New Book | The Accomplished Lady

Posted in books by Editor on June 18, 2017

Available from ArtBooks.com:

Noël Riley, The Accomplished Lady: A History of Genteel Pursuits, c. 1660–1860 (Wetherby: Oblong Creative, 2017), 460 pages, ISBN: 978 09575 99291, $53.

This richly illustrated book is a study of the skills and pastimes of upper-class women and the works they produced during a 200-year period. Their activities included watercolours, printmaking and embroidery, shellwork, drawn from diaries and journals, rolled and cut paperwork, sand painting, wax flower modelling, painting on fabrics and china, featherwork, japanning, silhouettes, photography, and many others, some familiar and others little known. The context for these pursuits sets the scene: the general position of women in society and the restrictions on their lives, their virtues and values, marriage, domestic life, and education. This background is amplified with chapters on other aspects of women’s experience, such as sport, reading, music, dancing, and card-playing. While some of the activities discussed appear trivial, others show evidence of great seriousness of purpose and extraordinary talent. Pursuits of choice rather than for payment could reach levels of excellence as high as any commercially driven occupations, especially for those with plenty of time to follow their interests. Most of these women—because of their social status—were precluded from working for money, but they had time to study and hone their skills, and their creative works were supremely important to them. In some cases—particularly among watercolourists—they enjoyed the very best of teachers. The word ‘amateur’ in the context of this book is not a term of disparagement but rather a celebration of the fine work produced by those who followed their inclinations with loving care and diligent practice without the pressures of the market place. The material for this book has been drawn from diaries and journals, biographies and social histories, letters, documents, periodicals, contemporary pastime manuals, domestic guides, and conduct books. Above all, it has come from decades of close study—and sometimes collection—of the objects made by gentlewomen over more than two centuries. The illustrations come from a similarly wide range of sources: private collections, museums, galleries, country houses, and dealers in art and antiques.

Noël Riley is a writer and lecturer on the decorative arts and a consultant at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London.

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Book Launch
Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, Suffolk, 19 June 2017

Join us on Monday, 19 June, 6–8pm to celebrate the launch of Noel Riley’s latest book The Accomplished Lady: A History of Genteel Pursuits, 1660–1860.

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