Sunday, 6 November 2016

At the Heart of the Souls

This autumn I was asked to curate a small exhibition at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth.  As some of you will know, the Russell-Cotes were given a collection of drawings by the Duchess of Rutland, Violet Manners, and I had been helping with some research, so when I was asked if I could think of a subject for an exhibition, I immediately asked if I could choose some of the absolutely beautiful drawings.  Any excuse to see Harry Cust...

Henry Cust (1861-1917) 
Oh Harry, I really need a big picture of you in my office to cheer me up when things get gloomy.  Anyway, apparently you can't have just one picture and call it an exhibition, so I picked another seven and they are now displayed in the Morning Room at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery on the East Cliff overlooking the sea.

Violet Manners' self portrait
When Colonel Charles Lindsay noticed his 5 years old daughter, Violet, was a promising artist, he approached Burne-Jones to ask for drawing lessons.  Burne-Jones recommended that the child be made to draw her own reflection over and over until she improved as that was all the teaching she needed.  Either he couldn't be bothered with a precocious child or he was a genius, but Burne-Jones was right and the portraits Violet produced of her friends and family are utterly beautiful gems of detail and expression.  Not only that but her friends turned out to be some of the most important people of the later Victorian period...

Princess Henry of Battenberg (Princess Beatrice) (1857-1944)
From Prime Ministers, actresses, scandalous novelists and princesses, there are more than merely Lords and Ladies on show here.  I had many happy hours scouring the newspapers of the time finding gossip and intrigue about broken engagements and rigorous beauty regimes as well as political highs and lows of the people who moved in Violet's social circle.
The Hon. Neil Primrose (1882-1917)
I was touched by stories of loss, as many of Violet's social circle lost children in the First World War. Cherubic Neil Primrose is one of the young men who went to the First World War never to return, and the images of Kipling and Asquith show fathers who encouraged their sons to go only to be devastated by the inevitable result.

Amelia Rives (Princess Troubetzkoy) (1863-1945)
The Russell-Cotes have a lovely bit of history with the work of Violet Manners; she held a show there in the 1930s and they bought one of the images in their quite large collection from the artist then.  The rest come from a donation in the 1970s together with a lovely letter of authenticity from Diana Cooper, daughter of the artist and someone whose photograph is in the dictionary under 'Bright Young Thing'.  When I grow up I want to be as glam as Diana Cooper and send missives to people from my house in France.

The Earl of Oxford and Asquith (Herbert Asquith PM) (1852-1928)
If you want to read more about the people I have featured, I have written an article for the ArtUK website filled with scandal and delights.  If you fancy popping down to Bournemouth to see my exhibition, it's on from now until April 2017, alongside their Meeting Modernism exhibition which I'll review later in the week.  


  1. So interesting (I read the article on the ArtUK website as well). It's a pity her drawings are not more well known - in some ways she was a latter day GF Watt, painting the good and the great. Interesting that she was the mother of Lady Diana Cooper who was a great socialite of the 1930s (she makes a brief appearance in the mini-series "Edward and Mrs Simpson", played by Patricia Hodge). Any chance of the exhibition transferring to the National Portrait Gallery?

    1. Well, if there is anyone from the NPG reading this, I'm sure we are open to discussions. The Watts Gallery will be doing something on Violet Manners soon too as they have been given a wonderful portrait of her by Watts.

  2. Beautiful sensitive drawings.

  3. What a treat to see so many of Violet Manners' drawings collected in one place. She was a gifted portraitist. Don Bachardy's pencil sketch technique is similar. I think Diana Cooper stated for the record that Harry Cust was her natural father. I wonder who else from that generation could have made that claim. I'm probably going to have to keep wondering.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx