Wrapped in import: Kashmiri shawls in British paintings of the long nineteenth century
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Woven shawls from the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent became a popular fashion in Europe during the latter half of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth. European manufacturers soon picked up on this trend, producing textiles which imitated eastern designs but sold at competitively lower prices from the 1780s onwards. As a consequence of their fashionability, Kashmiri shawls and their imitations made frequent appearances within European paintings. To date, there has been an absence of art historical investigation into the visual representation of Kashmiri shawls and their imitations within nineteenth-century painting, though several scholars have examined their appearance within French and English literature. This paper seeks to fill a literary gap by investigating Kashmiri shawls and their imitations depicted in British paintings from 1850 to 1910, with several French paintings included to support the analysis. Paintings are an appropriate source for considering the materiality of the shawl as they are some of the only available visual evidence to how shawls were worn and consumed as textiles (and to who wore and consumed them). Each of the three paintings selected for the three main chapters of this thesis serves as a case study. These are Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853-1854) and The Children’s Holiday (1864-1865), and Francis Henry Newbery’s The Paisley Shawl (c. 1910). These examples have been selected for the visual centrality of the shawls within each painting, for their differing temporality (dated to the mid-1850s, mid-1860s, and c.1910, respectively) and settings (a London villa interior, English country park, and a Scottish cottage interior, respectively), and for the shawls’ dissimilar materiality and appearance. The women depicted are also of varying ages and social classes, representing diverse consumers of the shawls at separate moments of its history. Through a material culture-based analysis of the shawls, which combines close-reading of the depicted shawls as objects with consultation of ‘external’ historical sources, this thesis utilizes painted images as texts to interpret nuanced contemporary cultural and social information that was attached to the shawl during the long nineteenth century in Britain.