This special Open Courtauld Hour brings our exhibition, Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism, to an online audience. The event, through the fragmentary information we have about sex work and sex workers at this time, will aim to interrogate the uneven balance between artist, viewer and subject.
The exhibition features fifty of Henri Fuseli’s striking private drawings of women which explore his fascination with female sexuality and the modern woman in the 18th century. Blending observed realities with elements of fantasy, these studies present one of the finest draughtsmen of the Romantic period at his most original and provocative. Here, the fashionable women of the period appear as powerful figures of dangerous erotic allure, whom the artist regards with a mix of fascination and mistrust.
This hour, bringing together academics, curators and experts, will question whether these works are as problematic now as they were then. As this visually compelling body of work provides an insight into anxieties about gender, identity, and sexuality at a time of acute social instability, this event will reinstate the lived realities of the women depicted in the works.
The history of selling sex is often a hidden one — and frequently its practitioners are pushed to the margins of history. This event will aim to address this imbalance and bring to life a rich exhibition, to a digital audience. It will offer insight into sex workers’ lives, challenging assumptions about this age-old trade.
Content note: This event will contain scenes and language of a sexual nature.
Meet the experts
Kate Lister is the creator of the award-winning online research project Whores of Yore, which seeks to build public engagement and disseminate research on the history of sex and sexuality through social media. She also lectures at Leeds Trinity University, and is widely published on the sex trade. She has recently published Harlots, Whores & Hackabouts: A History of Sex for Sale.
Ketty Gottardo is Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings at The Courtauld and Co-Curator of Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism.
David Solkin, FBA, is a Professor Emeritus at The Courtauld and Co-Curator of Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism.
Leyla Bumbra is the Research Forum Programme Manager at The Courtauld. She holds special responsibility for the Open Courtauld Strand.