Enterprising Painters: Women in the art market, 1820-1850

Johanna Holmes

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


In 1832 a talented young female artist came from Norfolk to live in London for a period wondering whether she might make some extra money from her work. She discovered that she was not alone in a competitive market and, ultimately, that a literary career would suit her better. This paper considers the art world she encountered, the many female artists who were successfully making a living in it and the constraints imposed by their gender upon their income, their careers and their art.
Based on new research and analysis of secondary material, the paper examines three aspects of the art practitioner’s world critical to making a living - skills, marketing and pricing. Analysis of a group of over 300 female artists who exhibited at the Royal Academy during the period together with thumbnail sketches of individual female painters’ careers reveal women artists’ personal circumstances, the scale of their output, the length of their careers and the media in which they worked. The factors in their favour and the strategies they adopted which contributed to their success are discussed, which perhaps challenge the popular assumptions of today about women’s opportunities at this time. However, the overall outcome from their persistence and compromise was in many cases a respectable but modest living within a predictable, unadventurous market. In the last decade of this period, it was becoming evident that a burgeoning market for art, linked to economic growth and British national and imperial identity construction, would offer their male contemporaries wealth, celebrity and diverse career opportunities from which women were excluded.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 11 May 2017
EventWomen, Money and Markets (1750-1850) - King's College, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 May 201711 May 2017


ConferenceWomen, Money and Markets (1750-1850)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Cite this