Anna Mary Howitt

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Anna Mary Howitt (married name Anna Mary Watts, 15 January 1824 – 23 July 1884) was an English painter, writer and feminist. Her artistic activity ceased in 1857 after she suffered a mental breakdown, but she soon resumed her writing.

Artist and feminist[edit]

Anna Mary Howitt was the eldest surviving child of the prolific Quaker writers and publishers William Howitt (1792–1879) and Mary Botham (1799–1888). She was born in Nottingham, but spent much of her childhood in Esher.[1] Howitt showed early talent and entered Henry Sass's Art Academy in London in 1846, where her contemporaries included William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Thomas Woolner. She then accompanied her fellow artist Jane Benham to Munich, where she studied under Wilhelm von Kaulbach. She also began to publish articles about the city that were later collected into An Art-Student in Munich (1853), as well as serialised stories with her own illustrations, which appeared in the Illustrated Magazine of Art (1853–54).[2]

An Art-Student in Munich was a success. According to The New York Times (11 May 1854), "All that is peculiar to Munich, – its museums, galleries, festivals, and works of art, – or to German life, whether in high or low degree, and still more to the cultivation of the artist, is told in these pages with a beautiful earnestness and a naive simplicity, that have a talismanic effect upon the reader. It is one of those sunny works which leave a luminous trail behind them in the reader's memory."[3] Howitt was under twin influences at this stage in her life, being "connected on the one hand with the social and publishing circles of her parents, the hard-working pillars of the London literary establishment, and on the other hand with a group of forward-looking, feminist women of her own age."[4]

The younger group with whom Howitt associated consisted of the Langham Place feminists, notably her close friend the artist Barbara Leigh Smith. The pair joined Rossetti's Folio Club. Howitt made her exhibition debut at the National Institution of Fine Arts in 1854, with a painting inspired by Goethe's Faust. Her painting The Castaway (Royal Academy, 1855) was unusual in depicting a woman who has sunk into prostitution. In 1856 she helped Leigh Smith to collect signatures for a petition that would lead to the Married Women's Property Act 1870.[5] Criticism of her work from John Ruskin, rejection of a major painting by the Royal Academy, and the marriage of her friend Leigh Hunt contributed to a mental breakdown in 1857, after which she ceased to be an active artist.[2]

Writer and spiritualist[edit]

In 1859, Howitt married a childhood friend, the revenue officer Alaric Alfred Watts and moved with him to Chelsea. They shared literary ambitions that resulted in Aurora: a Volume of Verse (1884). This reflected a new-found interest in spiritualism, to which her parents had turned in the early 1850s, as did her book Pioneers of the Spiritual Reformation (1883), which consisted of biographical sketches of the German poet Justinus Kerner and of her father William Howitt, but whose other purpose was to promote spiritualism, Mesmerism and similar phenomena. Some contemporaries suggested that she suffered from periodic mental illness in later life.[6]

Howitt's family was acquainted with the novelist Charles Dickens, who offered critical commentary on her writing.[7]

Anna Mary Watts died of diphtheria in 1884 at Mair am Hof in Teodone (Brunico), since 1919 part of Italy, during a visit to her mother in Tyrol.[2]

See also[edit]

English women painters from the early 19th century who exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art


  1. ^ Elmbridge Hundred biography Retrieved 9 July 2011. Archived 23 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c ODNB entry: Retrieved 9 July 2011. Subscription required.
  3. ^ Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  4. ^ Orlando Project introduction. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  5. ^ The text of the petition appears here: Retrieved 9 July 2011. Archived 2 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Minnesota History 50 (Spring 1987): 204–98: Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  7. ^

External resources[edit]