Thursday 6 October 2022

Kate Elizabeth Bunce and Women’s Engagement with Arts & Crafts


Kate Elizabeth Bunce and Women's Engagement with Arts & Crafts
A lecture by WMSC Member Azadeh Monzavi

October 20, 2022, Time: 7:00 PM EDT
Zoom Lecture

The Keepsake, Kate Elizabeth Bunce
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

This 1901 painting is based on a poem by Rossetti and was first shown with this quotation:

'Then stepped a damsel to her side,
And spoke and needs must weep:
'For his sake, lady, if he died,
He prayed of thee to keep
This staff and scrip'.

    Kate Elizabeth Bunce was a Birmingham-born artist associated with the later phase of Pre-Raphaelitism. Her work and contribution to that movement have been acknowledged by scholars such as Jan Marsh. This paper argues that although her paintings have been discussed in publications focusing on Pre-Raphaelite art and the Arts and Crafts movement, Bunce’s work invites renewed attention for its unique character which bridges stylistic elements of these movements and Aestheticism. In paintings such as The Keepsake (1898–1901), Victorian preoccupations with morality, gender roles and sexuality are artfully cloaked in Medievalist notions of religious piety, feminine fidelity and male chivalry. Her use of historicized allegorical themes and symbols are made modern through her subtle engagement with the growing popularity of hand-crafted techniques as championed in the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Keepsake also illustrates the late nineteenth-century fashion for ‘Aesthetic’ dress even as it references the historical influences of Medievalism on such styles. The figure of the Queen is adorned with a silk dress decorated with hand-embroidered griffins while her attendant wears a similarly quasi-medieval gown fashioned in a bold printed fabric reminiscent of patterns designed by Charles Francis Voysey for Liberty’s. At the turn of the century, viewers of this painting would have recognized its historicism while simultaneously appreciating the artist’s attention to changing notions of contemporary fashion and ornament. Ultimately, this paper highlights Bunce’s cognizance of history and modernity by drawing attention to the nuanced way The Keepsake straddles closely connected, yet distinct artistic movements.

Azadeh Monzavi is a WMSC board member and a Ph.D. student and interdisciplinary maker/researcher in Communication and Culture at Toronto Metropolitan University. She holds an undergraduate degree in Art and Art History from the University of Toronto, and a Masters in Fashion from TMU. Her doctoral research investigates intergenerational and transnational bonds between women, mediated through aesthetic and personal objects of significance drawn from the interconnected fields of textiles, craft, literature and art. Her research explores the decolonizing potential for textile practices as a form of media for communication and connection within broader discourses of intersectional feminism and visual culture.

No comments: