Jameson, Anna Brownell (1794–1860), writer, feminist, and art historian, the eldest of five daughters of the miniature painter Denis Brownell Murphy (qv) and his English wife, was born 19 May 1794 at the family home on College Green, Dublin. In 1798 she was taken to England, where her father moved to pursue his career, and lived in Whitehaven in Cumberland, Newcastle upon Tyne, and later London, before beginning a lengthy career as a governess in 1810. In this capacity in 1821–2 she made the first of many trips to the continent, which inspired her earliest known published work, a poem, ‘Farewell to Italy’, which appeared in the London Magazine (November 1822). Her marriage to the London-based barrister Robert Sympson Jameson in 1825 proved unhappy and resulted in a separation in 1829; they had no children. She had by this stage made an impression as a writer with A lady's diary (1825, republished 1826 as Diary of an ennuyée), a semi-fictionalised travelogue, which draws heavily on her own experiences of Italy. This was followed by several works on celebrated women, aimed at female readers, the best-known being her acclaimed study of Shakespeare's heroines entitled Characteristics of women (1832).
Jameson was an enthusiastic traveller, particularly in Germany, where she befriended Ottilie von Goethe, a niece of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1833 she was briefly reconciled with her husband, who had been appointed attorney general of Upper Canada, and in October 1836 she sailed for Canada to assist him in his (successful) efforts to be appointed vice-chancellor of the chancery court. Her protracted stay there resulted in the well-received Winter studies and summer rambles in Canada (1838), which told of her adventurous two-month journey by canoe and bateau to Lakes Erie, Huron, and Simcoe, and vividly described the beauties of Canada; it included several of her own illustrations. Turning to art history and criticism, from 1842 she produced several volumes on art and was a regular contributor to The Athenaeum, Art Journal, Monthly Chronicle, and Penny Journal. One of the earliest female art historians, she became a significant arbiter of taste in both Britain and America.
Her long experience as the primary breadwinner of her family – her father's fortunes declined and she helped to support several of her sisters – led Jameson to focus, during her later career as both a public speaker and writer, on social issues, particularly the legal and educational position of women. The publication of her lectures Sisters of Charity (1855) and The communion of labour (1856) were influential, particularly among the group of young feminists who gravitated towards her. Her circle also included Fanny Kemble, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brownings, Harriet Martineau, and Lady Augusta Byron (though she became estranged from Lady Augusta in 1852). In 1848 she published the first two volumes of what became a five-volume series, Sacred and legendary art; this was perhaps her most enduring legacy, the third volume in the series (Legends of the Madonna as represented in the fine arts) being reprinted in Detroit as late as 1972. Despite her many years outside Ireland, she always maintained a keen interest in the country, and returned in 1847, when she stayed with Maria Edgeworth (qv), and in 1853, when she attended the opening of the Irish Exhibition. Her many years of financial worries were partly alleviated by a civil-list pension (awarded 1851), and an annuity of £100 which was purchased by her friends in 1855 after her husband failed to mention her in his will. At the time of her death in London on 17 March 1860 she was working on The history of our Lord as exemplified in works of art. It was completed by her friend Lady Eastlake and published in 1864. Her portrait was painted by her father as a sixteen-year-old, and by H. R. Briggs RA in 1835.