Portraits, drawings and books that belonged to the first woman to build a career as a travel writer will come to Chawton House.

Maria Graham published journal accounts and letters of her residences in India, Rome, Chile and Brazil, and became further known for her art histories and popular histories for children. 

Her writings catered to the Enlightenment-era interest in non-European cultures and places, but were led by her distinct point of view as a woman, highlighting the oppressive treatment of women abroad, and the horrors of enslavement. 

Unlike other female travel writers, she combined written and visual accounts of her travels. Many of the engravings in her publications were based on her own drawings, made in situ, of landscape, wildlife and ecology, individual peoples and specific events. 

Highlights of the Maria Graham Collection include portraits of Maria and her husband, Thomas, that have remained in family possession. They have been on loan to Chawton House for public display for the last decade.

Basingstoke Gazette: Maria and Thomas Graham in Rome - 1819

The collection was assessed by an expert panel and classified as pre-eminent, through its strong association with British history and national life; its artistic value and art historical interest; and its importance for the study of travel writing, anthropology, and early women’s writing. 

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Katie Childs, chief executive at Chawton House, said: “It is an enormous privilege to have this very important collection assigned to Chawton House, and we are grateful to the Graham family and Arts Council England that these rare works are now in a public collection allowing us to tell the story of the remarkable Maria Graham and ensure she receives the attention her pioneering writing and illustration deserves. This is a wonderful way to mark the end of the 20th anniversary of the opening of Chawton House to the public for the first time.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Chile - Street of San Domingo Santiago De Chile 1822

Emma Yandle, curator, said: “The Maria Graham Collection is a fantastic addition to our collections. The panel’s decision to allocate the collection to Chawton House – where it has previously been on long-term loan – is a real show of faith in our transformation from research institution to an historic house that displays and interprets women’s literary history. Following on from the success of our 2022 exhibition on women travel writers, Trailblazers, we are excited to encourage research, particularly into the original drawings by Graham, as well as to create thoughtful programming that frankly examines the role of travel writing in upholding and promoting colonial ideas, and the often vexed role played by women in the abolitionist movement.” 

The portrait of Maria Graham is currently on display in Chawton House’s major exhibition Treasures of Chawton Housen, running until April 28.