The significance of the representation of women in John Singleton Copley’s painting The Death of Major Peirson, 1781, (1783) to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, (1792): Female form as visual cypher by Lucinda Storm
Abstract: This article analyses Mary Wollstonecraft’s play on the theme of reform. In particular, her critique of the reductive representation of women, which John Singleton Copley’s artwork highlights. Discussion revolves around Copley’s painting The Death of Major Peirson, 1781 (1783) and a foray into Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Copley uses women ‘as sign’ which reveals his perception of limited female societal roles, illuminating broader perceptions and a ‘masculine production and consumption’ system that excludes ‘woman’. Through Wollstonecraft’s examination of the relations between the sexes, she reveals the complexity of the feminine experience and how female potential simmers beneath contemporary expectation of feminine conduct. Copley employs women to signify fear, despair, and cowardice as a visual device. Their depiction as fleeing the Battle of Jersey offers insights into the perceptions of women at the time. Copley’s portrayal also visually adds to Wollstonecraft’s compelling argument for equality.