In Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, Carol Mavor quotes Elisabeth G. Gitter from her essay “The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” Gitter writes that hair is “a sexual exhibition” and that “the more abundant the hair, the more potent the sexual invitation implied by its display … the luxuriance of the hair is an index of vigorous sexuality, even of wantonness” (109). After reading this, I immediately thought of the following two photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron.
The flowing hair in both of these images is so striking! It immediately captures the eye as it fills the frame. In the top image, it almost forms a halo as the light is caught in its tendrils.
Both of these images reminded me of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of British artists, poets, and critics formed in 1848. Many of their paintings depict Arthurian legends, characters from Shakespeare, and other characters (mostly female) from mythology and folklore (consequently, some have the same title).
I’ve added some of my favorites below… notice the copious amounts of abundant locks!
Here are some more, but I don’t know the artist. I am adding them because I think that they are beautiful and different than the previous images in that they often depict women in a room, or with a personal object such as a looking glass, rosary, or flowers.
Finally, a mermaid, to illustrate Gitter’s point that “the combing and displaying of hair, as suggested by the legends of alluring mermaids who sit on rocks singing and combing their beautiful hair … thus constitute a sexual invitation” (Mavor 109).
All of these paintings were produced during the Victorian Age, yet look nothing like anything we’ve seen. Even though they capture the essence of another era, the Victorian fascination with hair is clearly evident.
(I hope this wasn’t too overwhelming!!! I think these paintings are so sumptuous and had a little trouble editing!)