Decadent Young Woman, After the Dance by Roman Casas, from the Ashmoleon's Colour Revolution exhibition

How the Victorians invented colour

In the Ashmolean, look out for a reclining woman reading a book. She may be wearing a black dress, but she is surrounded by vivid bursts of colour: a rich green sofa, a yellow-jacketed book, not to mention her warmly coloured lips and copper-coloured hair. It’s a portrait of the Parisian model Madeleine Boisguillaume, painted … Read more

The tragedy of art’s greatest supermodel

In the winter of 1849-1850, the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt were painting together, when their friend Walter Howell Deverell burst into the studio. The visitor announced excitedly, “You fellows can’t tell what a stupendously beautiful creature I have found… She’s like a queen, magnificently tall.” With these words, the unlikely beauty … Read more
Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens

The lost portrait of Charles Dickens

In the 1880s, not long before her death, Scottish artist Margaret Gillies was approached by the writer Frederick George Kitton, who wanted to know what had happened to one of Gillies’ early portraits. Kitton was writing a biography of Charles Dickens and he knew Gillies had painted the author in 1843, but where was the … Read more
Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; The Black Brunswickers

Katey Dickens: the forgotten story behind ‘The Black Brunswicker’

In 1860, ten years after Charles Dickens published a scathing review of Pre-Raphaelitism in his magazine Household Words, John Everett Millais exhibited what would become one of his most famous paintings. The Black Brunswicker depicts a young Englishwoman making a futile attempt to prevent her Prussian fiancé from fighting in the Battle at Waterloo. For many of the spectators who flocked to … Read more
Grip from Dicken's fifth novel, Barnaby Rudge

The mysterious tale of Charles Dickens’s raven

In 2012, the Tower of London welcomed two new inhabitants: a pair of ravens named Jubilee and Grip. Their arrival celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth. This Grip was the third of the Tower ravens to be named after the novelist’s own pet bird. One of his predecessors was … Read more
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1854

Victoria and Albert: How a royal love changed culture

When Queen Victoria inherited the British throne just a few weeks after her 18th birthday, there was immediate speculation about who she would marry. Few had foreseen that this little-known princess would become their monarch. But when the country found itself with a young queen after so many dissolute Hanoverian kings, it seemed that exciting … Read more
Charles Dickens, oil painting, William Powell Frith, 1859. Museum no. F.7

Why the world still loves Charles Dickens

In the winter of 1867 a work-weary Charles Dickens arrived in Boston harbour, following a long sea voyage from England. It was 25 years since he had last visited the US, at which time he had travelled with his now-estranged wife, Catherine, celebrated his 30th birthday in Massachusetts and realised that he was indeed an … Read more

The moustache: A hairy history

Throughout history facial hair has fallen in and out of fashion. Hairy faces have been lauded, derided, immortalised in art and even legislated against. The rise and curl of the moustache has never been straightforward.  Since the first caveman picked up a hinged shell and tweezered whiskers from his face, men have shaped their facial … Read more