This is a portrait of Mona Caird, a suffragist and author whose works are associated with the New Woman. Eva Gore-Booth, a poet, was also an advocate for women’s rights. During World War I both writers used their work to promote peace and call for an end to violence. Gustav Holst’s “Venus” is also titled “the Bringer of Peace.” Though this painting does not have an exact date, it is estimated to have been made in 1918, the year that World War II finally ended.

Mrs. Mona Caird was a Feminist essayist and novelist. She was born in 1854 on an island in southern England and later married a farmer from Scotland. Her husband supported her career, staying at home to tend his farm while she spent time in London and abroad. Caird was a well educated woman, studying areas of both the sciences and humanities. She advocated for women’s rights as well as freedom within marriage and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. Caird is considered a New Woman writer–a concept that was created and popularized by feminist authors, meant to encapsulate the idea of a progressive, independent, and career oriented woman. Many of her novels and short stories are deemed “fiction of the New Woman” because they center on strong female characters whose desires are independent of their familial “duty.” Caird advocated for the rights of the weak, insisting that education and compassion–rather than brute force–would propel humanity into the future. These beliefs came through in her fight for individual rights and against modern eugenics. It was also apparent in her response to the first World War. Through her writing she proposed that communication, travel, and education be the means of social progress, not war. Caird was also a strong advocate for animal rights, dissenting against vivisection. Caird would have been about 64 when this was painted, and World War I would have just ended.

“For silence is the song sublime,

And every voice at last must cease,

And all the world at evening time

Floats downwards through the gates of peace,

Beyond the gloom of shadowy caves

Where water washes on the stones,

And breaks with quiet foamless waves

The night’s persistent monotones;

The stars are what the flowers seem,

And where the sea of thought is deep,

The moonlight glitters like a dream,

On weary waters gone to sleep.”

–  Eva Gore-Booth, Weariness

Murray McNeel Caird Urquhart (1880-1972), Portrait of a Woman (Mrs. Mona Caird) (1918)

Tags: War, New Woman, Impressionism