Happy International Women’s Day! It’s also National Pie Week, so I feel I should be baking some sort of celebratory pie because I’m a woman, but instead I’m typing my blog, but now I’m also thinking about pie. Damn it. Anyway, because it is International Women’s Day, I thought I should talk about a woman who was an artist. Thanks to research and rediscovery I have rather a broad sweep to choose from, especially from our lovely Victorian ladies. Of late I have been thinking about George Price Boyce rather a lot, so my thoughts turned to his sister Joanna Mary Boyce….
|Portrait Bust of Joanna Boyce (1862) J H Foley|
George and Joanna had one thing in common – their love of art. Whereas George’s progress into the world of art seemed quite smooth, as you would expect, Joanna’s story is one of fits and starts. She attended art college from the age of 18, but her education was interrupted first by a serious illness of her big brother, when she nursed George back to health, then by the death of her father. Finally, at the age of 23, she attended the Government School of Design, where she met other female artists such as Anna Mary Howitt and Jane Benham Hay. This was also the time that her brother fell in with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who Joanna got to know through him. Her first exhibited work was Elgiva at the
in 1855…. Royal Academy
Her first exhibited picture was such a success, she was encouraged to travel to
to study, and while there she was asked to review the Exposition Universelle Salon for the Saturday Review and subsequently the 1856 Paris exhibition, which was a unique opportunity for a woman. She married Henry Wells in 1857, and toured Royal Academy with him that year, which resulted in The Child’s Crusade… Italy
|The Child’s Crusade: The Departure (1860)|
|Peep Bo! (1861)|
|Portrait of Sidney Wells (1859)|
A further ‘child portrait’ Joanna produced was the utterly gorgeous Bird of God…
|Bird of God (1861)|
I think the most famous of Joanna’s work has to be a preparatory work executed in the last year of her life of a model called Fanny Eaton…
|Head of Mrs Eaton (1861)|
|The little boy in the front knew there would be trouble after Keomi the Gypsy blocked Fanny Eaton in the picture…|
There is no narrative reflex in Joanna’s picture of Fanny Eaton, it’s just a portrait, where the sitter has dignity and grace. It’s unsurprising that this is such a well-known piece as, in a quiet way, it challenges the idea that Victorian England was a white-washed landscape full of xenophobic mentalists. See, not everyone was xenophobic…
While her brother was primarily known as a landscape painter, Joanna also executed this rather lovely image of the
Isle of Wight…
I would like to campaign to get the Isle of Wight changed to ‘The Isle of Victorian Splendidness’ as that’s what it says to me. I love going to Ryde, although Mr Walker has never fully trusted me since I told him that the Beatles’ song ‘Ticket to Ride’ is about a trip to the
Isle of Wight, and in a more trusting moment he believed me. He hadn’t known me long at the time and he has since learnt that lesson. Anyway, I look forward to an annual visit to the Island, and visiting Osborne House, Dimbola Lodge and generally running around cliff-top paths in a corset. You know, the usual.
The final, unfinished picture that Joanna was working on at the time of her death was Gretchen
Taken from Goethe’s Faust, Gretchen (or Margaret) is an innocent girl seduced and destroyed by Faust. Joanna’s picture is of Gretchen singing as she braids her hair after being accosted by Faust in the street. The model was the German nurse who was looking after the artist's children while Joanna was pregnant with her third child, and she subsequently died after giving birth in the summer of 1861. She was 29 years old and her work was gaining confidence and momentum. The plans she left for further works seem to specialise in full length female subjects like the beautiful Gretchen. I think it is heart-breaking that the small collection of works we have from her short career was further depleted by the Second World War bombing of
. A number of works still reside in private collections and I would love to see them displayed in a retrospective. For a decent showing of her work, take a look at the indispensible Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists catalogue by Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn. Bath
That’s my tribute to World Woman’s Day. Now, about National Pie Week….