The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (starting 1848) has always been of interest to me. While people might recognize Ophelia by John Everett Millais or The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, there were also many women artists who were a part of the movement. Emma Sandys, born in 1843, was the sister of Frederick Sandys, who was a more prominent figure in the brotherhood. Often, people confused their paintings; they both used similar styles and techniques.
Her painting style consisted of portraits, mostly of women and children. She often painted figures in period or medieval clothing with brightly colored floral backgrounds. In Serena Trowbridge’s article, The Mysteries of Emma Sandys, she discusses how the flowers could be read using floriography, or the Victorian language of flowers. Trowbridge speculates that the painting A Lady Holding a Rose could be about Guinevere, Lancelot, and King Arthur. Lancelot is represented by the white rose and Arthur is represented by the honeysuckle. The honeysuckle in the back can be read as loyalty or generous and devoted affection. The white rose in her hand could be read as passion. Sandys’s work is so intricate and beautiful, yet she goes unrecognized.
Many times, women artists are ignored and go unrecognized for their contributions to art history. In this case, her brother overshadowed her, and often, people believed he made the work, not her. The Pre-Raphaelite women were very talented, sometimes even better than their male counterparts. In recent years, exhibits of Pre-Raphaelite women have been shown. They are just now being viewed as a part of the movement, even though they were essential to the formation of it. Many of the female models in the paintings were also artists and greatly influenced the male artists in the brotherhood.
Yes, there are many great male artists, but there are many fantastic female artists too. We all need to work to include them in the art history canon. They deserve to be exhibited and discussed as well.