulent and ungainly. Despite Hamilton’s central and influential role in neoclassical culture, many commentators ridiculed her as an ignorant, unlettered dilettante.

Thomas Rowlandson

Melpomene in the Dumps; or, Child’s Play Defended by Theatrical Monarchs

Etching with drypoint

Published ca. 1804, by D.N. Shury, for Ackermann

Even women artists with vaunted reputations were subject to satire and mistreatment. This broadside shows the great actress Sarah Siddons, slouching and resentful at the fact that a teenage boy, Master Betty, was receiving a huge salary and lots of attention on the London stage. While she holds out her hand for a payout, the “Theatrical Monarchs” who run the theater refuse to pay her and defend their “child’s play.” Her famously sculptural posture and sublime gestures have here become pouty and grasping, and her neoclassical drapery fails to preserve her dignity.

James Gillray

The Marriage of Cupid & Psyche

Aquatint and etching with hand coloring

Published May 3, 1797, by Hannah Humphrey

After years of chaste courtship, actress Elizabeth Farren (1759/62–1829) finally wed Lord Derby in 1797 following the death of his estranged wife. Gillray satirized the event with this print, based on the famous first-century cameo then in the collection of the Duke of Marlborough. The composition on the gem was well known, having been reproduced by Wedgwood as a fashionable decorative jasperware plaque in the 1770s, as well as in casts, prints, and paintings. The humor derives from the visual contrast between the short, plump Derby (who fits right in with the other cherubs), and the tall, elegant Farren with her transparent muslin veil.