Henriette Delong – Accomplished Artist and Inventor: «

Henriette Delong – Accomplished Artist and Inventor:


In a continuing series on obscure, unknown, and forgotten female artists, we offer the following story or sketch on a remarkable French woman whose artistic ability was more than exceptional in her day. The year was 1882 – Paris, France.

At the age of 14, Henrietta Delong was a master goldsmith and silversmith, and later an inventor of machinery and fine metal working tools as well as a brilliant design architect. Henriette Delong lived and worked in France and rivaled her male contemporaries, who respected and adored her. She fought against terrible odds both domestically and professionally and at a time when women were considered little more than chattel with no civil rights to speak of; at a time when it was thought that the female could be of little use, except to keep the home fires burning and to attend to the needs of her husband and children. In the 19th century, it was a sacrilege to consider females as a potential force in business – an empire reserved for men only.

To provide a glimpse into female life in the late 19th century (not so long ago really), below are a couple of quotes from two real life stories published in 1882, from England and America respectively. Note that these pieces were published in the year that the article profiling Henriette Delong was published. It is incredible to think that not so long ago, a wife and her money were considered possessions of her husband; that a husband was actually permitted to beat and brutalize his wife and appropriate the earnings of his wife; to do with the funds as he pleased – including his wife’s earnings from visual art and literary works as set forth below:

ENGLAND

“Justice to Women: The English Parliament at its last session passed a Married Woman’s Property Bill, which puts English wives on an equality with their most favored sisters in other countries. England was famous in past times for the cruelty of its law respecting married women. The wife and her property were, under the common law, a part of the husband’s possessions. The latter could do anything with the money which belonged originally to the wife. A very recent case is that of Mrs. Hamilton Dunbar Tennent, a Scotch lady, who at the time of her marriage had an unencumbered income of $20,000 per annum. Of this she spent less than $8,000, using the rest of her income to advance religious and charitable objects. She appealed to the courts to protect her property from her husband, who was squandering in all manner of sinful indulgences; but she had no redress at law. When she married without a settlement, her property became her husband’s to do with it as he pleased.

Another scandalous case was that of Viscount Combermere, whose wife had settled upon him $110,000 a year [an ENORMOUS fortune for the times]. The noble sneak and rascal eloped with a Mrs. Poole, and lavished upon her the income derived from his wife’s estates, and there was no legal redress.

It may be remembered that Mrs. [Caroline] Norton [an Irish Writer and Campaigner for Women’s Legal Rights], the novelist and poet, had a husband, who was mean enough to confiscate the money she had received for her literary work. Happily this wickedness has been ended forever. A woman’s property is hereafter to be her own, single or married, but of course she can be sued and forced to maintain her children, and even her husband if he cannot take care of himself; in sort, she has now the same rights and responsibilities as the man, in addition to the pains and risks and responsibilities of motherhood, which are peculiarly her own. Norton, Caroline (1808-77). Author and reformer.

Caroline married the Hon. George Norton at the age of 19 in 1827. George was a surly, mean and nasty bully, who brought an action in 1836 for criminal conduct (adultery) against Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, which was laughed out of court and formed the basis for Dickens’s Bardell v. Pickwick. Norton continued his brutality, preventing Caroline access to her children and tried to seize her literary earnings. In her defense, Caroline Norton published, claiming the rights of mothers to custody and of wives to independent property. The Custody of Infants Act of 1839 gave the courts discretion to award custody of children up to the age of seven to their mothers. The right of wives to independent property was introduced by successive Married Women’s Property Acts in 1870, 1882, and 1893. Though Mrs. Norton’s literary reputation has faded, her position as a pioneer of women’s rights is secure.”

Here is another report from the same year.

NEW YORK AND OHIO

“The Rights of Wives.

It seems that under our laws, as interpreted in the States of New York and Ohio, husbands still have the right to beat their wives. A certain Mr. Schultz assaulted Mrs. Schultz. She claimed damages for a certain amount. A verdict was given in her favor; whereupon the case was sent to the Court of Appeals, and it was decided that the court below was wrong, and that under the common law a husband has the right to punish his spouse by blows or otherwise, provided it is done judiciously; in other words, he must not use undue violence. When the case came before him in a lower court, Judge Davis said that the wife’s tongue often inflicted more cruel wounds than could the husband’s fist or stick. In the Ohio case, the judge decided that the laws giving women their rights of property in no way change their relation to their husbands from a conjugal point of view….”

The stories above are only two examples of the many, many published abuses women were faced with in the 19th century through and including the present day. With this historical perspective in mind, it can now be more easily understood that female artists like Henriette Delong, who lived and worked during the 19th century were rarely, if ever, truly and properly recognized for their artistic accomplishments and achievements.

Like many others, Henriette Delong has been relegated to the dustbin of art history. However, with this article, we hope to resurrect the spirit and the genius of Henriette Delong as well as her talent, her memory, and her contribution to art history.

In 1882, Henriette Delong was credited by her male counterparts as being the “originator of a new art industry” and especially in the areas of jewelry and architecture. How many female artists in history have earned this designation and from some of the most well respected architects in French history? How many female artists in today’s art world can be considered as having contributed anything “new” or “innovative?”

The following edited article was originally published in the “Englishwoman’s Review” in the year 1882. At the time it was published, Henriette Delong was 39 years of age and had already lived what probably seemed to her to be two lifetimes.

“Madame Henriette Delong – December 15, 1882

Notes from official French documents reference the following for Henrietta Delong: Inventor of machines, tools and operations for cutting all hard metals mechanically by saws. Originator of a new art-industry, especially applied in architecture, by S. Orth.

“Are Women Inventors?” was the heading of a paper in the October number of the ENGLISHWOMAN’S REVIEW, 1882, which has induced the collector of these notes to direct the attention of English readers to a very remarkable, ingenious, and courageous woman inventor.

According to the official testimony of various French commissioners, and many eminent French architects, such as Messieurs Eugene Viollet Le Duc, Lalande, Due, Hector-Martin Lefuel and others, Henriette Delong originated a new art-industry, which finds extensive application in the decorations of buildings, of furniture, windows, doors, and in a large number of products known as “Articles de Paris;” and the various inventions of this lady have been patented in France, England and other countries. The products of this Art-industry were first exhibited in the International Exhibition of Paris in 1867(1) (L’Exposition Universelle, Paris 1864), when Madame Delong received a silver and bronze medal.”

 

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