Florence Anne Claxton (c. 1839 – 1879) was an English artist and humorist, most notable for her satire on the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Claxton also wrote and illustrated many humorous commentaries on contemporary life.
Little is known of Claxton's life; even her birth and death dates are uncertain. She was born around 1839, because she was just 20 years old when she signed an 1859 petition asking the Royal Academy of Arts to open its doors to women. Her father, painter Marshall Claxton, trained Florence and her sister Adelaide, in his craft; Florence travelled with her father to Australia, India, and Egypt in the years from 1850 to 1857, while he searched for employment. In the later 1850s both sisters found work in the production of engravings for the popular press. In 1860, Florence illustrated Married Off: A Satirical Poem, by "H. B."
In 1858 Florence exhibited her painting Scenes from the Life of a Female Artist in the second annual show of the Society of Women Artists. In the following year, 1859, she signed a petition advocating the admission of women to the Royal Academy Schools, and exhibited her Scenes of Life of an Old Maid in the Society of Women Artists show.
The Choice of Paris
Claxton's best-known work is The Choice of Paris: An Idyll (c. 1860), a satire on, and parody of, the works of the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the previous years. The painting is patterned after William Holman Hunt's A Converted British Family sheltering a Christian Missionary from the persecution of the Druids, and combines caricatures of many of the main figures of the movement, including John Ruskin and Sir John Everett Millais, with figures of popular culture like P. T. Barnum, and allusions to the great artists of the past. It depicts Millais in the role of Paris, offering the golden apple to a scrawny-looking medieval woman, ignoring a Raphael madonna (copied from The Marriage of the Virgin) and a modern woman in crinolines. The painting also includes parodies of other Pre-Raphaelite works, including Millais' Sir Isumbras at the Ford, Spring: Apple Blossoms and The Vale of Rest. It also caricatures Calderon's Broken Vows and Windus's Burd Helen'. The picture was reproduced as a full-page engraving by the Illustrated London News.
Other examples of Claxton's works were also reproduced in newspapers of the day. In Utopian Christmas, reproduced in the Illustrated London News of 24 December 1859, the poor - barefooted and raggedly-dressed - are shown feasting at a lavish banquet and being served and entertained by the rich - depicted as generals, nobles, and finely-dressed ladies.
Other works by Claxton include Women's Work: A Medley (1861) and Scenes from the Life of a Governess (1863). Women's Work may have been a feminist riposte to Ford Madox Brown's painting Work, which focused on men's labors but neglected women.
Florence Claxton married a "Mr. Farrington, of Romsey," in 1868, but continued to work and exhibit at least sporadically afterward.
Claxton also wrote humorous skits on feminism and women's rights, most notably in The Adventures of a Woman in Search of her Rights, a story in cartoon form. In the book, a young woman falls in love with a dashing youth, but her parents do not approve and her lover leaves. She decides to pursue her rights. She loses her looks through the study of John Stuart Mill and; now made ugly, she pursues various careers, becoming a lawyer, a politician and a doctor, but eventually fails in all of her pursuits. She finally emigrates to the United States and marries Brigham Young, the polygamous Mormon leader. In the end, it turns out to have been all a dream and she ends with the words "thank goodness it's only a midsummer night's dream and I'm not emancipated".
- Delia Gaze, ed., Dictionary of Women Artists, London, Taylor & Francis, 1997; p. 404-6.
- Van Remoortel, Marianne, ed. "The Fine Art of Satire: Florence and Adelaide Claxton and the Magazines." In Women, Work and the Victorian Periodical: Living by the Press. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 92–114.
- William E. Fredeman, "Pre-Raphaelites in Caricature: The Choice of Paris: An Idyll by Florence Claxton," Burlington Magazine, Vol. 102 (December 1960), pp. 523-29.
- James S. Dearden, John Ruskin: A Life in Pictures, London, Continuum, 1999; p. 56.
- "The Choice of Paris: An Idyll’ by Miss Florence Claxton." Illustrated London News 36 (2 Jun. 1860), 541-542.
- Gaze, p. 405.
- Ellen Creathorne Clayton, English Female Artists, Vol. 2, London, Tinsley Brothers, 1876; pp. 45-6.
- Florence Claxton, The Adventures of a Woman in Search of her Rights, London, The Graphotyping Co., 1872.