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Monday, March 2, 2015

Mary Moser

Flowers in a Vase, Mary Moser
Still-life of Flowers, Mary Moser
Flowers for the Royal Society
of art, Mary Moser
In today's world in which the battle for equal rights and pay for women has come to be seen as at least morally just, if not an actual social and economic fact of life, we often decry what's come to be known as "tokenism." That is, instances where one or two women are included in a leadership group comprised of a dozen or more men simply for appearances sake. Such a fig leaf avoids the taint of overt gender bias even though such meager numbers actually serve to underline a gender consciousness while avoiding any significant move toward equality. That attitude as changed greatly since the year 1768 when the British Royal Academy of Arts was organized. There were thirty-five founding members (bottom). Two of them were women. Such was the social attitude regarding gender equality at the time that "tokenism" wasn't even a concept, much less a word.
Bouquet of Flowers,
1780, Mary Moser
Portrait of Joseph Nollekens,
1770-71, Mary Moser
Vase with Flowers 1795,  Mary Moser
Mary Moser was one of the two women. Her father, an enameller (a painter using powdered glass fused to metal) was one of the men. Mary had been trained by her father, not as an enameller but in painting floral still-lifes (plus the occasional portrait, right). Her companion artist amongst all this male dominance was the much more famous Angelica Kauffman. Kauffman was by far the more accomplished artist. Both were about the same age, Moser, born in 1744, was three years younger than Kauffman. Both were born in Switzerland, migrating to London at an early age. At the time there were no more than a couple dozen women artist working in all England. Kauffman could probably be deemed the best of the lot. Moser, stacked up against the likes of Rolinda Sharples, Annie Dixon, Margaret Sarah Carpenter, Mary Ellen Best, Henrietta Ward, Louise Jopling, Marie Stillman, Rebecca Solomon, Kate Elizabeth Bunche, or Elizabeth Thompson, while outstanding in her modest little artist niche full of flowers, could well be called average (the best of the worst, the worst of the best).

Decorative work by Mary Moser, commissioned by
Queen Charlotte for Frogmore House, 1790s.
Mary Moser, 1770-71, George Romney
Apart from her father's influence amid his fellow male artists, it's hard to justify Mary Moser's place in such an artists' union. Moser's most outstanding work consisted of interior floral decorations (above) commissioned by Queen Charlotte in the 1790s for the royal retreat of Frogmore House on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Kauffman could easily be said to have earned her position among her male peers, Moser, perhaps, was simply there to keep her company. The sad part is that virtually any or all of the women listed above could have been included to sort of even out the numbers. Most of them, it might justifiably be argued, were not as well trained or well-known as their male counterparts, but then, neither were Kauffman and Moser. With the passing of these two token members of the Royal Academy, Kauffman in 1807, Moser in 1819, it would be another 117 years before another woman was elected as a full member of the Academy--Dame Laura Knight in 1936.

The portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-72,  Johan Zoffany.
Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser are notable for their absence from the group.
But inasmuch as there were nude male models depicted, their presence would not
have been proper. They are, however, represented symbolically by their portraits
hanging on the right-hand wall.


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