‘Body, Corpse and Portrait: William Theed’s Posthumous Bust of the Prince Consort (1862)’, Eoin Martin, University of Warwick
In the years after his death on 14 December 1861, Prince Albert was commemorated by public statues across the United Kingdom. In an age which witnessed what some have termed a ‘statue mania’, he was one of the most widely commemorated figures in the nineteenth century – only Queen Victoria was more widely commemorated. This paper focuses more on the private than the public. I will be looking closely at a specific memorial artwork, a posthumous bust of the Prince, commissioned by Victoria from the British sculptor William Theed within days of Albert’s death. This single artwork – in some ways the most important amongst the numerous memorial artworks Victoria commissioned – was simultaneously a public and a private memorial, imbued both with personal meaning and national significance. In this paper I focus primarily on Victoria’s personal engagement with and use of the bust and consider the ways in which her relationship with it changed over the course of six months after Albert’s death. The paper is divided into three parts: the first explores Victoria‟s reaction to Albert’s death in December 1861, examining her relationship with his corpse and the death mask that acted as an index of it; the second analyses the bust’s production in the weeks afterwards and Victoria’s engagement with it between December 1861 and March 1862; the third looks at Victoria’s use of the bust after March 1862, demonstrating a change in the way she engaged with it privately and began to use it publicly.
Panel One: The Materiality of the Body
‘The Dear Precious Relics and Hair’, Jane Wildgoose, Kingston University
According to Shirley Bury: ‘From the time of her engagement to Prince Albert… in 1839 the Queen was never without a lock of her beloved’s hair on her person. She put it in lockets, brooches, bracelets and other items of jewellery. After Albert’s death…the Queen clung ever more tenaciously to the relics of her husband.’ On 23rd December 1861, the day of Prince Albert’s funeral, Queen Victoria wrote to her eldest daughter, who awaited the return of her husband “Fritz” in Berlin, saying he would bring ‘precious hair and relics’. Three days later the younger Victoria replied:‘Dearest Fritz arrived at quarter past 8! …The dear precious relics and hair – how can I thank you enough for them? But you knew in sending them what they would be to me.’
With a view to offering some clues to the role of hair in manifestations of grief after 1861: when the fashion for its ornamental presentation in brooches, lockets, rings, bracelets, and watch-chains formed a ubiquitous component in the “language” of material culture that facilitated Victorian mourning, this paper investigates hair’s potency as a ‘powerful evocation of the person to whom it once belonged’: focusing on an important early nineteenth-century example, which, together with associated relics, may be seen to have held an important place in popular imagination in its own day, that also still continues to be felt in our own.
Compellingly physical and unchangingly enduring, intimately interweaving the most private emotional associations in the public realm, hair threaded silently – though nonetheless eloquently – through countless pieces of jewellery, conveying narratives of love and loss, within the Royal Family and throughout society in pre- and late Victorian Britain: a “dear”, “precious” relic whose potency was everywhere well known, and tacitly communicated.
 Shirley Bury. An Introduction to Sentimental Jewellery. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office/V&A Museum, 1985, 44.  Victoria Crown Princess of Prussia ((1840-1891).  Frederick Crown Prince of Prussia, later Emperor Frederick III (1831-1888).  Roger Fulford (ed.). Dearest Mama: Letters of Queen Victoria and the Crown Princess of Prussia 1861-1864. London: Evans, 1968, 27, 28.  Elizabeth Hallam & Jenny Hockey. Death, Memory and Material Culture. New York: Berg, 2001, 136.
‘Hair, Memory and Mourning Jewellery: The Nineteenth-century Fabrication of Death’, Lucetta Johnson, The Courtauld Institute of Art
In this paper I will position Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s late work, executed between 1868 and 1882, in relation to hair, mourning jewellery, melancholia and memory. I will argue that through his manipulation of pictorial space, line and hair Rossetti engages with themes of loss, isolation, entrapment and death. Significantly, this paper will situate Rossetti’s project in relation to a wider nineteenth-century discourse on mourning and melancholy and investigate the relationship between the use of hair in mourning jewellery and Rossetti’s work.
During the nineteenth century numerous books were written encouraging women to make their own mourning jewellery, one such text was The Lock of Hair, 1871, by the hair worker Alexanna Speight. In this, Speight elaborates on the connection between mourning jewellery and memory, she states that the use of hair can ‘call back the dear face never more to be seen, scenes never again to be revisited, and incidents long held by the past among its own’. This paper will consider this relationship between mourning jewellery, hair and memory, investigating on one hand the private and personal role of mourning jewellery and on the other hand its performative aspects.
I will conclude with the suggestion that in his later work Rossetti stages a series of melancholic enactments which purposely activate structures of remembering in order to construct and draw on a collective experience of mourning and loss.
Panel Two: Handling the Corpse
‘“Her Blameless Memory Upcast”: the Body of Princess Elizabeth Stuart in Nineteenth-century Culture’, Sarah Clark, University of York
The body of Elizabeth Stuart, second daughter of Charles I lay forgotten in an unmarked grave under the parish Church of Newport on the Isle of Wight until she was re-discovered during the re-building of the church in the 1850s. From Osbourne house, Victoria and Albert took a personal interest in the Church and Victoria herself commissioned her favourite sculptor, Carlo Marochetti, to create a fitting memorial to her in the new Church expressing the ‘deepest sympathy’ and respect which Victoria felt towards the young girl for the tragic life and early death she suffered.
Elizabeth’s life, and particulalry death, became prominent in art and literature of the period. The discovery of her body had generated a trade in artefacts, and most particularly hair, supposedly taken from the coffin. One Newport shop displayed a small bone as a relic of the Princess – until the Royal family intervened. However, as biographies of Elizabeth began to appear in print, artistic recreations of the figure of the princess (including Marochetti’s Royal Commission) fleshed out her character in the public consciousness.
This paper will consider how the material presence of Elizabeth’s body, both literally and artistically, reflected Victorian notions of the relationship between life and death, and how, most especially in the case of the young who died tragically and ‘blameless’, remembering and respecting an historical ‘illustrious’ death was invoked in the moral guidance of Victorian children.
‘Handling the Corpse in Late-Victorian Supernatural Tales’, Sarah Bissell, University of Glasgow
This paper will examine the figure of the corpse in Victorian supernatural tales, and the cultural factors which influenced its increasing prevalence in this genre as the century progressed. As texts preoccupied with death, nineteenth-century ghost stories seem relatively reticent about the material manifestations of this process, such as the deathbed, the funeral and – most notably – the dead body itself. It has been suggested that this is because such tales might attempt to comfort the bereaved, or to distance base materiality from the apparent spirituality of the spectre; however, I will argue that corpses recurred more frequently in supernatural tales as the century advanced towards the fin de siècle, as focus shifted from the immaterial to the corporeal.
With reference to critical work by Pat Jalland and Thomas Laqueur, this paper will consider how the developing focus on the corpse in supernatural fiction was influenced by cultural issues such as the fin de siècle focus on bodily health and associated rise of the New Woman, the introduction of crematoriums, and the Whitechapel murders of 1888. The second part of this paper will analyse several Victorian tales – from Wilkie Collins’s “The Dead Hand” (1857) through to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher” (1884) and Violet Hunt’s “The Prayer” (1895) – in examining how and why later stories seem more inclined to offer the corpse as a ghoulish spectacle or locus of horror, as the idea of the body as a sacred relic was gradually being displaced.
Panel Three: Apparel of Mourning
‘Grief, Gender and Mourning in Victorian England’, Helen Frisby, University of the West of England
Anthropologists Bloch and Parry note how in almost every culture worldwide, the emotional labour of mourning the dead is overwhelmingly performed by women. This is also true historically; and it is particularly noticeable in Victorian England. The first part of this presentation will briefly narrate the history of mourning costume since the Middle Ages. I will then proceed to describe the conventions which governed the wearing of mourning in Victorian England, with particular attention to gender and class dimensions. For example the folklorist Bertram Puckle tells of a young working-class woman, whose neighbours interpreted her refusal to wear widows’ weeds as a sign that the couple had not been properly married. This section is illustrated with images of mourningwear, jewellery and related miscellanea.
Historians have tended to be rather cynical about all this; for instance Cannadine states “that the Victorian celebration of death was not so much a golden age of effective psychological support as a bonanza of commercial exploitation.” It is certainly true that the Victorian period witnessed a rapid growth in ‘the dismal trade,’ and that manufacturers of the ubiquitous mourning crape enjoyed a healthy market during our period. However, such a verdict does assume commercial gain and emotional support to have been mutually exclusive. In exploring the history, sense and significance of mourningwear, this paper challenges the received wisdom that Queen Victoria, the “Widow of Windsor”, was regarded by her subjects as the epitome of respectable grief in late nineteenth century England.
‘Shades of Black: Process and Finish in Norwich Mourning Fabrics’, Ann Christie, Independent Scholar
By the late nineteenth century, the survivors of a once-thriving textile industry in Norwich were heavily dependent on the consumption of mourning fabrics and in particular the embossed silk mourning crapes. Company archives show that ranges of fabrics, while visually similar, were strikingly diverse in fibres, weight and finish. The production of woven fabrics in a single colour reveals aspects of design that relate less to immediate appearance than to subtle distinctions of appropriately subdued tactile characteristics and of performance in use.
Through a close reading of pattern books and production notes, this paper focuses on mourning crapes to show how nuances of qualities– from reliability of colour to texture and ‘handle’ – were pursued through chemical and mechanical means. These qualities were mythologized by the companies engaged in production, and details of competitors’ methods and recipes were sought and analysed.
While in some ways crapes lent themselves to modern mechanised and standardised production, the records show that to a large extent the factory was also a laboratory, and that artisanal practice and skills remained an essential feature within the industry.
The manufacture of mourning crapes, in which attention to details of finish and surface was essential for appropriate expressive as well as practical considerations, thus provides an excellent basis for considering design as a process of refining and adjustment, of defining and reproducing desirable qualities.
Panel Four: The Death of Children
‘No Greater Sorrow: Infant Mortality and Social Realist Painting in Victorian Britain’, Miruna Cuzman, University of Edinburgh
Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor had long been published when the Social Realists started painting their grim and grimy pictures, telling tales of woe in Industrial Britain. If one is to believe Charles Booth’s ‘poor maps’ and the efforts of the Salvation Army to introduce some rudimentary concepts of sanitation within and outwith large cities, by the second half of the nineteenth century the very heart of the Empire was moaning under gloom, disease and death.
It is in this context that several celebrated and prosperous painters, amongst whom Luke Fildes and Frank Holl, set out to explore the unpalatable aspects of what was otherwise not depicted. Theirs was a mission of showing in paint, so critics claimed, what could not be depicted easily – a poignant topic – death.
Paintings such as Holl’s Her First Born and Fildes’ The Doctor addressed a sensitive subject – the death of a child and the unbearable pain following the event. The paintings appear in a crucial moment, as child mortality figures rose in Britain during the 1870s and 1890s. This paper examines in depth several works by the abovementioned artists. Is it a mere coincidence that Holl and Fildes chose death and grief as a main topic for some of their best known paintings? Was there a connection between Victorian investigative journalism, the recurring bathetic depictions of distressed children in contemporary fiction, and a new strand of Realist painting? Or were the artists addressing one form of grief, capturing it in paint and thus turning it into a cathartic device?
It is possible that Holl and Fildes catered to the taste for (melo)dramatic visual material, but they did not run the risk of being merely sentimental. It was their wont to finely weave into the material of their canvases more than just a stock image of sorrow and mourning – it is the subtle critique embedded in the pictures, touching the hearts of many, which the paper addresses.
‘Post-Mortem Photography of Children in Victorian Britain’, Brittany Hudak, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Museum of Art
Post-mortem photography, a fairly common practice in Victorian Britain, is surprisingly rarely discussed at length in academic literature. This reticence may stem from a 21st century discomfort with the overt display of dead bodies, but also, and perhaps more importantly, such photographs are in their very nature tricky, and often evade analysis. Operating on the axis of several cultural discourses simultaneously, post-mortem photographs need to be placed in the context of the history of photography and the rhetoric of fine art; and while their stylistic creation can be aligned with artistic precedent, they did not perform the same functions, vis-à-vis modes of display or audience. Tied up in quiet practices of grief and personal loss, these photographs are rendered even more complicated by their frequent anonymity – stripped from their original context, their makers and sitters often long forgotten. They are ubiquitous yet silent markers of a complex culture of bereavement, whose practices have yet to be fully understood.
It is impossible not to notice the prevalence of images of infants and children in post-mortem photography. One-quarter of all the deaths in the nineteenth century were infants dying before reaching their first year; therefore, the loss of a child was something that affected nearly every family, often regardless of class. Using a discrete selection of examples from a private collection, this paper aims to explore the ways in which post-mortem photographs of children echo Romantic notions of childhood; and further, how the comfortable visual and literary association of death with sleep was applied specifically to the post-mortem portraiture of children in Victorian Britain.
‘Chambers of Loss’, Lucy May, Independent Scholar
A comparative analysis of a Victorian hearse and a Ghanaian coffin, from the point of view of a contemporary sculptor.
This foreword aims to: compare two ways of transporting the dead from different contexts; propose that both have ‘overwrought’ qualities which transcend cultural specificities; to highlight the crucial role of the decorative in these objects and to celebrate these methods of making as an art form in their own right.