|Self Portrait Violet Manners, Duchess of Rutland|
|Photograph of Violet Manners|
Violet had shown talent from a very early age and her father had sought the advice of Burne-Jones as to which art school she should be sent. Burne-Jones advised against formal training and instructed that young Violet should be placed in front of a mirror to draw herself until she got it right, that was all the instruction she required. Although this sounds quite mad, Violet's talent is all too obvious in her portraits of her friends, and so possibly Ned knew what he was talking about. It is perhaps unsurprising that the group seems to have felt quite a close affinity with Burne-Jones, both in their style and in their preference of art. Not only did Violet's family know Burne-Jones, but another leading light in the Souls, Lady Horner, formerly Frances Graham, was a beloved model of the artist.
|Frances Graham Edward Burne Jones|
|Photograph of Frances, Lady Horner|
Her friendship with the adoring artist stood Frances in good stead. The Horner family were not out in Society and so her chances of marrying well were reduced, but because of the connection to Burne-Jones, as well as her own talents and charms, Frances married Sir John Horner, a suave, good-humoured man without any artistic aspirations. He gave her the position to become part of the art establishment in her own right, which she took full advantage of.
Frances and John Horner had two children, Edward and Katherine. Edward, lover of Violet Manner's daughter Diana (later Lady Diana Cooper) died in the Great War, as did Katherine's husband Raymond Asquith (and a horrifying number of the Souls' sons). Raymond Asquith was the son of the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and step-son of his wife, Margot Tennant. Margot was another leading Soul, rather the Alexa Chung of the outfit, having an unusually strong taste for fashion and popular culture. Keeping up? Good.
|Margot Asquith, nee Tennant, as an oriental snake charmer. As you do.|
Margot was one of an entire orchestra of children of Sir Charles Tennant, who was married twice and had sixteen children. Her sisters married Lord Ribblesworth (Charlotte), Alfred Lyttelton (Laura) and Thomas Graham Smith (Lucy), among others. After marrying Lyttelton, a Soul, Laura gave birth to a son, but died, just a year into her marriage. A beautiful young woman, apparently one of the young beauties tripping down Burne-Jones' Golden Stairs, she was remembered by this famous, gorgeous memorial, again designed by Burne-Jones (he knew everyone)...
Okay, following me so far? Margot Asquith wasn't the only Soul with Prime Minsterial connections. The man who could possibly be named the 'leading Soul', Arthur James Balfour was PM from 1902-1906.
Known as 'King Arthur' due to his position in the Group, he was romantically linked to a number of the members, but it was rumoured that his heart had been broken by the death of May Lyttelton, sister of Alfred.
Possibly the best known of the group has to be Lord Curzon, later Viceroy of India. He gave extravagant dinner parties where the group could meet and be seen. It was during these parties that the group was named: Lord Curzon wrote a rhyme for his guests involving the lines 'Souls sparkled and spirits expanded', and also Lord Charles Beresford remarked "You all sit and talk about each others' souls — I shall call you the 'Souls'".
|Ethel 'Ettie' Grenfell|
Oh deary me, Henry Cust...
|Harry Cust Violet Manners|
|Harry Cust. Sigh and Swoon.|
Harry Cust is possibly a very good reason why I shouldn't be allowed a time machine. He was swoony handsome and wasn't too fussy who he fell into bed with, fathering many illegitimate children, including Violet Manners daughter, Diana. His rather slutty behaviour finally caught up with him when he was marched to the alter with the allegedly pregnant Nina Welby-Gregory.
|Nina Cust Violet Manners|
Heavens, who have I got left? Well, there are the Wyndhams, the daughters all married well and glamorously, like so...
|The Wyndham Sisters (1900) John Singer Sargent|
The Great War.
When the Souls all married in the latter years of the nineteenth century they produced a generation of sons just the right age to be slaughtered in France. Yesterday in Salisbury Cathedral, I saw a plaque to Edward Wyndham Tennant, nephew of Margot Asquith, who died, aged 19, at the Battle of the Somme. So many of that generation were wiped out that the daughters of the Souls found themselves either widowed or without their fiances by 1918. Diana Manners married Duff Cooper, seen as unsuitable by many of her friends, but the last of her admirers left alive. She fared better than her sister Letty who married the far more suitable son of Lord Elcho, Hugo Charteris, only for him to die during the war, along with his brother. In the back of a rather marvellous book on the Souls by Jane Abdy and Charlotte Gere, there is a circular diagram of how everyone is inter-related. The outer ring, with its many crosses, symbols of death in action, makes sombre reading.
This is definitely a subject I wish to return to and in the meantime, have a look at the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition (on until August) and drool over the beautiful portraits by Violet Manners, for sale on the Russell-Cotes art on demand site.
I'm guessing I'm not allowed to buy a big picture of Harry Cust...well, not to hang in the bedroom, anyway...