Monday, 23 October 2017

Mary Hodgkinson, Super-Model

I have a confession to make.  In my last two talks about 'Pre-Raphaelite Women', I managed to miss someone out.  This is a shocking oversight on my behalf but I put it down to the fact that she was one of Millais' models and I always get a bit nervous about talking about Effie Millais and stay away from him, on the whole.  Anyway, I shall put that right immediately in this little post, which is all about that world-famous Victorian super-model Mary Hodgkinson...

Mary Hodgkinson (1843) John Everett Millais
Okay, I might be over-hyping her a little, but I do feel guilty about missing her out and you are bound to recognise her when I show you where she crops up.  Anyway, firstly, a little background - Once upon a time in Somerset, there was a man called Henry Coward.  He was originally from Hampshire (a couple of counties over on the south coast of England) and so when his first wife died, he seems to have moved back east and married a woman called Ann Evamy, in a small village called Nursling, just outside Southampton.  Nowadays of course, Nursling village is not 'just outside Southampton', it's pretty much part of the massive sprawl of the city which is really rather wide, from the New Forest on one side to tapping on the door of Portsmouth on the other.  

Southampton in the 19th century
Henry and Ann Coward were in charge of the Baths and Long Rooms in Southampton.  The Long Rooms were apparently quite the place to be seen in Regency Southampton, and there were some charming rules that had to be followed: Gentlemen had to leave their swords at the door, no boots are to be worn on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday evenings, and dancing in coloured gloves is strictly prohibited! Sensible stuff, I'm sure you will agree.  When Henry moved to Southampton, he brought with him the only child from his first marriage, Mary Ann.

Meanwhile, Ann Evamy Coward's sister Mary had done even better for herself.  Keep up as it gets a bit tangle-y here: Mary Evamy married a very respectable Southampton draper, Enoch Hodgkinson, and they had a daughter who only lived a matter of days, but then two sons, Clement, an engineer who worked all over the world and had a 40 year celebrated career in surveying and engineering, and Henry, a rather less exciting Chemist, who set up his own business in Kensington.  Much like Henry Coward, Mary Evamy married twice and after Enoch died in 1820 (a month before his last son was born), Mary did the thing young, somewhat wealthy widows are apt to do - she married a musician from Jersey...

John William Millais (in fancy dress) (1870)
Mary and her new husband, John William Millais set up home in a brand new development, Portland Street in Southampton, which had been created by Mary and Ann's father, Richard Evamy.  Mary and John Millais had five children, two of whom died in infancy and so the couple lived with the three surviving children and her two sons from her first marriage.  By all accounts all the step siblings were close, and Henry, the Chemist got on very well with the baby of the family, John Everett Millais...

Self Portrait (1847) John Everett Millais
Now we're getting somewhere!  Righty-ho, so Henry the Chemist married his sort-of-step-cousin, Mary Ann Coward, which must have been a bit awkward at family Christmases until everyone worked out they weren't blood relatives, so it's all fine.  As we all know, when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood started painting they used friends and family as their models and Millais wasn't any different.  As you can see at the beginning of this post, Millais drew his step-brother's fiancee just before their marriage and when he was looking for models for the modest Isabella, he didn't have to look very far...

Isabella (1849)
There, on the right of the picture, being handed a deeply symbolic orange (the best sort of orange) is Millais' step-cousin-sister-in-law, Mary.  By the way, that's what the average family dinner in Southampton looks like, in case you were wondering.

Detail of the sketch of Isabella
It also struck me that Millais made Isabelle a very quiet figure, filled with small gestures of empathy and kindness, as opposed to her chair-swinging, nut-cracking mentalist of a brother, opposite her. Both Isabella and her brother are doing the same things - they are both having contact with the dog and eating, and the brother's haphazard violence (I don't like the chances of the dog under his chair) and excessive movement are the opposite of her self-contained gentleness.  It's interesting to see the changes in the figure of Isabella from the sketch to the oil painting - instead of two thin plaits, Millais has given her one, bound rope of hair which gives an impression of how restrained and contained the girl is but also speaks of strength.  She might be gentle but she is indeed strong.

Christ in the House of his Parents (1850)
It seems unsurprising then that John Everett Millais would call upon his step-cousin-sister-in-law again when looking for a model for another stoical, gentle woman, the Virgin Mary, in his all-new canvas, Christ in the House of his Parents.  She obviously had a face that could express the foreshadowing of a massive tragedy.

Mary Millias (Millais' Mum) (1869) William Millais

It is said that the face of the Virgin is actually Millais' mother, Mary, and she does seem to have the same pained expression in the painting of her from 1869, but the figure is generally acknowledge to be that of Mary Hodgkinson.  I wonder how she took the delightful commentary by Dickens...? And I quote from 'Household Words' June 1850:

"...a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a nightgown, 
who appears to have received a poke playing in an adjacent gutter, 
and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, 
so horrible in her ugliness that (supposing it were possible for any human 
creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out 
from the rest of the company as a monster in the vilest cabaret in France 
or in the lowest gin-shop in England."

I've been called some things in my time but ugly-gin-shop-freak is quite an insult.  Oddly enough, I don't think Mary bothered modelling for her step-cousin-brother-in-law again, living a fairly long and comfortable life in Kensington, dying aged 79 with a probate of £13,000, which is not bad at all.  One rather interesting things I read as a footnote to Mary's story was in the newspaper in 1923.  Mrs George Wright, was interviewed by the papers about her time as cook for Mr Henry Hodgkinson, Chemist, of Lower Phillimore Gardens, Kensington.  After the gin-shop-freak business, Millais and Dickens actually became friends, and when John Millais went round to his step-brother's for dinner, he took his new bestie, Charlie Dickens with him.  Mrs Wright remembered cooking for the novelist - "I used to cook him a perfectly plain dinner - just soup, fish, generally a chicken, and sweets." (The Courier, 26 December 1923).

I hope Mary sneezed on his pudding.

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