Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists and Textiles

Jun 11, 2024

by Isabella Galdone  

Thanks to a Decorative Arts Trust Research Grant, I conducted object-based research for a PhD dissertation project juxtaposing the work of women Pre-Raphaelites and their associates with contemporary textiles made, altered, or manipulated by women.

This dissertation draws together needlework produced in and associated with domestic spaces such as samplers, needlework pictures, and quilts, as well as examples of Arts and Crafts “art needlework” and paintings by Elizabeth Siddall, Rosa Brett, and Joanna Mary Boyce, among others. Chronologically, this project is grounded in the latter half of the 19th century and considers objects produced in a moment of confluence between avant-garde British painting and the Arts and Crafts Movements that lead to a progressive blurring of binaries between so-called high and low art. I employ this material to reveal that categorical divisions between art and material culture are products of a disciplinary history of masculinist discourse, while destabilizing the primacy of the two-dimensional image, in favor of the tactile dimensions of art-historical interpretation.

This research trip was primarily related to the first chapter of my dissertation, which will consider the positioning of 19th-century women artists and craft practitioners in relation to the domestic space, tracing an alternate narrative of the genealogy of Arts and Crafts textile practice rooted in generational needlework and textile knowledge. Framing domestic needlework as a site of both gendered performativity and the generation of alternate and subversive forms of communication, this chapter will analyze needlework samplers in terms of distance and proximity. Samplers can map far-away and expansive geographies and point to knowledge of the world outside the domestic space, but the material and physical conditions of their production imply closeness, minute precision, and bodily stillness.

The grant gave me the opportunity to study 19th-century British textiles in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Museum of Art, and the Huntington Museum and Library. The objects I examined included mid-19th-century patchwork and appliqué quilts (figure 1), and a wide variety of early-19th-century English embroidery samplers, including a sampler map of England and Wales (figure 2) and a silk-embroidered travel print reproduction (figure 3), which were particularly relevant to the arguments I plan to explore in my first chapter.

My research in LACMA’s offsite storage (figure 4) enabled me to clarify key points such as construction techniques, individual materials, and the quality of stitching. By inspecting textiles under magnification, I was able to decipher which stitches were used in each piece and identify details that were not visible in photographic reproductions. I came away with a much more nuanced and accurate picture of how these objects were made and of their material and sensory properties. This data helped me to put into practice the emphasis on material and haptic knowledge that is so crucial to my project, and to begin to make connections between theory and practice. 

This trip gave me a solid foundation to build upon for further research, and a substantial body of material evidence to build on as I embark on the dissertation process. 

Isabella Galdone is a PhD candidate in History of Art at Yale University. 


About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


Subscribe to receive an email when the Decorative Arts Trust publishes a new post.

Click Images to Enlarge

Did you know that clicking on the images in Bulletin posts will allow you to get a closer look? Simply click on an image, and a larger version will open in a pop-up window. 


Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, tour and symposium announcements from the Decorative Arts Trust.

Thank you for subscribing!


Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, tour and symposium announcements from the Decorative Arts Trust.

You have Successfully Subscribed!