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
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.