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Parker [née Lane], (Mary) Rozsika [Rosie]free

(1945–2010)
  • Griselda Pollock

Parker [née Lane], (Mary) Rozsika [Rosie] (1945–2010), art historian and psychotherapist, was born on 27 December 1945 at 27 Welbeck Street, Marylebone, London, the eldest child in the family of two daughters and one son of George Lane, born Dyuri Lányi (1915–2010), journalist, army officer, and stockbroker, and his wife, Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild (1908–2005), entomologist. She also had three adopted siblings (two sisters and one brother). She was given her middle name after her politically active philanthropist grandmother, Rózsika Rothschild née von Wertheimstein, a talented tennis player who represented Hungary internationally. Of Rózsika Rothschild's four children the eldest, Miriam Rothschild (Rosie's mother), became a world-renowned scientist, following in her father's footsteps as an entomologist. The younger daughter (Rosie's aunt), Kathleen Pannonica, Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter (1913–1988), became renowned for her support of American jazz and its musicians including Theolonius Monk and Charlie Parker. Rosie's father was also from Hungary. An Olympic swimmer and water polo player, he initially became a journalist, moved to Britain in 1935, joined the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War (being awarded the MC and narrowly avoiding being shot when captured on a mission to occupied France), and later worked as a stockbroker and financier. He and Rosie's mother were married in 1943 but separated in 1954 and divorced in 1957.

Rosie Lane grew up near Oxford and attended Wychwood School. In 1966 she enrolled at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, before completing her BA degree in the history of art with honours in 1969. On 17 December 1970 she married an American engineer five years her senior, Kim Howard Parker, son of Clinton Howard Parker, chemist. Following their divorce she had two children, Joel (b. 1986) and Lydia (b. 1987), with the social theorist and psychotherapist Andrew Samuels. She formed lifelong friendships with many women who provided support throughout her life.

In 1972, deeply engaged with the emergent women's liberation movement, Rosie Parker joined the newly founded feminist magazine, Spare Rib and effectively initiated feminist art writing in Britain with a series of probing, psychologically attuned interviews with artists, trenchant reviews of exhibitions, and special features on individual women artists and on topics such as feminism and anti-Semitism, anorexia, the prison system, art censorship, body image, psychotherapy, and embroidery. While at Spare Rib she wrote seventy-nine pieces between 1972 and 1982. In 1973 she founded the Feminist Art History Collective with Griselda Pollock, Anthea Callen, Pat Kahn, and Alena Strassberg. Later members included Lisa Tickner. The collective researched women artists, analysed critical stereotyping, and studied the specific forms and effects of representations of and by women, historically and contemporaneously. They also took their research out to art schools and adult education, initiating an egalitarian sharing of the presentations. When the collective ended, Parker collaborated with Pollock on three texts that constituted their key intervention in art history: Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology (written in 1978–9, published in 1981, and relaunched in 2013); an introduction to the Virago reprint of The Journals of Marie Bashkirtseff (1984), a nineteenth-century Russian artist and diarist; and Framing Feminism: Art and the Women's Movement (1987), a history of the impact of feminism on art in Britain, made possible through Parker's archiving of many of the key original documents. In 1984 Parker published a landmark work on the cultural history of embroidery and gender, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, which influenced a number of major exhibitions of textile arts and encouraged an interdisciplinary model for feminist studies across literature, theology, and the visual arts in all media that radically displaced the sexist hierarchy between arts and crafts. Displaying enormous erudition from medieval to contemporary periods, Parker showed how gendered concepts shifted over time, culminating in an ideological identification of a silenced and submissive femininity with needlework, itself dethroned from its former, medieval ecclesiastical glory, reputed internationally for aesthetic inventiveness and semantic complexity as the ‘art of the English’. Through this and her other works, Parker was recognized as one of the founders and major elaborators of feminist studies in the visual arts in Britain.

Always a more confident writer than public speaker, Rosie Parker did not become an academic, however, at this point. In 1982, entering formally the theoretical and practical field that gave her artistic and cultural criticism its unique edge, psychoanalysis, she began psychoanalytical psychotherapeutic training at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation, London, which she eventually joined as a member of staff in 2000. She combined her commitment to psychotherapy and a socially activist feminism through her work between 1993 and 2002 at the Mayo Centre in Islington, which offered free psychodynamic counselling to women on low incomes. From this second career, Parker published a series of influential papers on femininity and creativity, on issues of body dysmorphia, and above all on maternal subjectivity. In Torn in Two: the Experience of Maternal Ambivalence (1995) she daringly argued that only by mothers owning up to and confronting their own contradictory feelings of both love and hate for their children could they become the ‘good’ mothers children need in order to manage their own complex feelings. At her death she left a near-complete manuscript entitled 'Critical Looks: Body Image', a study of the sources, effects, and ravages of body dysmorphia, an issue that had long preoccupied both her feminist art historical and psychoanalytical research and her deeply compassionate work with clients. Late reflections on maternal subjectivity, 'Shame and Maternal Ambivalence', appeared posthumously in The Maternal Lineage: Identification, Desire, and Transgenerational Images, edited by Paola Mariotti (2012). In the last years before her death, she was an honorary research fellow in the department of psychosocial studies at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Rosie Parker had many other interests. After completing an MA in creative writing at Middlesex University, for which she was awarded a distinction in 2002, she wrote two as yet unpublished novels, 'Jemima Creed' and 'Mrs Pankhurst's Thief', as well as 'Connective Tissues', a collection of short stories. She participated in writers' groups for many years, providing telling and astute support to fellow members of these groups. A keen gardener, she wrote an informative but also psychoanalytically reflective as well as humorously self-aware book about horticultural life, The Anxious Gardener (2006). An essay, 'Unnatural History: Women, Gardening, and Femininity' (published in Vista: the Culture and Politics of Gardens, edited by Noel Kingsbury and Tim Richardson, 2005), carried the consistent threads of her personal interests and their cultural formations into this important field of women's creativity and pleasure.

Rosie Parker was a woman of kindness, wit, and grace. She was a committed reader of women's literature, notably from the nineteenth century, making many rediscoveries in the stacks of the London Library long before the women's presses began to republish an almost vanished literature by women. She also loved cats. Her exquisite personal taste was widely admired and her own beauty and that of her successive home environments reflected a deep sense of aesthetics. She was known also for her brilliant, often funny, and always probing conversation. She was a talented sportswoman in the tradition of both her maternal grandmother and her father, being especially keen on swimming and skiing. She loved the countryside, living between London and a small cottage near her mother's house in Ashton, Northamptonshire. She was, sadly for her friends and family, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2010, and died at St John's Hospice, Westminster, on 5 November 2010. She was survived by her two children. On 14 December 2010 an evening of commemoration was held in London, and on 10 December 2011 a day ‘Celebrating Rozsika Parker’ at Birkbeck College brought together over 300 people to traverse the range of her achievements and contributions, while revealing the personal impact she had on those with whom she worked.

Sources

Likenesses

  • obituary photographs

Wealth at Death

£15,973,750: probate, 30 Dec 2011, CGPLA Eng. & Wales