Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Florence Claxton artist, satirist of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Posted in Florence Claxton artist and satirist of the Pre -Raph Brotherhood by sheelanagigcomedienne on October 23, 2012

We went to the Pre-raphaelites exhibition at the Tate. I am not a fan of the brotherhood as I find them twee, precious and so sexist in that they see women as ‘beauty’ and adornment. They seem to use only a handful of sitters which becomes tedious. Jane Burden who married William Morris was one of them. Their stuff is pretty and it is rather telling that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a devotee and owns quite a few of their works. His curly haired ex-wife, Sarah Brightman, must have reminded him of a pre-raph lady.

I was delighted when I saw the The Choice of Paris: An Idyll (c. 1860) by Florence Claxton. It is her best known work . It is a satire on, and parody of, the works of the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the previous years.

The painting caricatures many of the main figures of the movement, including John Ruskin, Sir John Everett Millais, with figures of popular culture like PT Barnum and allusions to the great artists of the past. It depicts Millais in the role of Paris, offering the golden apple to a scrawny-looking medieval woman, ignoring a Raphael madonna (copied from The Marriage of the Virgin) and a modern woman in crinolines. The painting also includes parodies of other Pre-Raphaelite works. The picture was reproduced as a full-page engraving by the Illustrated London News.

Florence Anne Claxton (1840 – 1879) was an English artist and humorist, most notable for her satire on the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  Claxton also wrote and illustrated many humorous commentaries on contemporary life

Little is known of Claxton’s life; even her birth and death dates are uncertain. Her father, painter Marshall, trained his daughters, Florence and Adelaide, in his craft; Florence travelled with her father to Australia, India, and Egypt in the years from 1850 to 1857, while he searched for employment. In the later 1850s both sisters found work in the production of engravings for the popular press. In 1860, Florence illustrated Married Off: A Satirical Poem, by “H. B.”

In 1858 Florence exhibited her painting Scenes from the Life of a Female Artist in the second annual show of the Society of Women Artists.

This caricature shows a lively scene of art students copying pictures in the original paintings galleries of the South Kensington Museum. The artist, Florence Claxton, was a popular caricaturist who worked for many of the leading illustrated journals of her day. This drawing was published as a wood engraving in ‘The Queen’, an upmarket ladies newspaper, in 1861. It is a unique image of the galleries ‘in action’ at an early date.

The piece also parodies contemporary debate over women’s art practice. Several stereotypes of the female artist appear. In the background is the strong-minded woman who has been de-feminised by her professional ambition (hers is the largest easel). To the right, two dilettantes wander flirtatiously about the gallery distracting the male students. An article in the ‘The Athenaeum’ in 1860 had commented that “If anyone will visit the South Kensington Museum on what is called a “Students’ day” he will find the galleries…crowded with men and women, when not engaged in flirting, copying the pictures of that collection” .

In the following year, 1859, she signed a petition advocating the admission of women to the Royal academy Schools, and exhibited her Scenes of Life of an Old Maid in the Society of Women Artists show.


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