History's Beauties: Women and the National Portrait Gallery, 1856-1900, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

History's Beauties

Women and the National Portrait Gallery, 1856-1900, 1st Edition

By Lara Perry


220 pages

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Paperback: 9781138264168
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The 'beauties' - women of note - who were welcomed to the National Portrait Gallery's early collection were those whose lives and portraits were recognized as significant to the 'civil, ecclesiastical and literary history of the nation'. This brief was interpreted to include figures as diverse as the devout Lady Margaret Beaufort, and the entertaining Lady Emma Hamilton. History's Beauties, the first detailed study of this collection, maps a culture of femininity that reframes the Victorian fascination with women's domestic and sentimental presence by locating it within a Parliament-centred 'national' culture. Including an essay on the Gallery's Trustees, the book traces the translation of their governors' culture to a public institution through discussions of three themes in the National Portrait Gallery's collection of women's portraits: portraits of the Royal family and the cult of legitimacy in antiquities and in national identity; the educated woman as model of domestic and national cultivation; and finally the role of female beauty in defining social and artistic power in nineteenth-century Britain. The first monograph study of gender in a major museum, History's Beauties engages themes of gender, national identity, class cultures, and aesthetics in Victorian England to interpret the National Portrait Gallery's fascinating collection.


'Lara Perry's interdisciplinary approach weaves together in a complex pattern many ideas, topics, and strands of thought. … This is a stimulating book, offering much to provoke further studies.’ Reviews in History

’… provides readers with a renewed glimpse into the relationship between gender and culture in the Victorian era.’ Victorian Studies

’… [a] fascinating and thoughtful book…’ Museum and Society

’… a refreshing addition to the literature of museum studies.’ The Art Book

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: The nation's beauties: women in the nineteenth-century museum; Women, the National, and the Portrait Gallery; Victoria and her predecessors; Sentimental histories; Beauty; The arts of women; Conclusion: The varieties of the public woman; Appendix 1: The trustees of the National Portrait Gallery; Appendix 2: List of women's portraits acquired by the National Portrait Gallery between 1856 and 1900; Notes; Bibliography, Index.

About the Author

Lara Perry, Lecturer in Visual Culture, School of Historical and Critical Studies, University of Brighton, UK

About the Series

British Art and Visual Culture since 1750 New Readings

British Art and Visual Culture since 1750 New Readings
This series provides a forum for the study of British art and visual culture from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. It includes work which considers British art within comparative and interdisciplinary frameworks as well as monographs and thematic studies, single authored works and edited volumes of essays dealing with the art produced in the British Isles. The series publishes research which deals not only with high art but also with the visual environment of Britain from perspectives which are not primarily concerned with art objects. Volumes published in the series include studies of the social and cultural history of British visual culture, interpretation of individual works of art, and perspectives on reception, consumption and display.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Collections, Catalogs, Exhibitions / General
ART / History / General
ART / European