With such prestigious clients as Queen Charlotte and Sir Joshua Reynolds, Caroline Watson (1760/60-1814) reigned as a distinguished printmaker of Georgian England. Quite an accomplishment when the art world seldom singled out women or their work until the twentieth century!
For those unfamiliar with Miss Watson’s work, she was a mezzotint printmaker, taught by her father, James Watson, and one of the first to use the ‘stipple technique.’ This method helped create the delicate portraits and decorative prints, which garnered her the attention and popularity with the Queen and her female patrons.
Prior to Watson, most female printmakers were considered amateurs—a common classification for female artists of the time. Not only were women restricted in their study of art by not being allowed to study the human form, but also common mediums used by women were relegated to “craft” and not considered art at all. In fact, printmaking was considered “craft” and not an art as well.
The subjects of artwork were also ranked in what is now called the “Hierarchy of Genres”, which often did not aid women in achieving any sort of prominence in art as what were considered common subjects of “female art” such as still life ranked at the bottom in regards to importance of the work.
Reading the above, one might not think Caroline Watson resembles Jane Austen at all, but the similarities are there. If the two women are compared side by side, both achieved a certain amount of recognition during their time for pursuits that were, at that time, considered more fitting for men. Watson, like Austen, never married, dedicating her life to her work until her death in 1814.
Both Miss Watson and Miss Austen left legacies in the letters written to loved ones left behind. According to the curator of a recent exhibition of her work, Caroline Watson’s letters read “like a Jane Austen novel,” which is perhaps not so surprising considering their similarities. Miss Watson’s letters chronicle her life much in the way Miss Austen’s give us such wonderful detail about hers, and also give us a glimpse of their personalities that may not have been available otherwise.
While Caroline Watson found a certain amount of recognition during her time, her obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine indicated “her great modesty prevented her being so well known as her merit deserved”—another similarity to Austen perhaps? Unlike Jane Austen, Caroline Watson’s letters still remain with curators and in art museums, which renders much of her life and work as a mystery to those seeking to learn more about this amazing artist. Perhaps, one day her letters will be published like Austen’s. Then, we may all learn, in greater detail, more of this amazing artist.