Georgiana Houghton

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Georgiana Houghton

Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884) was a British artist and spiritualist medium.[1]

Houghton was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria but later moved to London. She began producing 'spirit' drawings in 1859 at private séances. She produced her watercolour drawings to the public at an exhibition at the New British Gallery in Bond Street, London in 1871.[2]

Houghton became associated with the fraudulent spirit photographer Frederick Hudson to sell reproductions of his photographs.[3][4]

In 1882, Houghton published Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye. The book included alleged spirit photographs from Hudson and other photographers featuring mediums such as Agnes Guppy-Volckman, Stainton Moses and spiritualists Alfred Russel Wallace and William Howitt.[5] The photographs in the book were criticized by magic historian Albert A. Hopkins. He noted how the photographs looked dubious and could easily be produced by fraudulent methods.[6]

In April 2015 Monash University Museum of Art staged the exhibition "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits" that featured 25 of Houghton’s abstract watercolours from the Victorian Spiritualist Union collection. In June 2016 a solo exhibition entitled "Spirit Drawings" was organised by the Courtauld Institute of Art, featuring a number of Houghton's surviving artworks.[7]


  • Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye (1882)
  • Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance (1882)

Artistic Career[edit]

The Portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ

Georgiana Houghton started creating her spirit images first by drawing and eventually started experimenting with water colors.[8] She produced automatic drawings, which means her hand was guided by spiritual influences during séances. This technique will be revisited by the surrealists during the 20thcentury.[9] Her first images depict extremely stylized flowers and fruits, probably due to the artistic training upper class women received at that time. By experimenting with her artistic style, she will end up creating completely abstract images, close to 60 years before Kandinsky and Malevich[8]. Houghton’s choice to work with abstract shapes correlates with the unnatural nature of her subject. She doesn’t depict objects of the natural world, but a spiritual experience[8]. “Abstraction” isn’t yet a concept in the 19thcentury, which explains the mixed reviews her watercolors got. The public didn’t know how to interpret this artistic style[10]. The different shapes and colors in the images are a part of the artist’s “sacred symbolism[10]”, they all have a different meaning. As her career progressed, her images gained in complexity. She added an increasing number of layers, colors and small details[10].


In 1871, she organized the exhibit “Spirit Drawings in Water Colours”  where 155 of her water colors are shown at the New British Library in London[8].

In April 2015, Monash University organized the exhibition “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits” where 25 of Houghton’s water colors were included.

In June 2016, the Courtault Institute of Art created an exhibit dedicated to the artist:“Georgiana Hougton: Spirit Drawings”.[7][11][12]


  1. ^ Tucker, Jennifer. (2013). Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-1-4214-1093-7
  2. ^ Smith, Bernard. (1998). Modernism's History: A Study in Twentieth-century Art and Ideas. University of New South Wales. p. 70. ISBN 0-86840-736-4
  3. ^ Østermark-Johansen, Lene. (2014). Walter Pater: Imaginary Portraits. The Modern Humanities Research Association. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-1-907322-55-6
  4. ^ Ball, Philip. (2015). Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen. University of Chicago Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780226238890
  5. ^ Willburn, Sarah A. (2006). Possessed Victorians: Extra Spheres in Nineteenth-century Mystical Writings. Ashgate. p. 59. ISBN 0-7546-5540-7
  6. ^ Hopkins, Albert A. (1897). Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography. Sampson Low, Marston and Company. pp. 432–438
  7. ^ a b Courtauld Gallery: Georgiana Houghton exhibition page
  8. ^ a b c d Oberter, Rachel (Winter 2006). "Esoteric Art Confronting the Public Eye: the Abstract Spirit Drawings of Georgiana Houghton". Victorian Studies. 48: 222-223-228.
  9. ^ Ostrup, Kasper (2017). "From the Mouth of Shadows: on the Surrealist Use of Automatism". Nordic Journal of Aesthethics. 53: 49.
  10. ^ a b c Grant, Simon (Winter 2016–2017). "Georgiana Houghton Medium and Spiritualist". Raw Vision. 92: 22-24-25.CS1 maint: date format (link)
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