Margaret Gillies Rws, Unitarian Painter of Mind and Emotion (1803-1887)

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Gillies, a Scottish artist who worked in London first as a miniaturist and later as a specialist in larger subject pictures, is an unusual and undeservedly neglected figure in 19th-century art history. Unitarian in belief like many major writers and social reformers of the period, her highly-motivated work provides a unique example of this ethos in the fine arts. Her convictions owed much to health reformer Thomas Southwood Smith (with whom she lived for over twenty years) and to her association with William Johnson Fox's radical Unitarian coterie of the 1830s. Through these connections she met William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Leigh Hunt, Harriet Martineau, Richard Hengist Horne and many other celebrities of the time, a large number of whom she portrayed (reproduced here). Her popularity, prolific output, wide representation, membership in the Old Watercolour Society and contributions to the first illustrated Government report (on Children in the Mines) are evidence of her professional status. Her feminism and professionalism, the nature of her work, and her unconventional lifestyle were all grounded in Unitarianism, one of the most progressive and liberating ideologies of the 19th century. With 40 pages of illustrations and portraits.

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