Victorian Women Portrayed in Art

Queen Victoria’s reign encompassed what is popularly called the Victorian Era which is from 1837-1901. Many ascribe the period as a second renaissance but more importantly, it was the start of the Modern Era. Many changes happened during this period. Art was flourishing as well as literature. Many social, political and religious organizations and beliefs also became established. The middle class or people who were gaining wealth due to their roles as merchants and business men were rising in their rank in society.

The upper classes’ composition was changing from simply hereditary aristocracy to a combination of nobility and an emerging wealthy commercial class. (Miller, 2004, par. 2) This was therefore the time when there were also many changes in the perception of gender. Women were beginning to rise up to the challenge of finding their own freedom from the stifling chains of society. Many paintings of women have been artistically created during this era. There were depictions of women in the aristocracy, women in their nude form, women in their daily lives and portraits of the queen.

These paintings reveal so much about the views of women during the era. Paintings on Queen Victoria Queen Victoria rose up to her regal position at a very young age because she was the only heir to the throne of her father and her uncles were not able to bear male children. She was the epitome of a woman for many. She was a great wife to her cousin, Prince Albert. In this painting entitled, Windsor Castle in Modern Times, created by Sir Edwin Landseer between 1841 to 1845, the queen is shown to be giving flowers to Prince Albert who seems to be returning from his favorite past time, hunting.

The queen is showing the good example by greeting her husband after a tiring activity and is doting on him to fulfill his needs. Being queen was not a reason for Victoria to be negligent of her wifely duties. In fact, the couple bore nine children. She was submissive to her husband and made sure that he would get what a man was deemed to rightfully have as a husband. The painting also depicts the very illustrious life that the royal family had. The embellishments on the furniture and walls show that the setting is within the palace.

The gown of the child and the queen were frivolous and full of lace. It marked what was fashionable to the nobility at that time. Women Who Do Not Meet The Ideals Women were very much expected to fulfill the duties of a house wife in every aspect. Women were display objects for men to take pride in. Girls were taught to sing, dance, play instruments and speak a foreign language like French or Italian. She must be innocent, submissive and be silent about her opinions on politics, education and the like.

In the painting created by Augustus Leopold Egg entitled, Past and Present (1) in 1858, the woman is depicted to have been caught by her husband to be engaging in adultery… a grave sin to be blamed on a woman who supposedly had no will except to obey her husband. The letters on the floor show how her secret may have been divulged. The oil painting on the left side of the wall shows Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise, and the apple on the floor adds support to the painting’s implications. (Gender in Victorian Paintings, n. d.

, par. 20). The children were also depicted as trying to build a house out of playing cards. The playing cards already symbolize the gamble that the woman took and the easy way that she is about to break her home from being irresponsible. Her pleading form on the floor show how low she is looked at by society because she was not able to fulfill the only duty that her community has assigned to her: to be a dutiful wife to her husband. Women who were caught in adulterous relationships were automatically outcasts in their society.

Those who were divorced carry a stigma that makes people shun them from their communities. It was only in 1887, through the Married Woman’s Property Act, that females were allowed to own property. (Thomas, 2001, par. 8) It used to be that the inheritance of a woman would belong to her husband once she is married. Occupations of Women Despite the belief that ladies were supposedly home makers and nothing else, the women in the Victorian era were pushed by poverty to work as laborers.

The aristocrats were usually garbed in lots of custom-made petticoats and gowns lavished with lace. These high breed women would change up to six times a day because it was the fashionable thing to do. However, the poor women often wore rags and second to fifth hand clothes. Women were not merely wives to the chauvinist husbands. Poverty forced women at that time to find work as factory workers, domestic servants, milliners, seamstresses, washerwomen, framework knitters, nailers, and straw-plaiters. (Burnett, 2002, par.

3) However, despite the need for women to work because of the economy, females who had occupations apart from taking care of their husbands, children and houses, were looked down upon for not following the traditional roles established by society. In the painting, The Seamstress (1846), its creator, Richard Redgrave, portrays a pitiful woman who cannot afford the expensive lacey gowns of the rich and would rather be a seamstress. She is poor as can be seen in the small and dreary room she is in. The clock and the light of the candle shows that she has to work until the wee hours of the morning.

The woman’s eyes are also looking up to the heavens which seem to evoke the hopelessness of her plight. Women in the Victorian era were very much chained to their homes to fulfill what society expected of them. However, the shift from land labor to commercialism changed many aspects of women’s lives. They were torn between becoming the meek and submissive housewives that society expected and the need to work and abandon traditional mentality. It is through the paintings of many different artists that one could see the development of women’s freedom and how it must have been harsh for them at that time.


Burnett, J. (2002). Victorian Working Women: Sweated Labor. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from Last modified 22 July 2002’http://victorianweb. org/history/work/burnett2. html Miller, I. (2004). The Victorian Era. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from http://www. victorias past. com/FrontPorch/victorianera. htm Thomas, P. W. (2001). A Woman’s Place in C19th Victorian History. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from http://www. fashion-era. com/a_womans_place. htm University of Leicester. (n. d. ). Gender in Victorian Paintings. Retrieved, February 29, 2008, from http://www. rishabh. com/art. htm