Celebrating Women’s History Month: Women and the Grand Tour

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Women and the Grand Tour

In our upcoming Fine Interiors sale we have a wonderful collection of Grand Tour pieces and in celebration of Women’s History Month in March, we have explored the lives and journeys of the women who have also travelled the Grand Tour, but have often been overlooked in history.

31 March 2023

We tend to associate wealthy, young and highly educated male graduates with the Grand Tours of the 17th - 19th centuries. An elite experience that enabled an in-depth and personal engagement with European culture and classical history - a Grand Tour was considered the ‘final touch’ to a gentleman’s education.

However, here we shall focus on the women who were certainly a part of this cultural phenomenon, and who made valuable insights and contributions towards travel writing, art, architecture and social customs.

One such woman was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), who despite the constraints of being denied schooling, pursued her love of learning through self-education, describing that visiting her family’s library was a way to ‘steal’ her education. By the time she was sixteen she had written two volumes of poetry, a short novel and taught herself Latin. An unconventional woman who had a passion for writing, literature, exploration and travel. 

Later in life and after a tumultuous time in England, Mary decided to leave once again to travel. She favoured the freedoms found elsewhere, writing it was ‘the established fashion for everybody to live their own way’. During the last twenty years of her life, she embarked on a Grand Tour around Italy and Europe, experiencing different cultures and histories. She was hugely influential and wrote extensively in her letters of her experiences, which were eventually published and inspired many future generations of female travellers and writers.

A lesser-known female Grand Tourist who also travelled extensively despite societal expectations was Laetitia Houblon (1742–1828). Similarly to Lady Mary, she described her travels in a series of letters to her family and close friends. They note that her travels began in 1787 and that she returned to England in 1807.

Although she did not explicitly call her travels a ‘Grand Tour’ she still visited the same destinations as her male contemporaries, experiencing the beauty and history of Paris, Florence, Venice, Genoa, Turin and Dresden. Commenting that a visit to a palace in Chantilly France was ‘such a museum I could have remained an age lost in admiration, the arrangement is so much preferable to anything in England’.

These letters and texts that Lady Mary, Laetitia Houblon and many other women wrote during their travels in the 18th century offer valuable insight of the female perspective towards foreign culture and travel.

This week is our final week for taking in consignments for our next Fine Interiors sale on the 13 & 14 June, entries are still open until Friday 14th April.

If you are interested in selling your items with us, we would love to know.

To discuss the sale of a single item or large collection, please get in touch for a free, no-obligation valuation: fineinteriors@sworder.co.uk | 01279 817778




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