Abbey Rees-Hales

Abbey Rees-Hales

Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

Phd title: (S)Ex-Libris: Women Artists and the Trade in Erotic Illustrated Books in Europe and the United States, c. 1914-1934.   

Supervisors: Dr Camilla Smith (University of Birmingham), Professor Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham) and Assistant Professor Katherine Shingler (University of Nottingham)
PhD History of Art, Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership


As the German sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld remarked in 1931, “Everybody knows how the war affected the participation of women in industry.”  What is less well known is that during the First World War women also stepped into clandestine 'male roles', including in the production of mass-produced pornography and elite erotica.  

Whilst the complexities and contradictions of the New Woman have been amply discussed by art historians, how this is exemplified by the New Woman artist negotiating the largely male domain of erotic art has been overlooked.  Seeking to redress this lacuna, my thesis aims to provide the first sustained study of the international network of academically-trained women artists who, during the period c. 1914 to 1934, transgressed notions of bourgeois female propriety as illustrators of costly editions of canonical erotic texts.

A critical, feminist examination of how women artists, including Toyen, Jeanne Mammen, Lettice Sandford and Clara Tice, reinterpreted texts from Sappho to Charles Baudelaire, will reveal the ways they negotiated their positions as women artists in male-dominated circles, both subverting and enforcing the patriarchal frameworks of erotica.