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News release - Issued by National Trust, Beningbrough Hall

Celebrating International Women's Day through art

See the brand new Visiting Portrait’s display from the National Portrait Gallery at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens. One of the new portraits on display for the year is The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain showing nine of the most influential women of the eighteenth century.

Looking back, there was possibly a more enlightened attitude to women in the mid-eighteenth century then we might expect. This was a time of growing cultural, commercial and national pride and that shaped the popular perception both of the Bluestocking Circle and of learned women more generally. For the first time, fine art celebrated women patriotically and used them as symbols of Britain's sense of international superiority and sophistication.

A positive view of female creativity was often made by referring to the nine muses of classical antiquity. These sister goddesses, who each embodied one of the arts or sciences, increasingly appeared in literature, portraiture and the decorative arts as powerful examples of what women might achieve.

This fashion for linking contemporary women with the muses reached its peak between the 1760s and the 1780s. It coincided with the debate about whether the nine muses merely provided inspiration to men practising the arts and sciences or could also represent active female creativity. Consequently, the muses became a means through which Britain could celebrate the special contribution that women made to the social and cultural progress and economic well-being of the nation.

One of the most ambitious examples is Richard Samuel’s painting The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain, which was first exhibited in 1779, and is now the centrepiece for a new display at the National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall.

Samuel’s painting honoured the contributions of women and all the subjects are painted with their particular forte in mind. For example, Angelica Kauffmann was a respected female artist. In this painting she is seated before an easel. The expressions on the faces of the women also suggest intelligent contemplation, something the bluestockings were famous for. The setting is the Greek Temple of Apollo and the women are all in the character of the Muses.

The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain is one of four portraits on display at Beningbrough Hall that have been selected by National Portrait Gallery Director, Dr Nicholas Cullinan. They show a range of influential figures from British history and culture. The other portraits show Beatrix Potter, Ted Hughes and David Beckham.

Rab MacGibbon, Associate Curator at the National Portrait Gallery said:
“We are delighted to share these collection highlights with Beningbrough for the duration of the 2017 season. The display celebrates the fruitful partnership that exists between the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust, with loans that span the history of the Hall from the eighteenth century to the present day.”

Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10.30am – 5pm with the Visiting Portraits Gallery open from 12 noon. Visit or call 01904 472027 for more details.


For more information, contact:

Jo Parker
01904 472017 (direct) / 472027 (office) / 07917 174629 (mobile)

Notes to editors:

Unusually when it comes to naming gods, the Greeks and Romans used the same ones for the Nine Muses. They are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania.

International Women's Day was originally called International Working Women's Day and is celebrated on 8 March every year. In different places the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women for their economic, political and social achievements. An effective Women's Day was the 1975 Icelandic women's strike which paved the way for the first female president in the world, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.

The Bluestocking Circle:

In the 1750s a number of wealthy, intellectual women started to hold literary parties at their London houses. Although the bluestocking gatherings were hosted by women, they were open to people of both sexes and drew together people from different backgrounds. Their aim was to provide a setting where women could expand their knowledge by conversing freely with other women and men of learning.

The bluestocking assemblies challenged the fashion of the day, offering stimulating conversation rather than cards or dancing, and tea rather than alcohol to drink. They were influenced by the French salons which were famous for their conversation, but unlike the French salons, they were unconnected with the court and insisted on high moral behaviour. Three of the most prominent bluestocking hostesses were Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Boscawen. These wealthy, well-connected women held literary salons in their homes in London: Elizabeth Montagu in Hill Street and later in Portman Square; Elizabeth Vesey in Clarges Street; and Frances Boscawen in South Audley Street.

About Beningbrough Hall, Gallery & Gardens

Built in 1716, Beningbrough Hall is a grand red brick mansion just north of York. Today, the hall is home to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of 18th century portraits, whilst the garden boasts labyrinth paths, grand borders, hidden woods and a working walled kitchen garden. Now cared for by the National Trust, it’s a family friendly destination for Yorkshire visitors with a year round programme of exhibitions and events.

Visit: Call: 01904 472027
Tweet: @NTBeningbrough Instagram: @nt_york

About the National Trust

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 775 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to:

About the National Portrait Gallery, London

Founded in 1856, the aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media.’ The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. With over 1000 portraits on display across three floors, from Elizabeth I to David Beckham, the Gallery has something for everyone. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and the Collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. As well as the permanent displays, the Gallery has a diverse and ever-changing programme of exhibitions and events that promote an understanding and appreciation of portraiture in all forms. The Collection is displayed in London and in a number of locations around the United Kingdom, including several houses managed by the National Trust. The Gallery is increasingly keen to find new ways to share the Collection through the National Programmes, as well as through the website