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Wednesday’s woman

August 27, 2014



Wood engraving was never seen as an opportunity for women to be artists.  For instance Thomas Bewick in the early 19th century had three daughters and a son; and it was the boy who became his father’s apprentice. The girls busied themselves in the home, although the elder daughter was his confidant and it was to her he wrote the account of his life.  

Later, when Ward and Lock published their Elegant arts for ladies the arts were described such as feather flowers and painting on velvet, while it was illustrated with wood engravings the technique was not deemed proper for ladies.The engravings in the book were undertaken by the Brothers Dalziel and it suggested that that firms such as this, guarded their professionalism and deliberately withheld tools, materials and opportunities from amateurs.   

It would seem in the printing trade also young women were taken on until they married.  A few returned if they were widowed but rarely did a girl progress beyond making envelopes.  

It was not until a day-school system was established in 1830s where women were able to learn skills under the apprenticeship system. It began first for men only but a Female only school opened under its Superintendent Mrs Fanny McIan.

Fanny McIan (1814-1897) was an English artist who specialized in Scottish historical scenes. As the first superintendent of London’s Female School of Design, she promoted British women’s art education in the mid-nineteenth century.

Born Frances Matilda in Bath her father was a cabinet maker and mother worked as a upholsterer after she was widowed.

When Fanny was 16 she eloped with and actor and painter Robert Ranald McIan.

Fanny known for her epic historical scenes and intimate domestic images.  She had her first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1836.

Fanny McIan was the first superintendent of London’s Female School of Design,known later as the Royal Female School of Art, which merged with the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1908.

Here respectable young women in need of employment trained to become porcelain painters and the opportunity to enter industrial careers.However McIan’s included more fine art subjects such as oil painting and wood engraving.  She was criticised for allowing women students to learn figure drawing fro nude models. Charles Dickens who was personal friiend supported her complaints that the original building and its location was not ideal for art education.

Her husband died in 1856 when she was widowed a second time she inherited a property in Argyll and did not exhibit her work public again She died in 1897.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2014 1:39 pm

    I look forward to these art themed posts, I’ve learned so much!

    • August 27, 2014 2:01 pm

      Keeps me on my toes ….Thanks! I enjoy also the kind responses

  2. August 28, 2014 4:26 am

    Thanks – I had not heard of her and I’m always looking for women artists’ work in museums.

  3. September 26, 2014 10:18 pm

    It’s actually a nice and useful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you just
    shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this.
    Thanks for sharing.


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