Family Galleries: Women and Art in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

O'Day, Rosemary (2008). Family Galleries: Women and Art in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Huntington Library Quarterly, 71(2) pp. 323–349.



Cassandra Willoughby Brydges, first Duchess of Chandos (1670–1735), was an unusual woman. She was married to one of the great patrons and art collectors of the eighteenth century, James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos, and she was herself an artist. She also left behind a remarkable variety of personal papers ranging from diaries and letters to historical writings and travel journals. One of the tasks before the historian must be to determine the extent and nature of what sets her apart from other elite women of the period. Is it the survival of a rich archive or the nature of her activity? Her papers, which make clear that her artistic work was amateur but expert, give rise to a number of questions concerning elite women and art. When were “ordinary” English girls taught to draw and paint? What is known of women as practitioners of the visual arts during the period 1500–1800? Did their involvement in these arts, 1670–1820, discussed in a number of recent studies, really represent a break with the recent past? Was there a sharp divide between women who painted for the “public” and women who painted and drew in “private”? What and why did early modern women draw and paint? To what uses were their artistic works put? How and why were their works valued? Here I have approached these questions from the perspective of a social and family historian, not an art historian, although I hope that this article will make a valuable contribution to several disciplines and discussions.

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