Monday, May 6, 2013

Painting the Painter

Emily Mary Osborn "Portrait of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon" before 1891  
Girton College, University of Cambridge

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891) had a life that would make a great PBS saga. Her origins were wildly romantic and iconoclastic, with her parents openly "living in sin" not from moral laxity but because of their personal convictions. Bodichon's own life seems almost unbelieveable in its astonishing powerhouse mix of intellectual, political and artistic achievements, all pursued at the very highest level. Bodichon studied art under William Holman Hunt and her watercolors were exhibited at the Paris Salon, and the Royal Academy in London, and were known to have been admired by Corot and Daubigny.  The highly intellectual Bodichon was also a feminist and activist for Women's Rights. She wrote and published a treatise in 1852 entitled "A Brief Summary of the Laws of England Pertaining to Women" which caused a firestorm of outrage and helped the successful passage of the ground-breaking Married Women's Property Act of 1882.  (Prior to this Act married women in England had no legal control of their own property, and even unmarried women frequently found their property managed "for" them by male relations, with little legal recourse.) Bodichon was a British citizen but was happily married to a highly respected French physician who shared her beliefs. Bodichon also co-founded Girton College, the first women's college at Cambridge University. She seems to have been a strong, beloved and loyal friend to many, and sat to her friends for numerous paintings, drawings and photographs throughout her lifetime.

Emily Mary Osborn "Nameless and Friendless"  1857  The Tate Gallery

Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925) who painted the portrait of Bodichon was a popular English genre painter. She studied at the Dickinson Academy in London, and began exhibiting her work at the Royal Academy at the age of seventeen. She went from success to success and her work was collected by such eminent personages as Queen Victoria. She had a particular line in "damsel in distress" paintings, and her most famous piece, Nameless and Friendless, depicts a young woman artist miserably trying to sell her work to a dubious and disdainful art dealer. The full fascinating back story of this particular piece can be read here.


Gexton said...

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891) had a life that would make a great PBS saga.
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Nancy Bea Miller said...

Glad you seem to agree with me! :-)