Aristocratic Amateur Women Artists in Belgium (1830-1914)

  • Wendy Wiertz (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Aristocratic amateur women artists in Belgium (1830-1914) ‘Why have there been no great artists from the aristocracy?’ This question was raised by feminist art historian Linda Nochlin in 1971. Almost fifty years later, there has been conducted little research towards female aristocrats who were predominantly amateur artists. Art historians mostly focused on male geniuses and pioneer professional women with a non-aristocratic background. That is changing: In my PhD I examine the lives and art practices of aristocratic women in Belgium between 1830 and 1914. More specifically, I study their art(istic) education, their art objects, their studios, any participation(s) in exhibitions, and the destination of their works of art. I also investigate if the ways in which these women practiced their hobby changed in the course of the 19th century. Until now I located 411 women from which nine case studies over three periods (1830-1850; 1850-1880; 1880-1914) will be chosen. The others will be used to reconstruct the network and to compare with the selected cases. Their works of art, letters and pictures – often preserved in castles and private archives – show the artistic life of the aristocratic ladies. The results are surprising: Not only did they embroider, draw and paint in water colors; they also made oil paintings, etched and sculpted. Antonine de Mun, Duchess d’Ursel (1849-1931) portrayed her family members, friends and servants. Jeanne Countess d’Espiennes (1853-1902) sculpted portraits and animals. She showed one of her works during the 1893 World Exhibition in Chicago. Countess Jean de Merode (1874-1955), finally, did not show her own work at the Brussels Salons des Beaux-Arts, one of the most prestigious exhibitions in Belgium and visited by large crowds, but in 1914 she was the first female jury member. In France, this honour was given to professional women artists. Conclusion: Aristocratic amateur women artists in the 19th century practised their hobby in different manners. What they shared, was a love for the arts.
Period25 May 2016
Event titleResearch in the Humanities and Social Sciences Day
Event typeOther
Degree of RecognitionInternational