Within the Victorian art world, the wind of change was signalled early on in a very visible way when, in April 1838, the Queen opened the National Gallery in its new, purpose-built home on Trafalgar Square. The relocation from its original cramped quarters at 100 Pall Mall, where the gallery had been since its foundation in 1824, would have brought to mind the recent debates addressed by a select committee of 1835 concerning the public utility of art institutions including the adequacy of the national collection and its future purpose.1 Numerous other governmental inquiries would pursue these matters in the 1840s and 1850s, culminating in the select committee of 1853, which led to the gallery’s reconstitution in 1855. Outside Parliament a host of voices was also lobbying for change, among them Anna Jameson, a well-known figure in her day.2 Her contribution is notable because she was a woman in a male-dominated arena and because her message was heard early on and by a wide audience. With the recent interest in women’s contributions to scholarship, her work has been re-evaluated, especially in relation to what she published on early Italian art and religious iconography.3 In this article, I want to look at another, less-studied aspect of her efforts to promote the old masters — her lobbying for the systematic acquisition, display, and dissemination of information about the old masters — and to contextualize her writings on this topic.

The first part of this article will investigate Jameson’s writings on the National Gallery and her suggestions for its reform and situates them within the wider debates noted above. Later sections will place her work on the National Gallery within two ever-widening contexts, the first being her own later art writings in order to tease out important common, abiding threads: her focus on approaches that were then not mainstream, her employment of an empirical research methodology, and her writing with a general public in mind. The second will bring into the equation other women art writers of her generation, notably Maria Callcott and Mary Merrifield, to assess what if anything was distinctive about their work of the 1830s and 1840s as a group, and especially when compared with what their male peers were producing. Particular mention will be made of the fruitful working association which all the women under review had with Charles Lock Eastlake, who would become in the 1850s president of the Royal Academy of Arts and first director of the National Gallery, and who was secretary of the Fine Arts Commission from 1841 and keeper of the National Gallery between 1843 and 1847.

Jameson’s writings on the National Gallery

Over a period of thirty years, Anna Jameson (Fig. 1) published books, articles for periodicals, translations, and reviews; her work encompassed travel writing, biographical and historical studies, Shakespearean criticism, women’s issues, and art criticism. In everything she wrote, she held the promotion of education and, in particular, the spread of aesthetic culture to the British general public as a primary objective. She pointed out, early in the 1840s, how the linking of visual culture to questions around improving the lives of ordinary men and women was new in public life:

Not till lately has a feeling been awakened in the public mind, that, in the endeavour to humanize and educate the heart of a nation for all noble and all gentle purposes, art, if not the most important, is no despicable means towards that great end.4

Fig. 1 

Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill, Mrs Anna (Brownell Murphy) Jameson, 1843–47, photogravure (print), 20.1 × 14.7 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Creative Commons licence.

Her first significant book on art included a lengthy disquisition on the nascent National Gallery. Her Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art in and near London came out in two parts in 1842, and its sequel, Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London appeared two years later, in 1844.5 Her publication of 1842 was significant for at least two reasons. Firstly, it was highly ambitious in terms of content. It presented a vast amount of updated or new, accurate information about paintings held in important, publicly accessible collections, and it also raised a number of fundamental questions about the nascent national collection in terms of the National Gallery’s collecting, display, and management policies as well as other general points about public access to art, taste, and patronage. Secondly, it was innovative in the way it laid out the information it contained.

In terms of the content of her survey, Jameson noted in the preface that she was keen to fill a gap. Her ambitious remit is seen in the subtitles of both the 1842 and 1844 volumes, the former noting that it came ‘with catalogues of the pictures, accompanied by critical, historical, and biographical notices, and copious indexes to facilitate reference’. Jameson recorded that initially she had wanted to offer an outline of the whole history of art but had decided against this when such an undertaking had been accomplished by the German art historian Franz Theodor Kugler and made available to English speakers through a translation edited by Charles Eastlake, whose notes, in her opinion, ‘double[d] its value’ (Public Galleries, p. ix). What Jameson provided within the pages of her publications of 1842 and 1844, in addition to core facts pertaining to key paintings in every collection under review, were three ambitious prefatory sections: firstly, ‘popular and concise explanations of terms of art, and many things relative to painting and pictures which I thought might be useful to those uninitiated’ (i.e. technical art history); secondly, ‘a selection of passages from various writers on art, which, like an overture to an opera […] should attune the mind of the reader to the subject treated in the following pages’ (i.e. a literature review of art criticism); and thirdly, a ‘prefatory essay on art, artists, collectors and connoisseurs’ covering the period of ‘the Earl of Arundel to the present time’ (i.e. a history of collecting and the art market).6 Furthermore, with ‘facility of reference’ in mind, she provided ‘a copious general Index’. These sections were attempts to supply background information that would empower the reader to feel confident about confronting works of art. Arguably, as a self-taught woman who felt the deficit in her own visual education, Jameson was keen to make available copious and reliable information to other viewers on the margins.

Two things come across very clearly in terms of the content and layout of her first major foray into art history publishing: firstly, a desire to present up-to-date and accurate facts; and secondly, a desire to present that information in a way that was enjoyable to read and easy to use — what she defined as ‘the value and convenience’ of her ‘register’ (Private Galleries, p. xviii). In relation to the first, she noted her drawing on ‘opinion stamped by acknowledged authority’, and that wherever she found passages of particular interest or merit in reliable secondary literature, she had ‘borrowed or stolen, or — to use Pistol’s improved phrase — conveyed [them], into these pages’.7 Acknowledging that she was ‘breaking new ground’, she hoped her publication would ‘lead to something of the same kind, better and more complete than what I have been able to perform; fuller in point of critical detail than would be at present either palatable or profitable’ (Public Galleries, p. vi). Despite this acknowledgement of her contribution as provisional and reliant on the work of others — a standard disclaimer among women writers — it is clear that Jameson herself did a huge amount of painstaking groundwork for her book in the belief that ‘its value must consist mainly in its accuracy’ (Private Galleries, p. xviii). What she found particularly onerous was that, in addition to gathering names, dates, and subjects of pictures, she had to make decisions concerning the accuracy of all these matters. An interest in attribution was relatively new in England, developing in earnest alongside the opening of public art galleries. Certainly, connoisseurship had not yet grabbed the headlines in the way it would by the end of the century when nationalism fuelled the flames of debate, leading to the notoriously ill-tempered disputes between Giovanni Morelli in Italy and Wilhelm von Bode in Germany over particular attributions as well as the methodology employed.8 Jameson’s entrée into this field, decades earlier, as a pioneering female amateur, was cautious. She noted that she was willing to ‘knock down a charming theory or a pretty story with a dry row of figures’ only where she ‘could have no doubt’ (Private Galleries, p. xviii, emphasis in original).

The intense and detailed labour involved in this type of empirical scholarship is recorded in Jameson’s correspondence. In relation to the preparation she undertook for both her companion guides to art galleries, she enumerated all the kinds of work she had had to do to a friend, the Germanist Robert R. Noel. Her complaint that her exertions had nearly been too much make it clear that she had found few precedents to help her:

It has proved a most laborious affair; the research and accuracy required have almost beaten me, and I am not easily beaten. It is a sort of thing which ought to have fallen into the hands of Dr. Waagen, or some such bigwig, instead of poor little me. Add that being some distance from town, and without any near assistance, sympathy, or companionship, my difficulties have been much increased by circumstances. […] The printing has begun, and what with preparing MS., hunting dates and names through musty ponderous authorities, travelling to the British Museum, wearing out my eyes over manuscript or ill-printed catalogues, and correcting the press to keep up with the printers […] I have never one moment of leisure in the week. (Macpherson, pp. 172–73)

Her other aim was to ensure that all her gathered information was conveyed ‘with just so much of explanation, illustration, and criticism, as might stimulate the curiosity and direct the taste of the reader, without exactly assuming to gratify the first or dictate to the last’ (Public Galleries, p. v). It is apparent that she felt her role was to help her readers to learn, and that she intended the visual education she offered to be an enjoyable process. This ‘user-friendly’ criterion affected decisions about the look and feel of her Handbook to the Public Galleries (Fig. 2). She noted that she intended it to be ‘portable’. She also arranged the information so it would have the advantage of ‘not fatigu[ing] the eye while the reader was moving or standing in varying lights’ and of ‘saving space and allowing the different topics to be distinguished at the first glance’ (Public Galleries, pp. vi–vii, vi). Consequently, she chose a variety of font sizes and a selective use of emboldened type to distinguish between ‘the names of the painters and the titles of the pictures […] the description […] and the criticism and illustrative notes’ (p. vii). Such considerations would become the norm for later guidebooks but Jameson herself was forging a new path.

Fig. 2 

Anna Jameson, A Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art in and near London (London: Murray, 1842), part of the catalogue entry for Sebastiano del Piombo’s The Raising of Lazarus. © The National Gallery, London.

Turning to consider what she said in particular about the National Gallery, her overall message was that the institution needed to work harder to ensure it fulfilled its public function. Her suggested areas of reform were all ones addressed in parliamentary select committees concerning the gallery’s collecting, display, and management policies. What is important about Jameson’s voicing of topical subjects is that she was airing them in a public and popular arena: by drawing attention to governmental reports to the broadest readership, she filtered major national concerns down to grass-roots level.

In relation to the holdings of the national collection, which at the time comprised just 177 pictures, she argued that it was unbalanced with either patchy or a complete lack of representation of many schools of painting:

We may esteem ourselves rich in Correggios; […] also in pictures of Claude, and of Nicolò and Gaspar Poussin, and of Annibal Carracci and his school. We are poor in fine specimens of some of the best of the early Italian masters; of Gian Bellini, of Francia, of Perugino, the master of Raphael, of Fra Bartolomeo, of Frate Angelico […] and others who flourished in the latter half of the 15th century, we have as yet nothing. (Public Galleries, p. 10)

Elsewhere in her text she begged for gifts of paintings by Van Dyck and Reynolds (p. 12). What is striking is her drawing attention to names of numerous artists then utterly unknown to the vast majority of her readers. To back up her opinion, she pointed to the evidence given by the collector and dealer Edward Solly to the 1835 select committee. He had highlighted other deficiencies of the national collection, listing works by painters from the period when art was, in his opinion (one shared by most visually literate Victorians), ‘at its greatest state of perfection from 1510 to 1530’ but whose works were still ‘not known in this country’ but which being ‘extremely fine […] would be desirable for a National Gallery’ (Public Galleries, p. 10). Indeed, both select committees of 1835 and 1853 urged the gallery to start to fill gaps in its holdings in a systematic way. The commissioners noted that it should no longer remain a repository of already acknowledged masterpieces but should aim to become a comprehensive survey collection.

Jameson’s wish for greater representation of all types of Western European painting connected with her views on how pictures at Trafalgar Square should ideally be displayed. Again, her views were both radical and in alignment with certain witness statements noted in the parliamentary inquiries which demanded change at the National Gallery. She noted ‘the utter want of all arrangement and classification’ of the gallery’s collection and made a pointed comparison with the more systematic display of pictures in the leading European art galleries of Paris, Florence, Berlin, Munich, and Dresden, of which she was aware from her earlier extensive European travels (Public Galleries, p. 13). Interestingly, the 1853 select committee’s report would include an appendix of information about managing art collections based on answers received from a questionnaire sent to major public galleries abroad, the answers from which informed certain policies at the gallery in the wake of its 1855 reconstitution. In Jameson’s opinion, and in line with current Continental thinking, once the collection had grown in size, it would be important for it to be displayed chronologically and geographically so that visitors could trace visually the development of ‘pictorial representations of sacred subjects from the ancient Byzantine types of the heads of Madonnas and Apostles’ to the ‘fullest splendour when Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Correggio, Titian, were living at the same time’ (Public Galleries, p. 14).

Jameson realized that the general public would have to be brought on significantly if they were to make sense of the new acquisition and display policies she was advocating. She noted on more than one occasion that the British public had not had the advantage that foreigners had enjoyed of seeing art all around them in public places like churches or art galleries,9 with the consequence that her fellow countrymen and women did not always know how to behave when confronted with works of art.10 In particular, she knew that to make early Italian religious art (then associated with Roman Catholicism) acceptable, a complete revolution in taste would be necessary, given that it was currently so out of fashion in terms of its content and style. She noted:

As to the effect which would be produced here by the exhibition of an old Greek or Siennese Madonna, I can imagine it all; — the sneering wonder, the aversion, the contempt; for as yet we are far from that intelligence which would give to such objects their due relative value as historic monuments. (Public Galleries, p. 14)

A fundamental point she was keen to convey to her neophyte gallery visitors was that they should remain open-minded when confronting art of all kind — that ‘no one must be allowed to regard their own arbitrary preferences as tests of excellence’ (Private Galleries, p. xxxix).

She did believe that public taste could be challenged and changed and noted that with the opening of the National Gallery visitors had been interested and curious to learn more. In a telling remark, she opined, ‘in the fine arts, as in many other things, knowledge comes after love’ (Public Galleries, p. 14). This was clearly a key pedagogical precept for her as she repeated it elsewhere:

There is an immeasurable difference between the mere liking for pretty pictures, the love of novelty and variety, and the feeling and comprehension of the fine arts, their true aim and high significance; still the capacity to discriminate as well as to feel is given to many, and I would raise such from love up to knowledge. (Private Galleries, pp. xxxix–xl, emphasis in original)

To her mind, the aim of broadening public taste and instilling an understanding of the history of art (at least Western European painting) was achievable following a two-pronged offensive: firstly, by putting unfamiliar art before the viewer so that they might become acclimatized to it; and secondly, having introduced it, by exploring it in ways that made it ever less alien and thus ever more ‘lovable’, with the knock-on effect that the viewer would become increasingly interested to learn more about it for themselves. To this end, Jameson introduced a range of pedagogical tactics when addressing her readership, building up her arguments by gently but firmly breaking down assumptions, referencing things that would be familiar to her audience, and using personal experience to bring her reader onside.

The salient points Jameson was keen to make both in terms of scholarship and pedagogical practice were certainly effectively conveyed for they were highlighted by reviewers of her work. On more than one occasion, her guidebook of 1842 was assessed alongside Kugler’s Handbook, which indicates how seriously her scholarship was taken; the fact that the Gentleman’s Magazine devoted a seventeen-page review to it is equally telling. Although its critic hoped ‘before long to see [a handbook] executed by some person professionally acquainted with the subject, under the sanction of the trustees, and at the national expense’, they had much to say in praise of the current amateur’s efforts and evident knowledge.11 A critic from the British and Foreign Review praised her work, on the other hand, largely as an effective educational tool:

The Government has learnt to recognize the importance of these aids to the people’s education; and we already see the fruits of their liberal measures, in the important fact, that a power of seeing has […] led to a power […] of appreciating. Here lie the proofs, in the appearance of such books as Mrs. Jameson’s and Kugler’s […] works full of knowledge and right criticism, which are in the hands of thousands, instructing the studious, making studious the idle-minded; making Art […] work in the hearts and minds of those who never before looked beyond the canvass of the picture.12

The mention here of Kugler demonstrates that Jameson was not working alone. Among the most significant reformers promoting change specifically at the National Gallery were Gustav Waagen, first director of the Berlin Royal Gallery and first professor of art history at Berlin University, and Charles Eastlake, who was appointed keeper at the gallery in 1843. While Waagen was an important witness at the 1835 select committee and wrote an influential multipart article in the Art Journal just before the 1853 select committee sat, Eastlake penned an open letter to Sir Robert Peel in 1845, drawing attention to what he perceived as the shortcomings of the institution whose ranks he had recently joined, and then acted as a key witness in the 1853 select committee.13 Another manifestation of Eastlake’s evolving ideas is the new-style catalogue he helped Ralph Nicholson Wornum to produce, the first of its kind being published in 1847. The resulting Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Pictures in the National Gallery was ‘designed not merely as a book of reference for visitors in the Gallery,’ but also as ‘a guide to the history of painting, as represented by the examples in the collection’, and ‘as a Biographical Dictionary of Painters’.14 Presumably, this was the kind of publication which answered the desire of the critic in the Gentleman’s Magazine for a catalogue endorsed by the gallery to follow up on Jameson’s earlier unofficial one. It also answered the government’s recommendation that ‘to render the British National Gallery worthy of the name it bears’, specified funds ‘should be expended with a view, not merely of exhibiting to the public beautiful works of art, but of instructing the people in the history of that art’ (HC Select Committee, p. xvi).

Unsurprisingly, Jameson kept up to date with new acquisitions at the National Gallery, something that took off during Eastlake’s decade as director, when about one hundred and fifty paintings were added to the collection. One of his first coups was the purchase in 1857 of twenty-two early Florentine and Sienese paintings from the dealers Francesco Lombardi and Ugo Baldi. In a business letter from Italy to her publisher Longman, Jameson noted:

I have also just seen the pictures recently purchased here for the National Gallery, and am enchanted that we have got them at last. They are all to me old acquaintances, old in every sense, but supplying a great gap in our historic series. (Macpherson, p. 299, emphases in original)

Anna Jameson’s interest in promoting the old masters extended well beyond Trafalgar Square. For one thing, her earlier two-volume Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad of 1834 had included her commentary on the German art galleries at Dresden, Munich, and Nuremberg, a critic from the prestigious Quarterly Review noting that ‘this lady’s description of the Dresden Gallery is also much the best we are acquainted with’ (Thomas, pp. 85, 89). More significantly still, she wielded important, if little known, influence on the growth of the old master collection at the nascent National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, founded in 1854, and with a purchase grant established in July 1856. There are two notable interventions recorded in the gallery’s earliest board minutes. The first occurred in September 1856, when Jameson and her relative Robert Macpherson, a Scottish artist, art dealer, and pioneering photographer based in Rome, who was married to Jameson’s niece Gerardine, succeeded in selling to Dublin for £1,700 a group of old master paintings from the collection of Signor Aducci, which had previously belonged to the esteemed collector Cardinal Joseph Fesch.15 Jameson and Macpherson originally brought thirteen pictures to the attention of the board, recommending them as ‘being very desirable for the commencement of a public Gallery’.16 The jewel in the crown in their selection was a St Jerome in the Desert, then attributed to Michelangelo (Fig. 3); the rest comprised works attributed to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian painters, notably Palma Il Giovane, Cesare Procaccini, and Giovanni Lanfranco, as well as the eighteenth-century French master Charles-Antoine Coypel.17 According to a subsequent board minute of November 1856, the gallery acquired a further three paintings from the same source, including an Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Maria Preti, when they were ‘added into the price of the Aducci pictures’. A simultaneous offer of another batch of twenty-three old masters for £1,483 was also agreed to. This group comprised ‘the property of Mr. Macpherson, and some others which that gentleman had selected at Rome’, and included works by ‘Pietro da Cortona, Jacobo Bassano, Benozzo Gozzoli, Andrea del Sarto, Pordenone, Domenichino, Salvator Rosa, Carlo Maratta, Juliano Romano’.18

Fig. 3 

Bartolomeo Passarotti (previously attributed to Michelangelo), St Jerome in the Desert, 1560s, oil on canvas, 183 × 135 cm. © The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

I was interested to discover that Jameson’s name also appears in the early records of the National Gallery of Ireland, in relation to the work of Raphael. The minutes from a board meeting of 12 September 1859 record that ‘The Lord Chancellor read a Letter from Mrs. Jameson in reference to obtaining a Copy of the Madonna di San Sisto in Dresden’ and that it was agreed that he was ‘to communicate with Mrs. Jameson as to obtaining a Copy’ of that celebrated painting.19 Given that she had referred to Raphael’s original painting in her Legends of the Madonna as ‘a revelation’, it is tempting to suggest that Jameson influenced the National Gallery of Ireland’s decision to try to purchase a copy for its collection, as well as being the person commissioned to acquire it.20 Even if it is unclear whether the Raphael copy was ever pursued,21 it is fair to say that Anna Jameson’s fruitful intervention of 1856 significantly broadened the holdings of the national collection in Dublin, which had originally owned so few old masters that it had had to borrow twenty-eight pictures for its opening ceremony from its sister institution in London.22 Clearly by mid-century, with numerous well-regarded publications to her name, Jameson was recognized by Britain’s premier art institutions as an expert whose opinion could be trusted in relation to strategic acquisitions of old master paintings. If she was not in a position to build up a private collection of old masters of her own in the ways that the Callcotts and Eastlakes were able to, she certainly could — and did — influence the development of major public collections.23

Jameson’s other art writings

What Anna Jameson had to say about art in relation to the National Gallery and how she wrote about art did not stop with her publications of 1842 and 1844; key ideas continued to find expression in her later writings and she regularly drew on examples from the National Gallery’s collection to make her points. She produced work on a range of established old masters, notably Dürer, Rubens, and the Spanish and Dutch schools, but concentrated mainly on less usual areas in order, again, to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding, especially concerning early Italian art as well as sculpture.24 This is not the place to discuss the contents of these later publications, as other scholars have done so, at least to some extent.25 However, in the context of this article which aims in part to investigate her methodology, it is worth highlighting certain threads running through her later works that connect them to her guidebooks of the 1840s.

The first point to reiterate is that in nearly every case her work focused on approaches to the study of art that were not then mainstream fields — she did not spend the majority of her time reflecting on traditional connoisseurial concerns such as a given master’s style or how a given work fitted into his oeuvre. It is as though she recognized that studying art history was like contemplating a multifaceted diamond and that there were many angles to it, and that offering a variety of ‘ways in’ to understand a given painting was more likely to tempt neophyte viewers to engage with art than if only a single approach were adopted. We have touched on her reflections on art education, and this was a theme she reverted to in a two-part article in the Art Journal of 1849, entitled ‘Some Thoughts on Art, Addressed to the Uninitiated’.26 Jameson also involved herself, albeit to a lesser extent, with technical art history when she wrote the text to accompany a series of engravings by Ludwig Grüner for a book commemorating Prince Albert’s commissioning of British artists to decorate with frescoes a pavilion at Buckingham Palace.27 This project was linked to a major public project to find artists to produce frescoes for the new Palace of Westminster, run by the Fine Arts Commission for which Albert acted as president and Eastlake as secretary. It was in the field of iconography, however, that Jameson became best known. Her desire to discuss art from this angle is seen in her Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (1859 edition), where she noted in the introduction that

although a knowledge of the name, the character, the country of the painter, adds greatly to the pleasure with which we contemplate a work of art, it is not — it ought not to be — the source of our highest gratification; that must depend on our capacity to understand the work in itself, and have delight in it for its own sake. Our first question, when we stand before a picture should not be, ‘Who painted it?’ but ‘What does it mean?’.28

She repeated this sentiment in her two-volume Poetry of Sacred and Legendary Art in 1848, denouncing in its introduction, as Clara Thomas pointed out, ‘“mere connoisseurship” with its stress on Taste, the Sublime, the naming and dating of painters and schools at the expense of “the true spirit and significance of works of Art, as connected with the history of Religion and Civilisation”’ (Thomas, p. 176). What turned into a series of four titles (six volumes), published under the general title ‘Sacred and Legendary Art’, played a hugely significant role in spreading an understanding of the development of Christian art in ways acceptable to a British and largely Protestant audience. She made important headway through choosing to discuss her examples from historical and literary points of view rather than using them as a form of evangelization.

A second point to make is that in all her work Jameson employed an empirical research methodology — the drawing of conclusions from a foundation of irrefutable facts. We saw earlier how she invoked the name of Waagen in a letter discussing her working methods; arguably, Waagen was her most significant role model. Her modus operandi mimicked his, including the undertaking of study trips and travel at home and abroad which involved careful and copious note taking in museums and galleries (Macpherson, p. 166), exploiting an ability to speak French, Italian, and German to gain access to works of art and read primary sources and secondary commentary in foreign languages, and a proactive attitude to seeking out scholars, collectors, and connoisseurs who could provide her with answers, information, and connections.29 While Jameson’s networking skills enabled her to make the acquaintance of many British art collectors for her surveys of the 1840s — her niece Gerardine in an early biography of her aunt quotes several letters from Sir Robert Peel and Lord Lansdowne inviting Jameson to study in their collections at her leisure — she met important foreign scholars during research trips abroad (Macpherson, pp. 168–69). For instance, in autumn 1841 when in Paris to study early Italian art for her series of articles in the Penny Magazine, she met Alexis-François Rio in the Louvre, which she confessed to her sister Charlotte was ‘the great event of my life here’, and that she ‘profited’ from further trips round the Louvre with him.30

In her introduction to the English edition of Waagen’s monograph on Rubens, Jameson noted that her fellow countrymen and women were not yet au fait with the ‘many-sided and elevated spirit in criticism with which the Germans have long been familiar’, which went far ‘higher and deeper’ than the ‘shallow conventional verbiage’ of most English criticism.31 Contemporaries recognized how scholarly and Germanic her work was; indeed Caroline Palmer has pointed out that the obituary of Jameson in the Athenaeum commented on her ‘Germanism’. I was interested to see, in a similar vein, that her friend the writer Maria Edgeworth, congratulating her on her iconographical series and noting it would become ‘a book of reference, a standard book in all good libraries and a companion to all Travellers who have any taste for the arts, or any desire to obtain information’, dubbed her ‘my Dr. Mrs. Jameson’.32 This is an indirect reference to the German use of academic titles in universities. It suggests that despite there being no equivalent academic environment in England and despite the exclusion of women from public office in Britain — including from museums where art history was being developed in this country — Jameson was respected for her scholarship and for being among the ‘first interpreters’ of the ‘new world of contemporary German thought’, which included art history and criticism.33

The third point I wish to make about Jameson’s work is the fact that, while her publications were recognized as rigorous and cutting edge, they were equally known for being written with a non-specialist audience in mind. As a critic in the Athenaeum put it, her fundamental aim was ‘the artistical education of the masses’.34 Her mission was part of the general trend towards broadening access to art that included the creation of public art galleries and also the establishment of popular periodicals such as the Penny Magazine and Monthly Repository. Jameson wrote for several such publications, recognizing them as crucial alternative channels through which to share her knowledge with a very broad-based readership. Thus, although she ended up writing books for a number of publishers, including John Murray, and ultimately wrote for the most weighty periodicals of the day such as the Art Journal, she also deliberately channelled her scholarship through less highbrow and more generalist organs (Palmer, ‘Women Writers on Art’, p. 166). For instance, her essays on the ‘Lives of Remarkable Painters’, which were short biographies of Italian artists from Cimabue to Titian, were printed in the Penny Magazine, an outlet of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. They appeared in forty-seven affordable instalments between 1843 and 1845. Only later was the work repackaged in book format in 1845 by Charles Knight as Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters and the Progress of Painting in Italy, before appearing again, in another repackaging, as an enlarged edition by a second publisher, John Murray, in 1859. It is worth pointing out here too that her best-known work concerning iconography was initially printed as a series of articles, spread over a year in the Athenaeum (Macpherson, p. 227).

Jameson was constantly desirous to wear her learning lightly and to bring her knowledge to a generalist audience in an enjoyable way. Even in her early 1844 guide to private galleries she had noted her endeavour ‘to combine the convenience and order of a book of reference, with a certain degree of amusement and interest arising from new illustrations of thought and criticism’ (Private Galleries, p. xvii). In her much later preface to Legends of the Madonna of 1852, she voiced the same aim, when she noted: ‘if attention and interest have been excited, if the sphere of enjoyment in works of art have been enlarged and enlightened, I have done all I ever wished, all I ever hope to do’ (Macpherson, p. 271). In keeping with this overall aim, the literary persona she adopted in her art historical writings was that of a companion walking alongside her reader and talking over the art under review with them. She explained this concept in A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies, where she noted she had never ‘in any work I have ventured to place before the public, aspired to teach (being myself a learner in all things)’ (Macpherson, p. 273, emphases in original). On another occasion, she characterized herself as an ‘interpreter’ between the public and the artist.35 Her hands-on approach was commented on favourably in the press; her tone of voice, in particular, was praised by a reviewer in Blackwood’s Magazine in comparison with that adopted by the contemporary male art critic John Ruskin:

The more eminent writer tells us with a shrewish arrogance that he has studied the subject all his life, and of course knows a great deal more about it, and is in a much better position to judge than we. The lady, on the contrary, without any brag of her experience, quietly sets about the benevolent business of making us as well acquainted as herself with her own particular field of art.36

Certain reviewers characterized her friendly style as part and parcel of her being a woman writer. The anonymous reviewer of her first volume of religious art, concluding a highly favourable report, declared: ‘Mrs Jameson writes as an enthusiast, her feeling flows from her pen. Her style is fascinating to a degree, forcible and graceful; but there is no mistaking its character — feminine.’37

Another element of Jameson’s art writing that was praised by reviewers was her heavy use of illustrations.38 As Judith Johnston has noted of the Penny Magazine, where we have seen Jameson first published her biographies of early Italian artists, ‘its woodcut illustrations were a particular element in its extraordinary success. […] The Penny Magazine was designed for family reading and reached both sexes’ (p. 157). Her multivolume series on religious iconography was particularly abundantly illustrated. One reviewer of her Poetry of Sacred and Legendary Art volume from the series thanked her for supplying ‘beautiful wood-cuts and etchings’, describing them as ‘lightly and gracefully executed’ (‘Poetry of Sacred and Legendary Art’, p. 21). In the preface to another volume in the series, Legends of the Madonna as Represented in the Fine Arts, Jameson noted how even the most basic images were useful in assisting understanding and saving verbose explanations:

In looking over pictures and prints, the differences and varieties in point of composition and arrangement may be at once discriminated, not only in those given as examples, but in hundreds of others. […] A few scratches with a pen are better than whole pages of the most elaborate description.39

Earlier, she had described the advantages of placing reproductions before artists and the general public as a way of making accessible works of art ‘which exist at a distance, or have become so rare and so expensive, that they are locked up in national collections, or in the portfolios of amateurs’, declaring in yet another place that ‘what printing did for literature, engraving on wood and copper has done for painting’.40 Often, Jameson’s later publications included reproductions of National Gallery paintings, to which she made frequent reference in the texts, realizing that it would be relatively easy for many of her readers to go and see the originals hanging in the publicly accessible galleries in Trafalgar Square. For instance, in her Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters she discussed Raphael’s Portrait of Julius II (then considered a duplicate) and illustrated part of it (Fig. 4), while she reproduced the whole of Venus and Adonis which she called a ‘repetition’ of Titian’s original (Fig. 5).41 In her new edition of 1859, she noted that ‘references to examples have been made, wherever it has been possible, to our National Gallery’, remarking that ‘the number of valuable early pictures which have been lately added to our collection has rendered these references and descriptions much more intelligible and interesting to the young student than they were a few years ago’ (I, pp. ix–x). Being an able amateur artist, Jameson was in a position to provide the illustrations herself,42 although she also employed her niece Gerardine, on occasion, to assist with their production.43 In an age before photography had taken off, Jameson’s heavily illustrated and yet affordable volumes were novel, especially in the way the images were woven into the text itself rather than being presented as separate plates; her embedded illustrations became a hallmark of her art history writing and served as a useful model for later writers.

Fig. 4 

Engraving after Raphael, ‘Pope Julius II’, in Anna Jameson, Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (London: Knight, 1845). © The National Gallery, London.

Fig. 5 

Engraving after Titian, ‘Group from the Venus and Adonis’, in Anna Jameson, Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (London: Knight, 1845). © The National Gallery, London.

Jameson’s work in the context of writings by other women writers in the 1840s

Jameson was one of several women who, during the first decades of the nineteenth century, made a serious contribution to the evolving discipline of art history through their published writings.44 Palmer has done much to compare the working life of Anna Jameson with those of her contemporaries, Maria Callcott, Mary Merrifield, and Elizabeth Rigby, particularly in examining these women’s social position, religion, and education to see how such factors determined their approach to writing and their engagement with art. Palmer notes that ‘feminist writers such as Pollock have themselves pointed to the need to stress the multiplicity of women’s responses, as contextualized by family background and class position, rather than seeing their views as biologically determined’, and she declares her agreement with their stance (‘Women Writers on Art’, pp. 17–18). While I concur that there were many determining factors in addition to that of their sex which helps to explain their work and working methods, certain patterns are discernible in what this first generation of women art writers chose to write about and how they went about their work. In tracing below what I see as the most striking similarities, I will focus on the work produced before and during the 1830s and especially during the 1840s, as I see this as the crucible period where questions of all kinds pertaining to the collecting, display, and dissemination of knowledge about the old masters were explored and solutions continued in flux before matters started to crystallize from mid-century. Consequently, I will focus on the work of Callcott and Merrifield rather than Elizabeth Rigby as the latter wrote the vast majority of her articles and books on art historical topics only after her marriage to Eastlake in April 1849.45

In relation to their own scholarship on the old masters, it is clear that both Callcott and Merrifield broadened the canon in ways similar to Jameson. A well-known leitmotif of their work is the attention they paid, just as Jameson did, to the work of early Italian painters. Callcott, for instance, published the first guide to Giotto’s important fresco cycle in the Arena Chapel, Padua. Not only did they broaden the type of art discussed, but also the way about which it was written. There is space here only to point out a mutual interest in technical art history, something to which I noted that Jameson contributed in a small way through a prefatory section of her 1842 guidebook. Usually overlooked is the fact that Callcott, in her Essays towards the History of Painting of 1836, included a substantial section entitled ‘On the Materials Used by Painters’. Here, her novel aim was

to give such an account as I can collect, of the materials used by painters; the substances upon which they painted, the pigments they coloured with, the vehicles by means of which the colours were applied, and the tools employed in painting.46

Palmer points to this aspect of Callcott’s work in her article in this issue of 19, and that Callcott drew attention to having been in touch with various scientific authorities on the subject. I would add that as a friend of Charles Eastlake, who would publish his own magisterial study Materials for a History of Oil Painting in 1847, she doubtless discussed her research into technical art history with him too. The Monthly Review saw the section on historical techniques as the book’s most important part. Its reviewer opined that this essay ‘evinces unusual research and acquaintance with the subject’, revealing how ‘minutely versed’ Mrs Callcott was ‘in every thing [sic] connected with the history of painting’ (Palmer, ‘Women Writers on Art’, pp. 150–56). This is surely one of the earliest accounts for a non-specialist audience in English of historical painting techniques, a subject that would be pursued in far more depth by Merrifield in three seminal publications of the 1840s, including the first English translation of Cennino Cennini’s Libro dell’arte and two compilations of historical treatises on the technique of oil painting, especially as it had developed in Italy. Attention has been paid to Merrifield’s weighty contributions to the subject;47 here, it is worth reiterating that Merrifield received £500 for expenses associated with her research trip to Italy in 1845–46 through W. H. Stephenson, the secretary of Sir Robert Peel, then prime minister and also on the boards of the Fine Arts Commission and the National Gallery. Furthermore, her resulting publication, Original Treatises (1849), was, according to its introduction, partly officially funded.48 When her work was reviewed it was her source-based evidence that was praised and compared favourably to similar work being undertaken concurrently by her fellow countrymen, Charles Eastlake and Robert Hendrie.49

A comparison of the modus operandi of Callcott and Merrifield reveals that they both pursued, like Jameson, an empirical methodology, basing their arguments on facts found in archival-based primary sources and reliable secondary literature.50 The fact that they could all access archives abroad calls to mind their language skills as well as their formidable scholarly networks. They were as cognizant as Jameson that their approach stemmed from Continental thinking, especially from scholars working in German universities and museums. In this connection, Lady Eastlake herself would later note that ‘to the Germans […] belongs the merit of introducing sound criticism into the domain of art as well as into that of history’, characterizing the Teutonic scholarly approach as one where ‘nothing is left to feeling, predilection, or wish’, and which involved ‘a slowly gathered accumulation of facts, each one resting securely on that beneath it’.51 Caroline Palmer points out that the fact that these women of the 1840s chose to disseminate their new scholarship to native audiences via ‘weighty periodical articles and translations […] undoubtedly played a major role in spreading the word about the “modern science” of German connoisseurship in England’.52 I would add that their impact was extended precisely because they also disseminated such ideas through more popular channels and presented their findings in ways that were considered intelligible and interesting to broad swathes of the general public.

The methods employed to do this were the same as those we have noted in relation to Jameson. Firstly, both Callcott and Merrifield recognized the benefits of incorporating illustrations into their texts. Like Jameson they were accomplished amateur artists — as indeed was Lady Eastlake.53 One of Callcott’s own lithographs was reproduced as a frontispiece to her Giotto publication (the rest of the illustrations were in fact supplied by her husband, the Royal Academician painter, Augustus Wall Callcott), while Merrifield supplied the illustrations to her own 1844 translation of Cennino. Reviewers often commented on the novelty of the illustrations provided in texts by these women writers, and they themselves remarked on the value of each other’s use of images in the reviews they penned. For instance, in her life of Giotto, Jameson refers to Callcott’s ‘interesting account’ of the Arena Chapel and points out the illustrations as being particularly worthy of praise (Palmer, ‘Women Writers on Art’, p. 170). She even reproduced one of the illustrations from the Callcott Giotto publication in her own account of Giotto’s life.54 Interestingly, after the advent of photography, Lady Eastlake was the first to point out its potential use in reproducing works of art within the study of art history.55

Secondly, these other women writers were careful in the tone of voice they adopted, all choosing a jargon-free prose and sometimes even humour to carry their readers along with them. Perhaps the fact that they were writing in multiple new fields of scholarship, including technical art history, iconography, and provenance, played into their awareness of the importance of employing a clear but engaging prose for non-specialist readers. Through Lady Eastlake’s writings of the 1870s and 1880s, Palmer traces her criticisms of the writing style of many of her male peers, including references to their ‘dryasdust’ style, their ‘heavy disquisitions’, and their pedantry — a fault, Lady Eastlake noted, that ‘we are prone to attribute to our German brethren’.56 The literary outputs of the British women writers discussed in this article proved that good art history did not have to be written in the style that persisted among the majority of their European male peers.

While we have noted that certain women art writers promoted the work of their peers both directly and indirectly, it is hard to pin down precisely the nature of their own interrelationships or to demonstrate more generally the existence of a supportive female community of art writers in the 1830s and 1840s.57 It appears that at this period they were working largely independently from one another due to the fact that they were at different stages of their lives and writing careers and most of them were only just making names for themselves in the field of art history. Thus, in 1842, the year that Maria Callcott died, Anna Jameson had only just published her guide to London art collections, Mary Merrifield had published only her 1840 translation of Cennino’s Libro dell’arte, and Elizabeth Rigby had likewise only dipped her toe into the water with her translation of Passavant’s Kunstreise durch England. Certain relationships between these women would flourish later on for sure, as exemplified by the well-known fact that Anna Jameson’s final book in her ‘Sacred and Legendary Art’ series was completed by Lady Eastlake and published posthumously in 1860 as The History of Our Lord in Art; likewise, towards the ends of their lives, these women writers acted as ‘a guide and companion’ to ‘many […] young women’.58 I would suggest that during the earlier period under discussion here, they were starting to support each other, mostly indirectly in the first instance, through positive — even if anonymous — reviews of each other’s work.59

Eastlake’s working relationship with women art writers

We have seen how Jameson et al. were fully aware of the ‘Kunstgeschichte’ being forged by Continental male contemporaries such as Rio, Kugler, and Waagen; in turn, some of these male art writers were fully aware of and complimentary about their female peers’ work.60 Here, I would like to highlight the particular influence of one of their fellow countrymen, Charles Eastlake (Fig. 6) on Jameson as well as on Callcott and Merrifield, as I do not think this has been sufficiently noted by scholars. As Lucy Hartley points out, it was during the 1840s that Eastlake commenced his systematic investigation of the historical development of painting in relation to changes in techniques and the public purpose of the arts: ‘Insofar as there was a prevailing preoccupation, it consisted of bringing the major developments in the history of art and aesthetics to the attention of a British audience.’61 Eastlake often expressed his opinion that unassailable facts were the basis of all sound scholarship and was an early advocate in Britain of source-based empirical research.62 As this article has demonstrated, such views, linked with a preoccupation to bring accurate and up-to-date art history and aesthetics to the British public, were shared by Jameson, Callcott, Merrifield, and Rigby. Eastlake is an important figure for these contemporary women art writers because, while acknowledging the ‘taste and good sense’ in women in general, he acted not only as a patron promoting the work of this particular group but also as a fellow labourer working alongside them, constantly encouraging them to pursue their pioneering work boldly and never to lose heart.63 While several men were significant supporters — both Jameson and Merrifield, for instance, dedicated books to Sir Robert Peel — in my opinion, it would be hard to find anyone else who rivalled Eastlake as a committed comrade-in-arms to women art writers of his generation.64

Fig. 6 

Francis Grant, Sir Charles Eastlake, 1853, pen, ink, and wash on paper. © The National Gallery, London.

In relation to the deep and abiding early friendship between Maria Callcott (or Maria Graham, as she was then) and Charles Eastlake, it is worth pointing out that, to use Palmer’s words, ‘it may well have been Eastlake and the painter Thomas Lawrence who first persuaded her to write specifically on art.’65 It is relevant here to note in relation to her Memoirs of the Life of Nicholas Poussin of 1820 that in her first art writing (the first monograph on Poussin), she successfully — and very early on — brought foreign scholarship of an empirical kind to an English-speaking readership, given that the text was based partly on scholarship of the Italian art historian Luigi Lanzi and included up-to-date critical apparatus, such as scholarly notes and a catalogue raisonée of kinds. It is precisely in these aspects of the book where, as I have suggested elsewhere, we may perceive Eastlake’s influence, even direct intervention (in addition to his having provided the illustrations).66

Turning to think about Mary Merrifield’s working relationship with Charles Eastlake, thanks to the recent discovery of a batch of letters that she wrote in 1845 and 1846 on her research trip to Italy sponsored at least in part by the Fine Arts Commission, and which included excerpts from letters received from Eastlake in his capacity as the commission’s secretary, Zahira Véliz Bomford and Giovanni Mazzaferro have been able to uncover more details about Eastlake’s influence over her research.67 The correspondence proves his hearty encouragement of Merrifield’s efforts, fulsome acknowledgement of what she achieved, and rigorous promotion of her work both privately to the commission and publicly in his own publication, Materials for a History of Oil Painting (1847). In turn, Merrifield readily acknowledged the support she had received from Eastlake. In her pioneering Original Treatises she reserved her first and fullest acknowledgement for Eastlake, whom she thanked for ‘the great assistance’ she had derived from his ‘recent and very valuable work “Materials for a History of Oil-Painting”’ as well as ‘for the important assistance and encouragement he has so kindly and readily afforded me during the progress of the work’ (I, p. ix). She also drew attention to Eastlake’s ongoing scholarship in the field, which would in fact be published posthumously: ‘many links in the chain of evidence as well as in the technical processes are still wanting’, Merrifield noted, which would be ‘supplied by Mr. Eastlake’s promised volume on Technical Processes of the Italian Painters’ (I, p. viii). While Merrifield remained interested in science and chemical experimentation, her methodology came to focus on gathering source-based evidence in archives, a fact largely attributable, in my opinion and as I have argued elsewhere, to the encouragement she received from Eastlake.68

Returning full circle to Jameson, new light can here be shed on her friendship with Charles Eastlake over their mutual interest in early Italian art and its iconography — there is far more to be said concerning other shared interests, especially modern British sculpture. The pair must have known each other at least as early as 1834 as a letter of that date records Eastlake as a guest at Jameson’s dinner table, where she described him as one ‘of our best painters’.69 Later on, she was a regular guest at the Eastlakes’ house, on one occasion being entertained alongside both Waagen and Passavant.70 Indeed, from the 1850s, after Eastlake’s public appointments at the Royal Academy and National Gallery, the Eastlakes’ home at Fitzroy Square become a lively meeting place for members of the Victorian art world, working in similar ways to earlier artistic salons such as that hosted by the Callcotts.71 When Jameson died, Lady Eastlake noted that she herself would ‘miss her sorely’ and that ‘Sir Charles laments her deeply’ (Journals and Correspondence, ed. by Eastlake Smith, II, 137).

Two precious surviving letters evidence the various ways in which Eastlake assisted Jameson over the years. In one of 1840 we see Eastlake, in characteristic fashion, helping to ensure her facts about art collections were correct. He noted in a letter to his family:

Mrs. Jameson is writing an account of all the picture galleries in London. She is a very pleasing person, and with all her cleverness, is as much a woman as she ought to be. I go to her occasionally at Notting Hill, and while I take care not to interfere with her opinions I now and then assist her with facts. (Contributions: Second Series, p. 164)

When Jameson turned to work on Christian iconography, Eastlake continued to assist and was able to do so because of his own work in the field. Indeed, his 1842 edition of Kugler’s Handbook included his own (little-known) essay on ‘Scriptural and Legendary Subjects of the Middle Ages’, which was considered interesting enough to be republished as part of Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts, an anthology of various essays by Eastlake published in 1848. In fact, in the 1842 edition of Kugler, Eastlake promoted Jameson’s contribution, when he noted that ‘a complete account of these legends, and which will probably exhaust the subject, is about to appear from the pen of Mrs. Jameson’.72 I have not been able to substantiate the claim in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that Eastlake suggested this research topic to Jameson and then handed over all his relevant notes to her.73 However, a letter, part of which was published by Judith Johnston, proves that Eastlake certainly assisted her in various ways with the work she subsequently undertook. As the following excerpt from the letter proves, Eastlake loaned Jameson relevant bibliographical sources, encouraged her to use illustrations, and urged her to carry on despite the impending publication of a book on the same topic by another scholar, underscoring the unique benefits of her own contribution:

Everything […] that I have you can see. I suspected something else was coming about the Saints tho’ I did not know, nor do I now, from what quarter. I hope you will not be disheartened for, looking at the undertaking even on the learned side, I think you are strong from the materials which are now within your reach — & in every other respect depend on it no book on the subject will be so good as yours. I recommend you to connect your researches with art as much as you can. The ‘Attribute der Heiligen’ is eagerly sought for — by all who read German & such an English book would be very successful — the additions you can make & the improvements in arrangement & illustration will be doubly sure of public favour.74

My prediction is that if ever other scraps of evidence come to light in relation to Eastlake’s working relationship with these and other women art writers, they would confirm the picture that has evolved thus far, which suggests he was deeply respectful of their scholarship and desirous to assist them in any way he could.

Eastlake’s making of avant-garde foreign ideas acceptable, especially German art historical scholarship, in the highest circles of government in Britain has been discussed by various art historians, including myself, elsewhere.75 This article has attempted to develop that point to show how Jameson, as part of a group of women art writers, well established by the 1840s, took up this same scholarship, largely encouraged to do so by Eastlake. In turn, they took it in new directions by filtering it down to a grass-roots level, and making it, as Palmer has explained, ‘more palatable partly through their more conversational tone, and partly through the warmth of their emotional responses’ (‘“A fountain of the richest poetry”’, p. 65). Their interest in documentary-based research would be taken up and developed in relation to different old masters by the next generation of women art writers including Constance Ffoulkes, Mary Berenson, and others featured in this issue of 19. The paradox is that the encouragement that Jameson et al. gave to the general public to study the old masters led to ever larger numbers of visitors flocking to public art galleries, not least the National Gallery, a phenomenon which, in turn, jeopardized the efforts of Eastlake and Wornum to conserve the vulnerable antique paintings in their care — but that is another story!76