Manchester Art Gallery

A Reader

Object description

Full length figure of a young woman engrossed in a slim book which she holds in her left hand, her right arm held across her body. The woman wears a coral coloured robe underneath sheer white drapery which she gathers at her arms. Her hair is pinned up on her head, with a middle parting beneath a yellow head scarf. She has three strings of beads around her neck. A single daffodil or narcissus lies at her bare feet next to a woven red and white rug on the floor. She stands before a curtain decorated with a coral coloured flower pattern.

Display label

Gallery text panel In Pursuit of Beauty Late Victorian Art and Design Improving the quality of British art and design had been a concern since the 1850s. The British Empire had expanded into new continents but it was the classical ideal of beauty, based on Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was still considered the model for serious art. The pursuit of beauty was a form of escapism from the mass-production of industrial Britain. As well as looking to the ancient world, artists and designers were delighted and inspired by the arts of Renaissance Italy, the Middle and Far East. Many of the paintings here feature a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is a passive, decorative form, but often she is a dark and brooding femme fatale, a symbol of seduction, deception and destruction. The 'fatal woman' may reflect late Victorian male fears as women campaigned for equal rights and new roles. The emphasis on colour, harmony and rhythm and simplifying the form of an object would become major concerns in the 20th century. They can be seen emerging here in the work of late Victorian artists and designers.