Exhibition guide

Course work
Peasants and Curios

La Vecchia


All five images present older women as lower class, marginalised crones, or upper class freaks. This tradition has not changed, it seems, over several hundred years: one only has to look at the images by Faibisovich of drunken, overweight, unstructured females to see this tradition revived.
Quentin Matsys

The Ugly Duchess




An Old


Cooking Eggs



Mamma mia Poveretta,


Semyon Faibisovich



Monsters, Witches and Sinners
Bernardo Strozzi



A very popular idea: a woman – who arguably had no soul, remember – is the original seductress and thus presents all vices and sins. Strozzi shows an aging beauty who adorns herself in fashionable attire suitable to a woman half her age: how dare she show off her face and body while she is definitely in a non-productive/unfertile stage of life. But if we look at her face in the mirror reflection, there is no coquettishness, no flirting, rather there is a serious, almost sad examination at what time has done to her looks. In Goya’s Caprichos there are many depictions of women – prostitutes, nightmarish visions, witches, etc., and Hasta la Muerte demonstrates the same idea as Strozzi’s Vanitas: an older woman should not try to look sexually attractive. A much darker image – There is Plenty to Suck – is thus commented on by Goya himself: “Those who reach eighty suck little children… It seems man is bourn and lives to have the substance sucked out of him”. Here, two old hags are happily chewing on children’s limbs.
Francisco Goya

Hasta la muerte

(Till Death) from

Caprichos, 1799

Francisco Goya

There is plenty to suck

From Caprichos


Hyacinthe Rigaud

Two Views of the Artist’s Mother


Three images from a huge selection of images where the artists painted their mothers show love and appreciation of the aging process. There is tenderness and compassion for frailty, such weakening eyesight (Rembrandt), as well as admiration for feminine dignity in old age. This compassion and admiration without judgement seemed though only possible if the artist is painting their own mother.
Rembrandt (Harmenszoon)

van Rijn

Rembrandt’s Mother Reading

c. 1629

James McNeill


Arrangement in

Grey and Black: The

Artist’s Mother


Marcus Gheeraerts the


Queen Elizabeth I (The

Ditchley Portrait)

c. 1592

Etienne Liotart

Maria Theresa Empress of



One group of older women was regularly painted: the female monarch.  But even in these royal portraits one can observe the change in the attitude towards the older age. While Gheeraert’s portrait of fifty-nine year old Elizabeth I shows a relatively young looking woman (you can see some signs of age), a portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria painted by Etienne Liotart two hundred years later seems to be free from the requirement to flatter. Of course, Elizabeth’s portrait is a presentation piece; she is here first and foremost the monarch and has to exude power, strength and effortless control of the nation (symbolically depicted as a map under her feet). Portraits of Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine the Great of Russia seem almost homely: images of matriarchs who run their respective countries with maternal care.

Two portraits of Elizabeth II depict two different people. Lucian Freud’s work seems to link back to the tradition of caricature represented by The Ugly Duchess of Matsys, while Blake’s work treats the subject as a ruling matriarch – the Queen as the Mother.

Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky

Catherine II Strolling in the

Park at Tsarskoye Selo [ with

the Chesme Column in the

Background ]


Sir Peter Blake

Queen Elizabeth II


Lucian Freud

Queen Elizabeth II


Women as Human Beings
Sir Thomas Lawrence

Elizabeth Carter


The older women in these pictures were portrayed not because they were royalty, or mothers of the artists or freakish crones; they have established themselves in their own right – a famous intellectual and Bluestocking, a writer beloved by the nation, a famous feminist and writer, and a high-ranking civil servant. They are not depicted because of their gender; it is what and who they are as human beings that made them the subjects of the paintings.
Delmar Banner

Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis)


Paula Rego

Germaine Greer


Diarmuid Kelley

Dame Anne Elizabeth Owers (née



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s