Friday, 14 April 2023

Telling Tales (Again!)

 Hello again and for my third post of the week I just wanted to give you a bit of an update on my exhibition 'Telling Tales' which is all about Victorian narrative art.  It finished its run at the Russell-Cotes in March and has opened in Southampton!

Many thanks to the ever-patient Mr Walker for the photographs of the new venue. For those of you who haven't visited the art gallery in Southampton, it is a very different space to the Russell-Cotes in Bournemouth.  As you can see from the image, it is a bright, airy modern gallery which was exciting to hang in.  

Spread over two rooms, it follows the three subjects we had before - Love and Loss, Beasts and Babies and Gods and Generals and we have borrowed many of the wonderful Russell-Cotes paintings that appeared in the original show but we have some new pictures especially for the Southampton exhibition from their collection. Here are a couple of the new paintings and why I am so delighted to have them...

I Cannot Play Alone (1881) Mary Drew
At first glance, this sulky little moppet seems to be pouting because she is unable to entertain herself, however the painting and the artist tell very interesting stories.  The title comes from a poem by Felicia Hemans ('The Child's First Grief') and the reason the little girl cannot play is hinted at by her black dress.  Yes, she is mourning her brother, her previous playmate and cannot understand why her life continues without him while there are reminders of everything they shared everywhere...

Oh! call my brother back to me!
    I cannot play alone;
The summer comes with flower and bee—
    Where is my brother gone?

“The butterfly is glancing bright
    Across the sunbeam’s track;
I care not now to chase its flight—
    Oh! call my brother back!

“The flowers run wild the—flowers we sow’d
    Around our garden tree;
Our vine is drooping with its load—
    Oh! call him back to me!”

*sob!* Crikey, I think it is especially poignant that the litle girl wants to play badminton, a game you really cannot play on your own, which makes her loss particularly painful.

I was really interested in Mary Drew (1857-1934) who appears to have been a very popular child portraitist in her time but is mostly forgotten now with this painting being the only one on ArtUK, therefore the only oil in public hands. I will delve deeper into her life at some point but in the meantime I have contacted English Heritage as her cottage, called 'Drew Cottage' after her occupation of it, is listed and I added her connection to it the listing.  

Another new painting is one with a very local connection...

The Casualty List (1903) Leonard Skeats

I was so pleased that I could use this piece in the second leg of the show as it is a marvellous moment of narrative art.  The group of women in the cottage are washing clothes but one has paused to read the casualty list from the Boer War.  I think we can guess by her expression that it is not good news, or maybe the physical effort of reading through the dead every day to see if your loved one is there has just taken a terrible toll on her?  While I had the massive painting of Major Allan Wilson at the Shangani in the Russell-Cotes run of the exhibition, the toll of colonial war on women left at home is rarely shown.  I would love to gather together any paintings that explored the experience of these women in Victorian and Edwardian life, before the mass mobilisation of the World Wars.  I can only think of Byam Shaw's Last Year Things Were Greener but will seek out more and please comment any you can think of.  Leonard Skeats painting is very moving as you see her friends notice the woman's distress and what makes it very special to the Southampton show is that it was painted in Eling, on the west of Southampton.  The Art Gallery have a few pieces of his work as he was a local chap and it is all interesting but there is something about the claustrophobic nature of The Casualty List that makes it feel very immediate and real.

You can find more information about the exhibition here and it is running until July.  I will be doing some talks and tours, so will set up a tab on the top of the page to add events to so you can come and see me in person! 

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Review: Elizabeth Siddal: Her Story by Jan Marsh

 Further to what I was saying yesterday, we not only have a swanky new catalogue to go with The Rossettis exhibition at the Tate, but also we have a brand new biography of Elizabeth Siddal from Jan Marsh...

Now, I was fortunate to have been sent a pdf copy of the forthcoming book which is due out any moment now from Pallas Athene so my review is about the contents rather than including details of the physical book but I've had books from Pallas Athene before and they do a lovely job. On with the review!
Photo of Elizabeth Siddal (c.1860s)

Arguably, in the last decade, we have moved from seeing Elizabeth Siddal as a muse to seeing her as maker. In fact, I would boldly assert that the shift in our perspective of her (as an audience, rather than you and me specifically) is breath-taking and something I can only dream about accomplishing with Fanny. For Miss Siddal, the two images of her, as model and painter/poet, are so well defined it is easy to see why people cling to the more tragic version of her, drug-taking, bath-bothering, abused wife rather than the woman of such agency that it lifted her to an artist who exhibited internationally.  Speaking as a biographer of 'colourful' women, it's the colourful bits that persist.  Where we start with Jan Marsh's new book is one of my favourite phrases - What is it that we actually know to be true?

Sketch for Ophelia (1851) John Everett Millais

So, where to start? Well, actually what has been told to us over the years is by people who are writing their own narratives.  Obviously, I know that to be true of Fanny but to my shame I never really thought about it with Elizabeth Siddal.  Starting with her iconic discovery in the hat shop - Really?  Do we know that to be true? Apparently not. That's rather mind blowing in itself...

Elizabeth Siddal (1854) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When you start dismantling the narrative, you are left with the facts such as she was a painter, Ruskin was her patron, she went to France, she studied in Sheffield and wrote powerful poetry.  She also found herself on uncertain ground with her erstwhile lover who replaced her and moved his art style on then returned.  Much is made of her health and habits but not much is said of her strength and once you put into context the events that happened around her and what she dealt with, it is impressive she accomplished as much as she did. I am left wondering why on earth she loved Rossetti, arguably she could have had a more settled, sucessful life without him. 

St Agnes' Eve (1854) Elizabeth Siddal

Split into sections entitled 'Model', 'Studio' and on to the places she visited or studied and her marriage and death, this is both a simple telling of her life story and also a bold challenge to the many myths of Miss Siddal. While undoubtedly tragic things happened in her life, it is hard to find people who write about her without presenting her as a victim.  Would we feel the same way, and speak the same way about 'poor Lizzie' if she had died in childbirth like Joanna Boyce or merely lived a long life beside a philandering husband, like Georgie Burne-Jones.  We do not prefix either of those women as 'tragic' so why Elizabeth Siddal?

A lock of Elizabeth Siddal's hair

I very much like this book and it will be a refreshing resource for those wishing to see both the narratives and the facts in one pocket sized book.  At around 150 pages, it is a quick read but it does not beat around the bush and has little time for meandering into supposition.  It is illustrated throughout and written in a thoroughly engaging manner which makes it the perfect companion to the new exhibition at the Tate.  

Long may we challenge the narrative!

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

Review: The Rossettis at Tate Britain

 It's been a bit of a month, hence the peace and quiet you have enjoyed from my rambling. However, a lot has gone on in the meantime, so I have to do a flurry of posts on three different exhibitions and a book!  I also turned 50, which is painful.  Let's move on because first up is possibly the most hotly anticipated exhibition of the year, The Rossettis!

The Rossettis!  At Tate Britain!

I was lucky enough to attend the private view for this exhibition on my birthday, which made the whole 50 thing a lot less wretched and meant I got to spend the evening in the company of some marvellous chums (both on canvas and in real life) with my partner in crime, Miss Holman...

So what is the exhibition about? Well, obviously it's about the Rossetti family, but most pertinently Dante Gabriel, Christina and Elizabeth (a Rossetti by marriage). Now, William Michael and Lucy (another Rossetti by marriage) also get a look-in, as do the other members of the Rossetti clan, but honestly, it's about Gabriel, Liz and Chrissy.  And Fanny.  I'll come to that in a bit...

How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival... (1864) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Haunted Wood (1856) Elizabeth Siddal

Let's start at the beginning, and the beginning is actually poetry.  As you enter the first room of the exhibition, there are spots on the floor where you can stand and hear the Rossetti poetry being murmured to you (if you aren't at a rather rambunctious opening that is).  I think as a nation, we have rather forgotten how much we love poetry and value poets, which is odd as we love songs (which are just sing-y poems).  However, the fame that both the Rossetti siblings found as poets still has a punch, with Christina especially reminding us what a powerful poet she was and how influential and inspirational, not least to her brother.  In turn, we have her poem 'In an Artist's Studio' which speaks of the 'one face' that looks out of the canvases and it is hard not to apply that as a criticism to her brother's works. Into all this comes Elizabeth Siddal (whether you give her one 'l' or two is an entire conversation in itself).  Her career and progression is placed in the context of the Rossetti family and it is joyful to see her works on display in such a grouping as it makes sense of her contribution and why, even as late as the 1940s, she was considered such a prominent Pre-Raphaelite. I think we can now agree that Miss Siddal has found her place in the narrative and it is marvellous to see.  Almost as marvellous as this room...

Lawks, but I gasped! That astonishing wallpaper is the realisation of a design by Rossetti and it takes your breath away. However, the object I was most intent on stealing has to be that painted piece...

You know me, I've always been one for a sizeable cabinet, and this beauty is the work of Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Val Prinsep, John Seddon and Rossetti from 1861.  I was especially drawn to this panel, I wonder why...

Yes, Fanny.  I was so excited when I heard that Fanny was going to get a hearing in the great Rossetti story. As I have banged on about for the last thirty years, Fanny is a difficult one to slot into any dignified story without making everything messy but there is a marvellous amount of slotting (in an artistic sense) here, as Fanny explains a few things about Rossetti which aren't otherwise apparent.  That leads me to Found...

Found (1854-1882) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Found (1870s) Rossetti and Henry Treffry Dunn

Just as a side note, you have no doubt seen the predicatably awful review from Jonathan Jones in the Guardian and it was his comments on Found and Fanny that made me snigger the hardest. He sneeringly points out that Rossetti was rubbish because he kept painting Found with Fanny looking 'sensual' (more tea, Vicar?) which completely undermines the meaning of the piece.  Yes, Love, that's the point or did you not notice that it was unfinished?  Dear me, it must be awful to have to feel superior to everything all the time. How exhausting, poor lamb.  Anyway, Fanny is really looking splendid in this section, with her face gracing Bocca Baciata, Fazio's Mistress and Fair Rosamund.  I won't rhapsodise too much but the fact that Fanny is included and makes the Rossetti narrative messy is a joy to me. In this context, Fanny represents growth and change, none of it easy, and she leads us through to the glorious room of colour, that heralds Rossetti's golden years of oils and pastels - now I know the pastel era isn't there for good reasons, what with his health declining and everything, but that man was good with chalk...

Ligeia Siren (1873) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Blimey, Alexa! There are some gorgeous pieces in the long room of Rossetti's canvases and Alexa Wilding becomes the face of this period, although obviously Mrs Morris is present too...

Jane Morris (1868) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

There is a feeling of both simplicity and concern in the final few room, beautifully illustrated by the final room which has a wall projection of Ken Russell's Dante's Inferno.  The regular, beautiful works that represent the last 10-15 years of Rossetti's life mask the crisis he was undergoing, but seen together you notice the way he shows Jane, which is different to how he sees Alexa. Do I read too much in because of what we now know about his chloral addiction?  It's impossible not to but in his cascade of full-lipped beauties it is not hard to see him looking for someone, or being haunted by someone.  It is very moving indeed.

Monna Pomona (1864) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(Miss Holman's favourite)

I was always going to love it, and you will too.  It's a different way of looking at a talented family and makes you appreciate how much of their work we enjoy, without having to bring too much biography into it.  The lightness of touch on that front will probably relieve many and does mean you can look at the works without being overly worried about who was sleeping with whom or taking what drug at the time. The deep dives into things like 'Goblin Market' and The Beloved add real depth to the show and you leave very happy (or in our case, going back through about three times because things mesh together so beautifully you end up revisiting pieces with a variety of perspectives.)  You have until the end of September thank goodness, so I think a long summer of Rossetti goodness is on the cards for us all.Obviously, there is a catalogue for the show, although it's actually a book of essays on the subjects raised rather than a straight reproduction of the show in book form, which is smashing and offers longevity to the work. With essays by such people as Jan Marsh (on Elizabeth Siddal), Wendy Parkins (on Jane Morris) and Dinah Roe (on Christina Rossetti), it is a collection of new looks at familiar subjects and is a fascinating and beautifully illustrated read. I bought the £30 paperback as I had to carry it home on the train and it is corking.

So, I will be back tomorrow with another Rossetti-related review, but I'm actually sure that I'm preaching to the choir with this one and if you are able, you'll be there.  And you won't be disappointed.

Friday, 10 March 2023

What to Read When You Want to Know About Pre-Raphaelitism...

I was giving a tour of the Telling Tales exhibition at the Russell-Cotes and one of my lovely visitors asked if I had written a suggested reading list.  I was astonished I had not forced my random selection of opinions on you sooner, but thank you very much, here is my list...

Now, obviously there are thousands of books out there about Pre-Raphaelite art and if you click on 'Book Review' in the right-hand column you can probably find a load I've reviewed over the years, but I certainly have a very fond place in my heart for certain ones that have helped me along the way or have made me the researcher and writer I am today.  This is, therefore, not a definitive list, but my personal favourites which I will try and put in some sort of useful order...

General Books or where to start

The very first book on Pre-Raphaelite art I bought was this one...

I was at my first Open University summer school having a thoroughly miserable time when I found this book in the campus bookshop and it changed my life.  Is it the best book ever? Well, probably a bit out of date now seeing as it was published before I was born, but still it's a pretty decent starting point, with lots of good pictures and accessible text.  In the same vein and a little more recent is this one...

This is a little gem, with gorgeous illustrations in colour and a really helpful text.  This is probably one of the best beginner books but also a little pocket-sized book on art to dip into. I own the Alice in Wonderland book in this series too which is brilliant.

The Tate Gallery's 1984 catalogue holds a special place in my heart and is still a great catalogue, plus it's really cheap to buy second hand (for example £3.55 on Amazon).  There are lots of modern books on the Pre-Raphs, including 2012 Tate's catalogue, but they aren't £3.50.  Also, I love looking at older catalogues to see how our opinions change, not to mention who is in the catalogues and who isn't.  That leads me onto the next category...

Pre-Raphaelite Women

Oh, come on, of course I'm going to recommend this...

I'm so predictable, but also it's an easy book to dip in and out of and very accessible with lovely illustrations. It's now out of print, so all copies have to be secondhand but it seems to be around still for around £15. I love this book so much.  However, it would not have existed without this one...

I love Jan's The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood but this one has so many pictures, photographs and the suchlike that it's a joy to flip through. It has images you won't find in many other places and covers both the lives of the models and the themes of paintings that include them.  It's a really interesting book which is beautifully illustrated, whereas Sisterhood is a more straightforward biography.  Buy both just to make sure you have all bases covered. 

As time went on, women became just part of the narrative in art without having to have a special mention, so this catalogue is a cracker for the women of the latter end of the nineteenth century, plus it has a picture of Irene Smedley in it that is swoon-worthy...

It's basically Birmingham's collection that toured just before (and over) lockdown.  It is an astonishingly beautiful book and I can't recommend it enough.

If you want to have a cracking little book on Rossetti's women, this is definitely a corker...

This is a recent addition and absolutely lovely, and is no doubt a popular book because of the eternal fascination with Rossetti and his ladies.  Very useful and most welcome if you want to have a good wallow in gorgeousness.

Mind you, you might want to get a bit up-close and personal with an individual subject, so here are some suggestions...

Well, yes, obviously.  While we're on the subject...

Outrageous self-promotion! Anyway, I especially loved the following while writing Light and Love...

This is a very lovely, dark book, concentrating on the women who modelled for JMC and so obviously I loved it.  There are lots of smashing books on JMC now and I have great hopes that she is now regarded as one of the nation's finest artists and a national treasure. If you feel ambitious but strapped for cash (a familiar feeling) then Getty have made the complete catalogue of her photographs free to download, which is rather nice of them.

There is a fair amount on the women in a few of the general Pre-Raphaelite books, most interestingly this one...

Gay Daly's 1990 look at the sordid love lives of the Pre-Raphs is brilliant and far more fun that Desperate Romantics. Also, you can get it quite cheaply, which is an absolute bonus.

Individual Women 

I obviously recommend Stunner as I'm biased, but there really isn't much else out there on Fanny.  I own a copy of Paull Baum's 1940 edition of Rossetti's letters to Fanny but it cost me loads ages ago and there aren't many of them around.  Fascinating book though and I recommend it if you can find a copy.

If I really have to talk about other Pre-Raphaelite women, then here's a lovely book...

This was an unexpected pleasure - a large scale picture book biography which is a pleasurable read and full of gorgeous colour illustrations.  Add to that, this one...

One of my favourite books of last year.  I think we have a very set idea of the Morris's marriage (how can you not?) but there is a lot that contradicts the notion of unhappiness and cheating as life is not that straightforward. I felt I knew them better after reading it.

Let's just keep it in the family and get this catalogue on May Morris as well.  Honestly, they were such a talented family and you can't go wrong with that collection of books.

While I'm on the subject of the individual women, may I draw your attention to this absolute role-model and stunner...

This, of course, is the magnificent Diana Holman-Hunt and when I grow up, I will also look at people that witheringly too and shout things like 'Unless you have brought me a lighter or a drink you can sod off!' which is very much the expression she is wearing here.  She wrote this wonder...

This book is marvellous for the Waugh sisters, obviously, but also contains a helping of Annie Miller, which is unusual.


Deary me, yes, he probably does need his own section. If I can make a plea to a publisher to re-release Virginia Surtees catalogue of his works so peasants like me can own a copy of a book I used to covet from the local library.  If you have a spare £500, you can probably find the text and plates, but they are getting scarcer. If you can cope with the Italian, this is a pretty good catalogue of his works...

Maria Benedetti's book is not too big and the pictures are large thumbnails for the most part but it does provide a lot of information and is really helpful in showing more obscure images.  It is eminently portable, which is a quality I often look for in a book. I'll come to the biographies at the end under free books, but if I had to get something a little unusual, then this is splendid...

I love a unique angle and looking at the man through his (and a lot of Victorians) passion for Exotic animals is definitely one I liked.  It still has repercussions today - did you know that wallabies now count as indigenous to the South Downs as there are so damn many of them.  We also have parrots in our local park. The introduction of foreign species makes our country a more interesting and colourful place, that's for sure. I still have great hopes for the reintroduction of dodos. 

If you have to have a big book of pictures, there are numerous catalogues and no doubt the one for the April Rossettis exhibition will be glorious, but I remember buying my next suggestion at a secondhand book shop and being filled with joy...

It's Alicia Craig Faxon's whopping great big 1989 Rossetti biography.  Gorgeously illustrated and sturdy enough to kill someone with. Marvellous.

I have a very soft spot for Oswald Doughty's 1949 A Victorian Romantic...

He included Alexa Wilding!  In 1949! Absolute hero, and he has one of the rare photos of her in there too.

This one has to be an essential...

No-one contemporary to Rossetti recorded so much unbiased (as far as possible) information on the artist as Boyce, whose diaries show us life in 1850s and 1860s bohemian Chelsea. Yes, they are heavily edited and I believe the originals are long since gone, but you get a very clear picture of Boyce and his circle.  Mercifully, this book was re-released recently and is much easier to get hold of than The Owl and the Rossettis (I have a ridiculously cheap edition I treasure dearly because they ask stupid money for it otherwise) and it is nice to read about a privileged man who doesn't seem to do anyone any harm.

A special mention has to go to this one...

You might not be overly familiar with Robert Bateman, but this is such an engaging book, not only about Bateman and his fascinating story but about Nigel and his journey to write the book.  It is a very special book due to this combination of timelines, almost like A S Byatt's Possession but it is impossible not to love Nigel and his lovely partner and feel like you are being chatted to like a friend. 

Books for Free

Obviously there are shedloads more books and you might have favourites that I haven't included.  I have to say that over the last few years an absolute revelation has been, which has been invaluable in finding old, out of print books (and also borrowing a newer book for a hour to have a little flip through to see if I want to buy it).  For example, I used The Owl and the Rossettis online before I could afford a new one during the pandemic. There are scores of books on Rossetti, dating from just after his death to modern times and if the book is out of copyright, you can normally download a pdf to keep. The quality of the illustrations can be variable, but if you want to have a look at, for example Marillier's excellent 1899 illustrated memoir, you can do so here.  I also have accessed Hall Caine's work through as I still refuse to give him any money, the swine.  I started off researching the Pre-Raphaelites with a local town library, no money and no internet.  I understand we need to get our resources where we can and is a blessing for the homebound and impoverished among us. I always say that researching and writing about these unknown figure is possible wherever you are, you just need the confidence/bloodymindedness to do it and use all the resources you can get your hands on. 

Oh, I almost forgot, you simply have to buy a copy of Bram Dijkstra's Idols of Perversity...

Trust me on that one...

Saturday, 25 February 2023

Herself an Artist of Some Repute

 Here we are again with another wife of an artist who was also an artist, my current obsession.  Again, I get to be disappointed in myself as I love this woman's husband so why hadn't I taken more notice of her?  Interestingly, some of what I'm about to talk about I mentioned in this post back in 2015 (when we were all so much younger and gayer etc etc).  That was a post on the smashing John Collier and today we're going to talk a bit more about Marian Huxley Collier, his first wife.  Yes, 'first wife', buckle up...

Marian Huxley Collier (c.1860s)

Luckily for young Marian, she was born a Huxley, her father being Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), President of the Royal Society and massive Darwin fan, so there is quite a bit written about her early life in the biographies of her father and family.  Her nephew was Aldous Huxley, so we're not exactly short on details of her, however I am beginning to feel that we lack nuance in certain descriptions, which leads me to my second current  obsession, but we'll come to that later as it's a bit of a spoiler.  Anyway, Little Marian was the Huxley's third child after Noel, born in 1856 and Jessie Oriana, born in 1858.  Marian was only a baby when the family caught scarlet fever in 1860.  Her mother, Henrietta, was pregnant but managed to get through it, 2 year old Jessie caught it lightly and somehow Marian escaped it altogether.  However, 4 year old Noel died and devastated the family.

Jessie Huxley (c.1880) Marian Collier

Luckily, baby Leonard (Aldous Huxley's Dad) was born safely the same year and was followed by Rachel in 1862, Henrietta (or 'Nettie') in 1863, Henry in 1865 and lastly Ethel in 1866.  That is a lot of children very quickly but then they were a wealthy family.  In the 1861 census, the family are in Folkestone, living at Albion Villas with four servants.  Honestly, when there are more servants that employers in a house, you know there is money, especially early in a marriage.  After the death of Noel, in 1861 the fractured family went to stay with the Darwins at Down House (which is very much worth a visit).  Whilst there, according to Adrian J Desmond's 1997 biography of her Dad, Marian was a favourite of the Darwins, who found two year old Marian to be bright and determined.  They recorded that she 'wins golden opinions, but will not be tempted into any demonstration of affection'.  I find that a very interesting comment which possibly says more about the first years of her life in the shadow of her brother's death, than possibly about the child herself.  Known affectionately as 'Mady' or 'Maidy' (I've found both, but mostly the former) even as a toddler, Marian seemed interested in drawing, holding a pen on the lap of one of the Darwin family, attempting to draw her father and getting frustrated when it didn't come out as well as she'd hoped.

Nettie Huxley (c.1880)

Rachel Huxley (c.1880)

For such a science-y family, it is interesting how artistic society overlapped and the Huxley home welcomed in artists such as Briton Riviere.  I'm guessing that intellectuals of a modern age, no matter their discipline, are happy company together. When Jessie and Marian became interested in pursuing art seriously, they would take the Underground to drawing class at the Slade.  Teenage Marian was discribed as a 'skittish tease', flirting playfully with Frank Darwin, and despite being described as 'frail' seems to have had spirit and an interesting disregard for being absolutely proper.  She is also described as being very much like her father, but we'll come to that in a bit.

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1878) Marian Huxley

Marian's talent is easy to see in her pictures from her teenage years.  Her portraits of Edward Hartpole Lecky, Burton and Darwin are all held by the National Portrait Gallery and were done when she was 17-18 years old, which is impressive. An article in the Sketch from 1895 mentioned her time at the Slade as part of an article on the success of the women artists who had attended, which included not only Marian but also Bertha Newcombe who drew the illustrations and also Dorothy Tennant and Evelyn De Morgan.

The Sculpture Class at the Slade

The Life School at the Slade

Marian did well at Slade, and it is possibly while there that she met John Collier.  Collier was the younger son of Sir Robert Collier, former Attorney General, Lord Justice of the Privy Council and heading toward being Lord Monkswell.  I'm not obsessed with how many servants everyone had, but they had 15! This is not a competition, but that's impressive.  Sorry, I was distracted by the army of maids.  Anyway, again conveniently, John's older brother Robert Collier, future Lord Monkswell married Mary, Lady Monkswell, who kept and published her diary (thank you very much Lady Monkswell).  When Robert and Mary were brought to meet Marian as their prospective sister-in-law, Mary described her as 'quite the artist's wife, her hair comes down, she forgot the band to her dress, she is always wanting pins etc.  She is a dear child full of brightness and life.' John was immediately absorbed into the chaotic Huxley family and beloved by his new parents-in-law, his many new sisters and brothers. When Jessie married in 1878, John was instructed to help with seating the congregation, which he did to their approval.  He was described as being small, fair, with good features and glasses.  He stuttered but not when making a speech or acting in a play.  He was clever, a quality that made him perfect for both Marian and her father.

T H Huxley (1875-85) Marian Huxley

In Mary Collier's diary, she recorded how happy John (known as Jack to his family) and Marian were, and how lovely the Huxleys were - 'Mrs Huxley is about 45, she seems to adore her clever husband & has suffered in a way that made my hair stand on end at the story [presumably about Noel]. Old Huxley is a wonderful looking man, such deep piercing eyes, which peer out from between long hairs in his eyebrows in a manner quite uncanny...What I like about the family is the way they all seem to care so much for each other & they are all so very bright.' The repeated mention of the intelligence of the family will become significant later, but I find it interesting how it is a constant mention.  I've also read passing comments that Marian was extremely pretty but for once the descriptor used is intelligence.  I would be delighted if I didn't know that there is a bit of hindsight at work in a lot of these descriptions and I wonder if Mary Collier's editor had the outcome in mind when presenting Marian in the diary.

Treasures  (c.1878-82) Marian Collier

Anyway, the Huxley and Collier families were joined in marriage - thanks to Mary, we have a bit of a description - 'Marian's rosy face looked extremely happy & the cream coloured satin hung well on her long slim figure.' However, poor old Mary didn't catch much of the wedding because she had to keep her son 'Bino' (known to everyone else as the 3rd Lord Monkswell, Robert Alfred Hardcastle Collier) from shouting the house down, aged 4.  The wedding was a meeting of science and art, with guests such as Joseph Hooker, Herbert Spencer and the Alma Tademas (Mrs Alma-Tadema was wearing a 'most wonderful garment which looked like a cream coloured pillow case').  As the couple departed for honeymoon, Mary noted 'I never saw two happier brighter faces'.

John Collier (1882-3) Marian Collier

Marian Huxley on her Wedding Day (1880) John Collier

The beginning of their married life seems idyllic.  They were wealthy, living in More House which had been designed by Frederick Waller, Marian's cousin, at 52 Tite Street.  Their neighbours over the years included Whistler, Singer Sargent, Wilde, Anna Lea Merritt and all manner of other famous artistic sorts (see Devon Cox's The Street of Wonderful Possibilities for details). In February 1880, they took part in a play written by Jack and Walter Pollock, and Walter joined them in the performance.  Mary's description of the group gives an idea of what you could get away with if you were posh and it was a play - 'We have had several most amusing rehearsing dinners and teas.  Last night I declare it was a perfect orgy, the more Walter embraced Marian in the last scene the more angry Jack became. I roared with laughter. I have a very small part in which I make violent love to Jack so I don't mind.'  For the play, which seemed to centre around an artist and his model (played by Walter Pollock and Marian), John Collier produced a portrait of his wife in a big white hat.  The play had four performances with about 110 people in the audience each time.

Marian's portrait of her sister Nettie was exhibited with her husband's portrait of her in the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880, and her painting The Gambler's Daughter was hung well at the RA beside a multitude of John's paintings. It is interesting to see what pictures of theirs were hung at the same exhibition, for example this one...

The Rehearsal (1882) Marian Collier

...was hung in the same exhibition as this one...

Clytemnestra (1882) John Collier

In the 1881 census, John and Marian, awaiting the completion of their new home in Tite Street, are listed as staying with his father on the Chelsea Embankment with the 15 members of staff (15! sorry).  He is listed as a painter and Marian has no profession, which enrages me no end, especially as they are literally hanging in the same galleries and shared a studio.  In 1882, Marian was included in the Lancashire Ladies Art Society Christmas exhibition, alongside artists like Lady Butler, Florence Claxton, Kate Perugini and Louise Jopling.

Marian's paintings drew very favourable reviews, for example By the Tideless, Dolorous, Midland Sea of 1884 was described as 'one of the most successful' depictions of a nude figure - 'The figure is drawn with surprising skill and obvious knowledge of form and all its varying delicate contours are admirably modelled.' Her portrait 'of a handsome girl' was praised in 1884 in the Freeman's Journal because it would 'haunt many memories this season'.  The paper was quick to point out her connection to John Collier - 'wife of the portrait painter and like Mrs Alma Tadema, painter as well as a painter's wife.'   Blimey, I wonder how Laura Alma Tadema felt about being part of such an illustrious club? Marian's illustrations for Little Songs for Little Voices by Alfred Scott Gatty seems to have come into print in around 1880 and remained reprinted for the rest of the century. The Graphic called the pictures 'excellent, and will charm not only intelligent children, but also their parents and caretakers.'

Illustration for Fairy Bells from Little Songs for Little Voices

In 1884, Marian gave birth to Joyce, the couple's first and only child.  According to biographical accounts, Marian suffered overwhelming post-natal depression, refusing to leave her bed or eat.  John employed 2 attending maids and a nurse who specialised in 'melancholia'.  Her recovery was gradual but eventually she returned to the studio and to exhibiting. I can't find much record of her exhibiting between Joyce's birth and 1887 in the newspapers, in fact one of the few mentions is of her brother Leonard's wedding (to the niece of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold) in 1885.  John and Marian are on the guest list and they gave an opal ring, but unlike Ethel and Nettie Huxley who were bridesmaids and Henry Huxley who was a groomsman, there is no mention of the Colliers actually attending. In one of the biographies of her father, Marian is described as taking 18 months to recover from post-natal depression, possibly explaining why they were absent from Leonard's wedding.

By 1887, Marian's health was not good.  Her father wrote after visiting her that he couldn't bear her unhappiness 'when she knew she was going mad and I knew it too by her look of melancholia.' In desperation, John took Marian to Paris and into the care of Jean-Martin Charcot, a specialist in hysteria (we'll get to my feelings about that in a bit) who seemed encouraging that she could be cured. However, before she could start treatment at his now famous Salpêtriére School, Marian developed pneumonia.  In the Illustrated London News of Autumn 1887, they reported that 'Bronchitis, and its twin brother and usual companion pneumonia or inflammation of the lungs, have been terribly busy during the foggy days that have afflicted Londoners during the last few weeks...These sadly common lung attacks are insidious as they are fatal.'  It isn't known whether Marian was already ill when she left for Paris, but on the 18th November she died, aged 27.

Marian Collier (1882-3) John Collier

Her obituaries were interesting.  Having a famous father and husband slightly overshadowed her own achievements and death, as some of the pieces got carried away talking about John's work (for which, apparently Marian was the constant model, which patently isn't true, thank you Shields Daily News).  The Illustrated London News reported that 'Though her husband's admirable art work no doubt stimulated and encouraged her efforts, yet her style was her own and not a mere copy.' (I wonder if it has ever been said vice versa?)  Marian is described repeated as 'gifted and talented', although the Bristol Mercury calls her 'the wife of the able portrait painter and herself an amateur artist of promise.' Ouch.  The family's response was difficult but honest, with her father writing that 'Rationally we must admit it is best so...although man is not a rational animal - especially in his parental capacity.' He repeats that Marian's death was for the best, although it had broken her mother's heart.  When I first read that I was horrified as I can't imagine ever feeling like that about my child, but God willing I will never be in their place and the understanding of what was going on with Marian's mental health is largely based on fear and misunderstanding when it was called 'hysteria' and 'cured' with hypnotism.  

So, we have my other current obsession - how we speak about people in the past, especially women with mental illness or neurological difference.  If I have taken anything away from Marian it has to be how rubbish we are about talking about mental health in biographies. We need to do better.  I think a large slice of the problem is that it is often women's mental health that is so massively misunderstood and problematic to men and also a bit on the periphery of the main action so it is not looked at in any depth.  It is only when you take that person and make them your focus that it is easy to spot laziness in repeating back past ignorance.  For example in Adrian J Desmond's 1997 biography Huxley, Marian is described as 'talented, unstable' and 'she would die mad in 1887.' That is appalling and inaccurate - she died of pneumonia and 'mad' is not a word we should be just using as a diagnosis these days.  Nor is 18 months worth of post-natal depression an accurate signifier of anything - I had crippling post-natal depression, for which they confined me to hospital for a week after Lily's birth, for 18 months.  Turns out, 18 years later, I can see it was undiagnosed autism having a bit of a moment.  The repeated references to how gifted, unconventional and spirited Marian was are frustratingly not linked to her later depression or mental crisis.  The fact that she is also described as 'just like her Dad' who seems to have the strongest repulsion over her mental distress is also fascinating.  Interestingly, her sister Nettie, who called her daughter Marian, also caused the family some consternation with her 'eccentric' behaviour.  These are wealthy, educated, privileged people and so I wonder if that privilege shields or exposes any sort of neurodivergence?  I'm not saying that Marian was simply neurodivergent and the silly Victorians didn't understand that (although they massively didn't) but that things like autism have comorbidity with other conditions, like anxiety and depression, but if we are not understanding the bottom line of the person's mental state, then it's all just going to be written off as 'madness'. I understand their contemporaries saying that, but come on, it's over a hundred years later, we need to sort that out.

Joyce Collier (1903)

Anyway, I have a couple of postscripts.  In 1889 John Collier married his sister-in-law Ethel Huxley in Norway.  The Huxley family were remarkably stoical about it all - they liked him, they were used to him, why not keep him as a son-in-law?  John's own family were not so forgiving, which reminds me eversomuch of the same position Holman Hunt found himself in when he married the Waugh sisters. The Deceased Wife's Sister bill would still be in effect until 1907 but there was less concern about it and more sympathy in 1889. Lady Monkswell however was never on good terms with her brother-in-law again.  John died in 1934 and Ethel died in 1941. Joyce lived until 1972, having her own career as a miniature artist.

Finally, I'm pleased to say that despite the slightly dismissive obituaries, Marian's reputation as an artist remained strong, at least within the 19th century.  The children's song book seemingly was reprinted many times and in 1897, her works were included in the 'Woman's Section' of the Earl's Court Victorian Era Exhibition.  The section was reported as representing 'the diversity and the excellence of women's pictures' which had been selected and hung by Henrietta Rae, aided by her husband Ernest Normand.  Marian was represented by around 8 works including her portrait of her husband and The Rehersal.  Along with many other women, also now lost in history, she was seen as the pinnacle of women's art in this country, a marker of what it meant to be an artist in 19th century England with the caveat of 'woman'. I have been asked on more than one occasion if women artists were lost in time because they just weren't as good as the men.  Whilst that is simply not true, it is easy to see how someone like Marian, a professional artist, was forgotten if she didn't list herself as a professional artist in census and if, despite having a string of paintings at the RA and other galleries, was still called an 'amateur' in her obituaries and it has to be discussed whether or not she 'copied' her husband's work. It's too simplistic to say we forgot her; her contemporaries did not value her enough to tell us to remember her and all those other female artists filling the walls of the Victorian Era Exhibition. 

We have work to do.