Saturday, 15 December 2018

Saturday 15th December: Annie Keene

Only ten days to Christmas and only nine Blogvents left and so let's crack on with our lady of the day and she will be a very familiar face to all Cameron fans...

Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
The model known simply as 'Mrs Keene' is the most striking of Julia Margaret Cameron's models with her angular face and direct gaze.  Not much was really known about her at the time, other than she was one of the few 'professional' models that Mrs Cameron ever employed, but the effect she had on the photographer's art was stunning.  When Mrs Cameron sent this photograph to her old friend Sir John Herschel (whose work on lenses had been instrumental in Cameron's interest in photography), he wrote back 'That head of the 'Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty' ... is really a most astonishing piece of high relief - she is absolutely alive and thrusting out her head from the paper into the air.'  She truly is an arresting woman, so who was Mrs Keene?

Cassiopoeia (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
Annie Edwards was born in the village of Albrighton in Shropshire, in the autumn of 1842.  Her parents, George and Mary, were rural-types, born and married within a few miles of where they settled, had kids and probably died.  George was a labourer, a bricklayer, and Annie was the eldest of the couples' five children, four daughters and, finally, one son.  It is possible Annie moved south with a family she went into service with.  In the 1861 census, there is a Shropshire family, the Langslows, who had moved to London between the 1851 census and the 1861 census and in their household staff is 19 year old Ann Edwards, also from Shropshire. Annie had been removed to the big city.

Mrs Keene (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
Charles Joseph Keene was an amateur artist and inventor from Bristol.  In 1862 he registered a patent for 'a winding apparatus for raising and lowering canvas from easels' and by the 1861 census he too had made his way to London, staying in lodgings in St Pancras and working as a manager of a fur warehouse.  Annie and Charles were married in the summer of 1865 and in the 1871 census, Annie Keene is listed as a 'model of the head'.  The couple's daughters, Marie Taigi, Laura, Jessie and Elizabeth (Bessie), were all to take their career tips from their mother. Taigi (1866-1938), named for a Catholic saint Maria Taigi, became an actress during the 1880s until her marriage.  She was on the stage with her husband, Henry Vibart.  Laura (1867-1955) modelled for James Whistler, marrying  Thomas Bagshawe and by 1911, John Bernard Bagshawe (future vicar) had been born.  Jessie (1872-1950) modelled for, then married, the artist William Wontner, and Bessie became one of Burne-Jones' favourite models.  Although Love Among the Ruins is thought to feature the features of Maria Zambaco, in the later oil version (now at Wightwick Manor), it is the lovely Bessie instead.

Love Among the Ruins (1894) Edward Burne-Jones
As much as I'd love to dig into the lives of her girls, I only have today and so I shall concentrate on Annie as we are not done yet.  Casually reading September 1904's The Strand (as you do), I was fascinated to read an article all about artist's models which opened some very interesting doors and featured our Mrs Keene quite extensively...

Group (Mrs Keene and May Prinsep) (1866-70) Julia Margaret Cameron
 The interesting thing about Annie Keene is normally when I research models I get excited when I find a photograph of them.  With Annie, it's the other way around and although I had read she had been a model for other painters, thanks to The Strand I found some rather nice paintings.

Study for A Hundred Years Ago (1871) William Quiller Orcharson
She is the beautiful woman gazing at a painting in A Hundred Years Ago (1871) and the woman on the beach in Flotsam and Jetsam...

Flotsam and Jetsam (1876) William Quiller Orchardson
She was a model for Louise Jopling, and Marie Spartali Stillman too (according to Angela Thirlwell's book Into the Frame) and probably posed for Saint Barbara

St Barbara (1870s) Marie Spartali Stillman
 It could have been that Stillman met Annie while posing for Mrs Cameron as both were models for Cameron at around the same time.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
Annie and Charles lived on at Maitland Park Villas in the St Pancras area of London.  Charles became an accountant to a debt collector, then they retired to Hampstead, at 12 Hill Park Gardens, where they are listed in the 1901 census.  However, on 6th November 1901, Annie died, aged 59.  She left £497 to Charles, and a wealth of art her beauty had inspired to the rest of us.

Mrs Keene (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
See you tomorrow.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Friday 14th December: Jane Hales

One of my favourite stories about Evelyn de Morgan is when her sister, Mrs Anna Stirling visited the Russell-Cotes at Gallery and saw their massive painting Aurora Triumphs by, er, Edward Burne-Jones...

Hang on a minute...
It had been bought as a Burne-Jones by the Russell-Cotes family, but as Mrs Pickering informed the rather startled curator, that was definitely her sister's work because the figure of Aurora was her nursemaid. Although Herbert Russell-Cotes had bought what he thought was a splendid Burne-Jones in 1922, what he had actually bought was one of de Morgan's finest paintings, recognised because of the unforgettable face of a nursemaid called Jane Hales.

Study of Jane Hales (1872-1887) Evelyn de Morgan
There's been a bit written about Miss Hales of late, or rather about her and Mrs de Morgan and possible readings of their relationship. For the record, I neither known nor care if Evelyn and Jane were in love or if Evelyn fancied Jane, because all that detracts from the fact that people can find other people aesthetically pleasing without it being about sex. We're not all Rossetti, you know.  Anyway, Jane appears so often and so strikingly in Evelyn's work, she is almost her touchstone, the constant in her artistic vision.  So, who was Jane Hales?

The Dryad (1884) Evelyn de Morgan
Mary Jane Hales was born in the summer of 1851 to John and Maria Hales of Leverington, Cambridgeshire.  Her father was an agricultural labourer and Jane was at school only as long as a child of that class was allowed before being sent off into the world of work. As it was, Jane's first job was the only one she would have and she dedicated herself to it whole heartedly.  At 15, in 1866, Jane joined the Pickering household as nurse to look after one year old Anna Maria Wilhelmina Pickering. Mr Pickering had apparently become so worried about child kidnappers that he insisted on a nurse-companion for each child to keep them safe.  His choice of Jane was apposite as she proved a loyal and dedicated companion to Anna and her sister.

Boreas and Oreithyia (1896) Evelyn de Morgan
She was initially paid £11 a year which rose to £16 after she took time away from the Pickerings to return home, possible to nurse a family member.  Her brother William died in 1873, but he was already married so it seems unlikely Jane would have been needed to care for him.  Looking at Jane's family tree, not many of her siblings make it to adulthood, seemingly only her sister Henrietta and Jane making a decent age, so it could have been there was a lot of illness in the family home.  Anyway, Jane returned to the Pickerings in 1871, where her pay was raised to £16 per year.  Jane's Uncle had also worked for the Pickerings which is possibly where the opportunity for Jane came from.  Evelyn Pickering (later de Morgan) was 11 when Jane came to work for them, and already a determined artist.  As her talent grew, her need for life models increased and Jane, described as 'pretty' in Anna Stirling's biography of her sister, was always to hand to be 'bullied or cajoled' (as Anna recorded in her biography) into posing.

Luna (1885) Evelyn de Morgan
Evelyn's mother had chronic back problems (which makes you wonder about Evelyn's later relationship with Jane Morris, another sufferer and only a little younger than Evelyn's mother) and so Jane became a close substitute for the little Pickering children as well as a companion for Evelyn.  She spent nine months abroad with the family at a spa in Germany as Mrs Pickering took a rest cure, and travelled over England with the children.

Lux in Tenebris (1895) Evelyn de Morgan
The classically proportioned and beautiful Jane enabled Evelyn to always have a model to hand and she inspired works of art from the young artist.  As Evelyn developed an interest in the spiritual side of life, I wonder if Jane's kind and caring nature and role within the family is what inspired the beauty of Evelyn's art.

Helen of Troy (1898) Evelyn de Morgan
Even when Anna married in 1901, Jane remained, a necessity to the family, a member of the family.  In 1911, she is still there, listed in Anna's home - Anna had become Mrs Stirling and pleasingly the head of the household as an author (Mr Stirling was a university lecturer) - and Jane had graduated from nursemaid to lady's maid to her 45 year old charge.  Jane died, aged 75, and was buried in the plot adjacent to Evelyn, who predeceased her by seven years.  Jane's inclusion in the Pickering/de Morgan/Stirling graves marks the closeness of the girls of the family and how Jane had dedicated herself to them.  Beyond whether or not Evelyn de Morgan was sexually attracted to her model, is the story of a woman who was valued in another family as being their own necessity and given a grave among them because they could not bear to be separated from her, even in death.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Thursday 13th December: Florence Beatrice Anson

As I talked about in Tuesday 4th December's post on Ruby Streatfeild, researching the peerage is a damn sight easier than some friendless seamstress, no offence to friendless seamstresses obviously.  Also as I mentioned with Ruby, she was related by marriage to today's lady, Lady Florence Beatrice Anson. 

Florence Beatrice Anson, c.1864
  Lady Florence Beatrice Anson came into the world on 12 August 1860, eldest daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, Thomas George Anson.  There were a great number of Anson children born between 1856 and 1877 at the family seat of Shugborough Hall...

Shugborough Hall, and very nice too
The Anson family split their time between their little place in Staffordshire (above) and the very well appointed Dover Street in London.  Of course, when in London, they moved in their society circles which included the family of 3rd Earl Somers.  He had married Virginia Pattle, so the inevitable happened...

Florence Anson (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
I read that Isabel Somers-Cocks, daughter of Earl Somers was very sheltered and not allowed much society with other children.  She appears to have gone infrequently out to events with Florence Anson and the pair are often listed together at royal occasions during the season.  Aged six, Florence and her brothers Claude and possibly Frederick or Henry posed for Mrs Cameron.  Cameron found Florence very inspirational and I have to admit for a child of six, little Florence seems far older with her large, soulful eyes and delicate face.  I wondered if the photographs were taken in London or Freshwater but the following seems to decide the matter...

Days at Freshwater (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
I'm taking this to be literally Freshwater, and the Anson children (Claude, aged 6, on the left, ten year old Florence and 13 year old George on the right) are the epitome of the elegant beauty of the place.  Cameron used Florence to represent nameless ideals of feminine beauty as the little girl grew towards teenagehood.

Florence Anson (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
She has a delightfully mournful expression, seemingly without trying, and her downcast, sad eyes manage to look innocent and haunted at the same time.  They are arguably the pinnacle of Cameron's child portraits, with ten year old Florence echoing the poses and expressions that May Prinsep or Mary Hillier would also perform.

Florence Anson (1868-9) Julia Margaret Cameron
As Florence grew older, she attended many society events, including attending court events which is probably how she ended up as bridesmaid to Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold when he married Princess Helena of Waldeck-Pyrmont in 1881.

Bridesmaid portrait, published in the commemorative Illustrated London News
Prince Leopold was the youngest son of Queen Victoria, and held very close by his protective mother due to his haemophilia, but despite the search to find him a bride that his mother approved of, he finally married a fellow royal from a European family, at Windsor Castle.  A royal portraitist was engaged to paint an image of the event...

The Marriage of the Duke of Albany 22nd April 1882 (1885) Sir James Dromgole
Florence is one of the beautiful girls in attendance, but the painting took a long time to complete, so long that sadly it became a memorial to the prince who died only two years into the marriage.  He slipped and fell while in Cannes for his health and hit his head.  He died of a cerebral haemorrhage the next day.

It's that moustache again!
Florence was married in August of 1885, having become engaged in February of the year before.  Her husband was Captain Henry Streatfeild, son of Colonel Streatfeild of Chiddingstone.  Ruby Streatfeild was one of her bridesmaids, being sister of the groom.  The wedding party contained most of the artistocrats of England with more Viscounts, Duchesses and Honorables than you could shake a stick at.  They went on honeymoon to Bowood House in Wiltshire, where my mate Lisa had her wedding reception and very nice it was too.  As Bowood House is the seat of the Marquis of Lansdowne, the couple obviously knew the family and there is a photo of Florence with the Marchioness of Lansdowne, who was her friend...

Marchioness of Lansdowne and Florence
Impossibly small waists aside, Florence had a pretty normal life, which I'm sure is a relief to all of you.  Her husband was a captain in the Grenadier Guards (which he had joined from Eton in 1876), moving all the way up the ranks until he became Colonel by 1911, when the couple are listed as living at Hoath House, Chiddingstone, Kent.  Their son, Henry Sidney John Streatfeild was born in Ottowa in 1886 while his father was working there.

Hoath House, and very nice too.
Henry kept getting honours, such as the Royal Victorian Order (member 4th class, 1902), Groom in waiting to the king, as well as being ADC to the Governor General of Canada, the Viceroy of India and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and saw active service in the Boer War.  In the First War World, Henry was taken out of retirement and became a staff officer for the duration. Before his death in 1938, he sold the family village of Chiddingstone to the National Trust, which seems about right.  His son, Henry, inherited the family wealth, but Florence, then in her 80s, was not doing so well.

Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water, Surrey
In the 1939 census, Florence is a patient at Holloway Sanatorium, a private mental hospital.  She died on 25 September 1946, and although the mentions of her last year are very discreet, her place of death is registered to 'Virginia Water' so it is possible that she was still at Holloway.

Florence was buried beside her husband in the family plot at Chiddingstone, not far from fellow artist's model and sister-in-law Ruby Colville (nee Streatfeild).  It's a small world, especially in the world of upper class Victorian ladies.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Wednesday 12th December - Beatrice Buckstone

Here we are, half way through Blogvent already!  Today's is a bit harrowing, so feel free to have a stiff drink handy.  It concerns cute little uber-poppet, Beatrice Buckstone...

Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen (1881) John Everett Millais
Alluding to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 'Catarina to Camoens' (but not Elton John's 'Your Song'), Millais' painting is of child actress Beatrice Buckstone, who was discovered by the artist's daughters one night at the theatre.  As (mis)remembered by John Guille Millais in his epic biography of his father, the relationship ran thus: 'About this time, to the great delight of Millais, a new and most charming model was discovered in the person of Miss Beatrice Buckstone, grand-daughter of the famous comedian J. B. Buckstone, and with the consent of her parents (for she was then but a child of 12 or 13) she sat for the three pictures, "Cinderella", "Caller Herrin" and "Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen".  It was at St James' Theatre in the winter of 1880-81, that this happy discovery was made.'

John Baldwin Buckstone (1850s) Charles Watkins
I am indeed grateful to Millais junior for the above account as it gave me lots to go on in finding Miss Buckstone.  Actually J. B. Buckstone was her father, although you'd be forgiven as Mr Buckstone had been married twice and Beatrice was one of the many children of his second marriage.  Mr Buckstone was born in 1802 and went on the stage at 18, performing at the Surrey Theatre in 1823 and writing his first play in 1826.  All in all he wrote more than 150 comedies and farces and managed the Haymarket Theatre from 1853 to 1876.  He was married first to Anne Honeyman, but after her death in 1844, he married again, to Bella Copeland.

Isabella Buckstone (nee Copeland) (1850s)
In one of  J. B. Buckstone's obituaries it is stated that he married Fanny Copeland, Isabella's cousin, but although it might have been that they were engaged after Fanny's first husband, actor Edward Fitzwilliam died in 1852, Fanny herself died in 1854, putting pay to all that.  Instead, 55 year old Buckstone married the 18 year old Isabella in 1857 and went on to have 12 children between 1857 and 1876.  At least three of these children followed their father into the theatre, including John Copeland Buckstone, Lucy Isabella Buckstone, and Beatrice, born in 1869.

Caller Herrin' (1881) John Everett Millais
This painting, inspired by the Scottish song about fresh herring (as seen in the creel, or basket).  To continue Millais junior's account of Beatrice, after his father had seen Beatrice acting in Good Fortune, her debut on the stage, he wrote to her mother for permission for Beatrice to pose for him: 'This being granted, little Beatrice presently appeared in the studio, when we all agreed that never in our lives had we seen a more lovely child. Her face was simply perfect, both in form and colour, and nothing could be more charming than the contrast between her bright golden hair and those blue-grey Irish eyes that peeped at you from under the shade of the longest black lashes that ever adorned the human face.'  Although this is all very florid, you get the impression that Beatrice was a beautiful young lady and even at 12 years old, she was making an impression on stage and off.  I wondered if her debut onto the stage was partly due to the family's fall in fortunes.  In old age J.B. Buckstone had lost his ability to act and write and in 1878 he was declared bankrupt with substantial debts.  A subscription was raised to help the family.  It was reported in the newspapers that as Buckstone had done so much to amuse the public, the least they could do was to help him in his time of need.  The money was no doubt gratefully received by the family, but in October of the next year, Buckstone died.

Cinderella (1881) John Everett Millais
In the Era newspaper of 1881, it was reported that the little actress of Good Fortune was being painted by Millais and that Lord Leighton had requested her to model next, although I'm not sure if she did or not.  After all of Millais junior's raving at how beautiful Miss Buckstone was I tried to find an actress card for her.  I failed but found this instead...

Cinderella (1881) Rupert Potter
When I saw this as a thumbnail I thought it was just a black-and-white reversed photo of the painting but in fact it was a photo recreation of the painting by Beatrix Potter's father.  Here we can see what a lovely young lady Beatrice was, even more so than the paintings.  Her face seems so modern and it is such a striking photograph, I was stunned.  However, Beatrice does not seemed to have made such a splash on stage as her father or acting siblings.  After the bankruptcy and death of her husband, Mrs Buckstone went into lodgings in Croyden.  The house was owned by Frederick Lawrence and Isabella Buckstone remained there, acting as housekeeper, for the rest of her life.  Census returns show her children coming to stay with her so Mr Lawrence can't have minded his housekeeper's family dropping in and out, and possibly, as Isabella stayed so long, it became more like the family home than her employer's residence.  Beatrice was still there in 1891, but also staying was Walter Pelham Warren, an artist of the scenic variety. Walter's father had also been involved with the theatre as a playwright so possibly the families knew each other.  Beatrice and Walter were married on 20th August 1891 at St John the Evangelist Church, Upper Norwood. However, the marriage was not a happy one.

Sketch for Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen (1881) John Everett Millais
I always feel conflicted when I have to read divorce papers as research because they hold vast amounts of useful and interesting information, but are invariably awful, more so if the woman files them because of the weight of evidence she has to provide.  Within two years of their marriage, Walter was unfaithful to Beatrice and gave her gonorrhea.  In the divorce documents, Beatrice reports years of verbal and physical abuse, culminating in an attempt to strangle her and throwing her, face first, into a door.  He threw her out of the marital home and refused to let her back in leaving her homeless.  In 1901 Beatrice was back staying with her mother in Croyden.  By 1904, Beatrice alleged Walter was living with his mistress at 525 Holloway Road in London and in 1908 finally filed for divorce.  Walter denied all charges.  Beatrice was granted her divorce and by the look of the papers, her costs were paid.

Beatrice lived to a decent age, dying aged 86 in the Charnwood Nursing Home in Worthing, but rather like the remark in the newspaper about her father's financial hardship, I rather hoped that someone who gave me such pleasure looking at her image would have a happy life, or at least wouldn't be married to someone who was so appalling.  Mind you, that is the peril of both life and research, you never know what will happen and not all of it will be good.  All you can do is deal with what arises and learn that even the sweetest eyes that were ever seen could have a rough time of it.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Tuesday 11th December - Sarah Brown

A spot of naughty fun for today as there has been far too much early death and depression so far and we are almost half way through!  Okay, this one might involve early death but I can promise you rampant nudity to balance it out.  Let the revels begin!

The Death (or Last Days) of Babylon (1891) George Rochegrosse
Well, that escalated quickly. Today's model is a wonderful, Titian-haired beauty called Sarah Brown, or rather she wasn't.  She was actually a French lass called Marie-Florentine Roger (or Royer) born in 1869, but she took the name 'Sarah' in tribute to Sarah Bernhardt. As she was judged to look British, or 'celtic', with her long golden red hair she was given the most British surname they could think of, 'Brown' (just like the family in Paddington Bear).

The Divine Sarah in 1864, photographed by Felix Nadar
While Sarah Bernhardt was a hit on the stage but also known for her diva behaviour, Miss Brown was an artist's model, easily identified in canvases of the 1880s and 1890s.  She is Clemence Isaure, a medieval figure who supposedly founded the Academy of Floral Games, leaving a legacy that would reward the best poets with gold and silver flowers.

Clemence Isaure (1887) Jules Lefebvre
Look how lovely and refined she looks, all elegance and dignity.  However, the stories we have of Sarah Brown are somewhat different.  She was a bit of a handful, according to the artists she worked with, although Rochegrosse denied the stories he read about her shenanigans, claiming it was all business in his studio, thank you very much.  However, the stories persist.  She apparently delighted in kicking over the easels of the artists who were working on paintings of her.  This seems a bit dubious because no matter how beautiful she was, you wouldn't want someone who wrecked your paintings, it wouldn't make sense, so I'm with Rochegrosse on that one.  Apparently she fell in love with a model called Bamboulo (who I cannot find any pictures of, unfortunately, but I'm guessing it was a pseudonym of a gentleman of African descent), whose party piece was eating a whole rabbit including bones and fluffy tail.  Well, what woman could resist that?

detail of Venus and Adonis (1895) Frederick MacMonnies
My favourite story about Sarah is that she was stabbed by an English countess while modelling for Rochegrosse.  No reason seems to have been given and it was strenuously denied by Rochegrosse but that is a great story to tell. Paul Dollfus, in his book Modeles d'Artistes from 1888 described her as having 'the virginal features of the Middle Ages, hair the colour of fire, and she is built like a statue.'  She was a popular model, able to bend in a popular manner to all sorts of contortions which made her a valued subject, possibly excusing her bad behaviour.  She was known to smoke while posing and keep on her stockings and boots (you wouldn't want to catch cold, after all).

Lady Godiva (1890) Jules Lefebvre
I think you can tell by the pictures she appears in, such as Lady Godiva here, Miss Brown had no problem with nudity.  Possibly the best known story about Sarah, one which has immortalised her, is the story of the Bal des Quat'z Arts in 1893...

Le Bal des Quat'z Arts Descendant  les Champs-Elysees (1894) Georges Rochegrosse
Le Bal des Quat'z Arts (of the Four Arts Ball) was first held in 1892.  The four arts mentioned were architecture, painting, sculpture and engraving and was a thoroughly artistic and serious celebration of visual arts. And boobs.

Invitation to the Bal des 4-Z'Arts 1920.  Crikey.

And 1931.  Put that away!
1908.  For goodness sake.
What now appears to be an explosion of cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity and boobs started as a cheeky, bohemian expression of the art world in end-of-century Paris.  Sarah's moment came in the 1893 event when she appeared as Cleopatra, apparently dressed like this...

Sarah Brown as the Queen of Egypt.  Fishnet and boobs.
For heavens sake.  Actually, according to contemporary accounts, she was wearing a loin cloth and was held aloft on a shield as part of a tableau vivant (what arty people claim their are doing when they have their boobs out in public) and she got arrested. Quelle surprise massive...

Les Quat'z Arts (c.1890s) Adolphe Willette
Sarah was arrested along with fellow models/attention seekers 'Manon' (Josephine Lavolle), 'Suzanne' (Emma Denne), and 'Yvonne' (Clarrise Roger).  Rather than appearing in the altogether in court, Sarah managed to baffle the authorities by appearing in court modestly dressed with a bonnet, looking rather 'common-place' as reported in the press. Fooling no-one, the girls were jailed for three months for indecency.  Their trial was greeted by 2000 students marching, wearing symbolic fig-leaves on their hats.  The protests started peacefully but ended with days of rioting and violence, as is traditional.  For Sarah, this was her high point in artistic and political fame as she slipped away from view shortly afterwards.  She fell victim to consumption and died at the rock-and-roll age of 27, possibly taking her own life.  The newspapers reported her death, relishing the chance to talk about her naughtiness again - 'Models are generally well-behaved girls and many live like anchorites (religious recluses) for fear of spoiling their plastic beauty, and losing the power to exact high fees. But Sarah Brown, who was a red-haired Jewess, lived the life of a Bacchante.'

Despite the briefness of her life, Sarah Brown, the nude-y saucepot, certainly won't be forgotten.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Monday 10th December - Jane Senior

Today might be a bit of a ramble, so bear with me.  I wanted to talk about Mrs Nassau Senior, Jeanie Senior, and that wonderful portrait of her by G F Watts, however she isn't exactly an unknown woman.  Famously, she was the first female civil servant, co-founder of MABYS (as discussed in Pinkie Ritchie's post), and a score of other worthy achievements, but what fascinated me was that given all her work, intelligence and achievements, he chose to portray her like this...

Jane 'Jeanie' Elizabeth Hughes, Mrs Nassau Senior (1857-8) G F Watts
Don't get me wrong, this is absolutely one of my favourite Victorian paintings, let alone one by G F Watts, and no illustration online or in a book can do it the justice that standing in front of it can offer.  It is luminous and glorious and thoroughly wonderful, but what does it say about the woman who, after all, was the inspiration for Dorothea in George Elliott's Middlemarch?

Jane Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of author John Hughes (1790-1857) and sister of Tom Brown's Schooldays author Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), came from a comfortable, privileged background.  Aged 20, she married Nassau John Senior, also the child of a famous father, this time controversial economist Nassau William Senior.  Surrounded by literary and intellectual figures, it seems to many commentators that it was natural that Jeanie Senior would embark on such a wide range of important work.  Not only that, she would also have time for stuff like this...

The Rescue (1855) John Everett Millais
One of the most striking aspects of Watts portrait is that satin-y, crinkled golden hair and here it is again.  Apparently, this was a bit of a controversial image when it was displayed, with the viewer feeling a little uncomfortable at the sight of a middle-class woman holding her arms out to a large, muscle-y fireman with no husband in sight.  However, here again is the sight of the passive Jeanie, this time a damsel in distress at the mercy of the elements and relying on a burly gent to sort her life out (chance would be a fine thing).  Mind you, in the 1850s Jane Senior had not achieved the works that we know her for today.  Also, her husband's career was not sparkling nor particularly lucrative and in the 1860s they lived in Battersea, Elm House, which they afforded through Jeanie's money rather than her husband's earnings through his involvement in his brother's wine business, as well as the money from her mother who lived with them.  The marriage was apparently not a happy one, so maybe the idea of being rescued by a large man in uniform seemed a jolly fine idea.  But then Jeanie was rather more useful than that.

Jane Elizabeth Senior (1864-66) Julia Margaret Cameron
As Anny Ritchie wrote in From the Porch (1913) 'Stately and charming people used to assemble at Elm House. It is an odd saying that people of a certain stamp attract each other. It was a really remarkable assemblage of accomplished and beautiful women who were in the habit of coming there, that home so bare, so simple yet so luxurious.'  Interestingly from this description it is easy to suspect that it was intentional minimalism on the decor front, yet something drew people to Elm House, and that was Jane Senior.  Even without her later (and sadly cut short) achievements, her list of friends hints at a woman with intelligence, wit and more than just the beauty which was captured in Watts' work as well as images by Millais and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Possibly it was her own uncertain financial situation that made her interested in those in more dire straights than herself.  In 1870, she was involved in gathering aid for the victims of the Franco-Prussian war, instrumental in the National Society for Aid to Sick and Wounded in War, which would later become the British Red Cross, for which she received the Red Cross medal.  She became Assistant Inspector of Workhouses in 1873, for which she wrote a report and this work led her to produce writings on the lives of girls living in poverty.  In 1875, she was a co-founder of the Girl's Friendly Society and then a co-founder of MABYS, but by this point she was suffering from the cancer that would kill her in 1877, aged only 48.

Choosing (1864) G F Watts
In Watt's portrait, Jeanie is bending over her flowers, watering the lily of the valley plant growing from the ornate pot.  Lily of the Valley, in the Victorian language of flowers, represented the return of happiness, but as Mrs Senior had been married for 10 years by this point, and not happily, it would seem that would be an odd meaning to apply.  There are cut, discarded flowers scattered around the floor including other lilies - I wonder if he wanted to imply that Jeanie had the sort of nature that made her continue to nurture while others destroyed?  That she could not help but to tend her blossoms despite the doomed nature of them?  Could it possibly be a comment on her marriage? Watts had used flowers in an arguably slightly less symbolic way in his portrait of Ellen Terry - she doesn't realise that the fragrance comes from the modest violets rather than the showy camellias implying Ellen is attracted to the showy rather than appreciating the quality.  Mind you, was he saying that she held love and faithfulness in one hand, while holding the camellia which represented 'my destiny is in your hand'?

Watts was a very close friend of Jane Senior.  I looked in Mary Watts' diary for mention of Jane, and on Saturday 2 July 1887 Mary wrote that she and her husband spent a happy morning looking over scrap books of his early sketches arranged by Jane Senior.  Watts declared that the scrapbooks were good specifically because Jane Senior had arranged them.  In her two-volume biography of her husband, Jane Senior gets more of a look in, with an interesting assertion that Watts had been drawn to Jane because of her 'bright and spontaneous out-of-doors nature', but seeing as Watts was not exactly the vigorous man of the countryside, this seem a bit doubtful.  Jane was a regular at Little Holland House (probably where she met Julia Margaret Cameron, and why she travelled to the Isle of Wight when she became ill) and although we now see the portrait of Jane Senior as being the portrait of a great campaigner and philanthropist, it isn't.  When that painting was created, Jane Senior was a young woman in an unhappy marriage, but she was also a bright woman, the woman who had the great work of her later life inside her.  Reading through the letters between Watts and Jane quoted in Mary Watt's biography, you get the idea of a woman who is involved in the social and cultural life of Little Holland House and that social circle is enlivened by her attendance.

When she died, Watts wrote 'I have lost a friend who could never be replaced, even if I had a long life before me; one in whom I had unbounded confidence, never shaken in the course of a friendship very rare during twenty-six years - Mrs Nassau Senior, who I dare say you will remember talking about with me ... when you read the biography of [Jane] ... very few canonised saints so well deserve such glorification.  For all that makes human nature admirable, lovable and estimable, she had very few equals indeed, and I am certain no superiors.'

Jane Senior, c.1870s
 Maybe then the point is this - the portrait Watts did of Jane Senior is not a portrait of the first female civil servant, the owner of a Red Cross Medal, the co-founder of charitable societies.  It's a portrait of his friend.

See you tomrrow.