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Lady Filmer was among a number of aristocratic Victorian women who produced new images and meanings by cutting up photographs and pasting them into elaborate watercolor scenes. Born Mary Georgiana Caroline Hill and untitled, Lady Filmer grew up in political circles and actively participated in London society. In 1858, she married Sir Edmund Filmer, 9th Baronet of East Sutton Park, Kent. Because of their low aristocratic rank, Lady Filmer used her looks and acknowledged cleverness to advance herself and her husband in London society, throwing festive dinner parties, helping to organize musical soirées, and arranging country-house parties at the couple’s estates in Kent and the Highlands.
Through her photocollages, Lady Filmer demonstrated her considerable skills and wit and showed that she possessed the appropriate attributes for a society woman. Her assemblages both reflect and constitute her efforts in climbing the social ladder, as they often served as commentary on or critique of people in her circle.
In 2018, the Art Institute acquired Lady Filmer’s best-known photocollage, a depiction of herself in her drawing room, surrounded by artfully arranged guests and furnishings. The collage, titled Lady Filmer in Her Drawing Room, was first featured in the museum’s 2009 exhibition Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage.
Although Lady Filmer may not have been considered an artist in her lifetime, today we recognize the contributions of women like her whose skill and inventiveness—while displayed privately in the domestic sphere instead of publicly on the walls of salons and museums—helped create new forms and meanings for visual expression.