Harriet Jane Moore painted some of the most iconic ever images of a science laboratory. Professor Frank James explores her life and achievements.
In 2014 the Ri is proud to celebrate women in science with the first ever all women line-up for our Friday Evening Discourses. To coincide with these monthly events, Frank James will tell the stories of some of the many women associated with the Ri since 1799 in this monthly blog.
Harriet Jane Moore (1801-1884)
Some of the most widely reproduced images of the interior of the Royal Institution are those painted by Harriet Moore in the 1850s. She came from a wealthy Scottish medical and military family. One of her uncles was John Moore, who, as commander of British forces defending Coruña against the French army, famously died in 1809. Her father, James Carrick Moore, was a surgeon who added Carrick to his name when he was bequeathed the huge sum of £150,000 by a Glasgow banker. He had five children, including Harriet (the oldest) and John Carrick Moore who was a field geologist and served as secretary of the Geological Society for two periods totaling ten years. It was he who began the connection of the Moore family with the Royal Institution when he was elected a member in 1836 and later served as a Visitor and a Manager.
The Moore family had known the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli since the 1770s and helped and supported him when he moved permanently to London in 1779. While the connection with Fuseli as the source of Harriet Moore’s artistic interests cannot be overlooked, their styles of painting are entirely different. There are, however, several other possible sources for her interest since the Moore family was well acquainted with other prominent artists including Joseph Turner, David Wilkie, Francis Chantrey and Thomas Lawrence.
Moore attended Michael Faraday’s lecture course on domestic chemical philosophy delivered after Easter 1850 which she found ‘delightful’, but wished she ‘could remember and understand every word of them’. From her correspondence it is clear that by the early 1850s she had become well acquainted with Faraday and his wife Sarah. So it is no surprise that she joined the Royal Institution in 1852, her nominators included her brother, Faraday and the second wealthiest woman in England, Angela Burdett Coutts. It may be significant here that Fuseli was also a close friend of the Coutts family.
As a wealthy woman (she left just over £40,000) with considerable artistic talent, there was no need for her to paint commercially, which goes a long way to explain why she has been little documented in the art historical literature. She could choose to paint what she pleased and with her close connections to Faraday and the Royal Institution she depicted, during the 1850s, the interiors of the building in eight watercolours, now in the Collections of the Royal Institution. Six are of the laboratory spaces on the lower ground floor; two of which show Faraday at work and another depicts his assistant Charles Anderson. She also painted Faraday’s study (for which her perspective drawing exists) and dining room in the second floor flat. These two pictures were owned by Faraday and passed through his family before returning to the Royal Institution. She retained some of the laboratory pictures and these seemed to have come to the Royal Institution following her death.
The very existence of these images is strong evidence of the close friendship between Faraday and the Moore family, especially Harriet. This is further supported by an extraordinary photograph taken in 1858, possibly in Hampton Court where the Queen had given Faraday a Grace and Favour house. This depicts Faraday and Sarah on a garden bench with his successor, John Tyndall, sitting on the grass with Harriet Moore and her sister Julia. Following Faraday’s death in 1867, Moore continued her connection with the Royal Institution, corresponding with Tyndall. The closeness of Moore to both the Institution and its leading figures must explain the very existence of perhaps the most iconic images ever painted of a laboratory.
The Royal Institution joins 45 leading science organisations in a letter to European policy makers to highlight that an open exchange of people and ideas is crucial for science.
Posted to Talking science on17th February 2017