Can you tell me about this place setting?
This place setting at Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" is for Ethel Smyth. Smyth was a composer and the champion for the rights of female musicians in the early 20th century. The place setting is based on a tailored suit, which was the type of clothing Smyth preferred.
Did Ethel Smyth perform as well? What are some of her famous songs?
Yes, she did. Her most famous work would be "The March of the Women" in 1922, which was picked up as the anthem for the British women's suffrage movement. Smyth composed a number of operas, such as "The Wreckers" in 1906 and "The Boatswain's Mate" in the early 1910s.
Why is there a man's jacket on the placemat?
The jacket is a reference to Smyth's own style of dress, she preferred a tailored suit. The jacket is shown laid out as if it were in the process of being tailored also making reference to the fact that suit would have to be altered to fit her female figure.
What's the connection between the sewing motif and the piano?
This place setting represents the composer and women's rights advocate Ethel Smyth. The plate is represents her role as a musician. The stand even features notations from her famous opera "The Boatswain's Mate"
The runner is made to represent a tweed suit that has been cut open and laid out. It is a direct reference to Smyth's preference for wearing masculine tailored suits, an unconventional choice at the time.
What kind of music did she compose?
Some of her works were Mass in D (1893),
The Wreckers (1906),
March of the Women (1911), and
The Boatswain's Mate (1916).
The Boatswain's Mate was a popular opera told from a feminine perspective!
Why is Ethel Smyth’s plate shaped like a piano?
Ethel Smyth's plate is shaped like a piano because she was a composer, in addition to a women's rights activist.
She lived during the early 20th century in Britain, and even wrote songs in honor of the women's suffrage movement!
It intrigues me that the lid of the piano becomes a vaginal metaphor. Hmm. I see Clara Schumann is right at the edge of the floor. Is Nannerl Mozart also nearby?
The names on the floor relate to the place settings they are near so it makes sense to find Schumann, another composer, by the piano-plate of Ethyl Smyth. As for Nannerl Mozart, she is not included.
I have a background in music so I'm more aware of the possible names that could have been included here. It’s a little like a concentrated archaeological expedition, isn’t it? It makes me sad and angry that so much has NOT been preserved or remembered.
Thanks for your answers.
Yes, as much as the research team behind The Dinner Party uncovered names of artists who didn't get their due recognition, there are still many more who have been left out of history.
What is the connection of Smythe with men's tailoring? Not only men's clothing but the tailoring?
The fact that this suit is shown as if in pieces can be linked to the idea that Smyth, who preferred to wear men's tweed suits, would need to have the garments significantly altered.
Also, Judy Chicago describes the runner as, "‘taken in’ to fit the confines of the runner’s dimensions, a metaphor for the tragic containment of Smyth’s immense talent."
Ohhh that's so interesting!
What can you tell me about Ethel Smyth?
Dame Ethel Mary Smyth is famous both as a barrier-breaking female composer and a suffrage activist of the early 20th century. She was born in London, to a military family. She attended the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory, studied under Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák, and soon became a major English composer. She gained popularity in 1893 with her "Mass in D."
The plate is a piano, referencing Smyth's work as a composer. The stand on the piano includes notation for The Boatswain's Mate, a popular opera written by Smyth in 1916, which, according to Chicago, incorporates a feminist perspective. The three-dimensionality of the plate relates not just to the chronological development of The Dinner Party plates, but also to the way in which, according to Chicago, Smyth pushed boundaries with her career and her sexuality.
Why is Ethel Smyth represented by a piano?
Dame Ethel Mary Smyth is famous as a barrier breaking female composer and a suffrage activist of the early 20th-century.
She attended the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory, studied under Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák, and soon became a major English composer. That explains the piano!
And she was a lesbian, apparently!!
Yes she was. In fact, Smyth was involved romantically with fellow Dinner Party member Virginia Woolf.
Smyth discusses her attraction to women in her memoirs, and is generally identified as a lesbian, a fact which is incorporated into Chicago's iconography.
Who does the piano represent?
The piano place setting is dedicated to Ethel Smyth. Smyth is famous both as a barrier breaking female composer and a suffrage activist of the early 20th-century.
She was a major English composer most well known for her piece Mass in D.
She also wrote March of the Women in support of the Women's Suffrage movement.
The stand on the piano includes notation for The Boatswain's Mate, a popular opera written by Smyth in 1916, which, according to Chicago, incorporates a feminist perspective.