Watercolour of a woman playing croquet

This 1869 painting depicts a woman playing croquet, wearing a light purple dress and a feathered chapeau. Croquet originated in Ireland and became a common garden party activity for Victorian men and women in the 1860s and 70s. Cartriona Parratt writes in “Academic ‘Womanhood’” that “croquet and archery were particularly suitable for women, given that they required no gross physical action,” but stresses that “both activities demanded a high degree of fine motor skill and hand-eye co-ordination” (150).

Dave Day writes in “Swimming Natationists,” that women were discouraged from playing team sports to avoid developing masculine character traits. Thus, croquet permitted women to compete in public, albeit in a “passive” and aesthetically pleasing activity.

Beeton’s from 1865 advises women to wear “some pretty cheerful-tone costume, with an absence of trains or other encumbrances” while playing croquet (687). The woman’s hat may feature an ostrich feather, which became a popular symbol of wealth before excessive trading allowed the accessory to become an affordable adornment for the lower classes.


Edouard Manet, The Croquet Party, 1871, oil on canvas, 18 x 28¾ in, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.