Sunday 29 April 2012

The Lady of Guildford...

For my Masters in Literature, my thesis was on Pictorial Tennyson, or a discussion on how illustration and fine art illuminate his poems.  Obviously, a fairly large amount was available on a certain Lady of Shalott, you know, the woman in the boat...

Elaine John Atkinson Grimshaw
Dying in a boat, floating off towards Camelot...hang on, who's that in the boat with her?  Oh yes, this isn't your actual Lady of Shalott but the Lady of Astolat, an unfortunate girl called Elaine, who died for the love of a man with shiny thighs...

Elaine and Lancelot Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
Once upon a time, in a land where ladies wore pointy hats with scarves coming out the top and tables were round, there lived a lovely girl called Elaine.  Her dad, Bernard of Astolat (Bernard? I ask you...) decided to have a tournament and all the likely chaps of the country turned up, apart from Lancelot who was washing his hair.  Lancelot finally turned up late, like the diva he was, and looked fabulous.  Elaine begged him to wear her token for the tournament.  Lancelot said 'Sorry Babe, my best mate's wife is out there and I can't act like I fancy anyone else.'

Obviously, she fell in love with him, utterly.

Elaine and Lancelot Arthur Dixon
He agreed to fight in disguise, and when he was injured Elaine begged to nurse him back to health, while no doubt sighing in a smitten manner.  She did indeed tend him back to his former strength at which point he said 'Thanks for that, how much do I owe you?'

Elaine was somewhat disenchanted by this, and no doubt did a bit more sighing.

Lancelot left with some vague murmur of 'Sure, I'll call...' but after ten days of waiting, Elaine decided dying was a far more dignified exit than waiting for the telephone to be invented and then finding out he still won't call back.

Elaine Briton Riviere
Before she popped off, she left very specific instructions and in accordance she was rowed down to Camelot clutching a lily in one hand (in case anyone was wondering) and a letter of explanation in the other.  After he heard the contents of her letter, Lancelot felt a bit guilty and paid for her funeral.  He might have been cheating and shallow, but he had some manners after all.

The reason for my sudden interest in Elaine was occasioned by flicking through 'Country Life' (it arrived at my place of work and I always check out the deb and the picture of the week) and it was this rather gorgeous painting...

'The Dead Steer'd by the Dumb Went Upward With the Flood...'  (1904) Ernest Normand
Oh, sigh and swoon, what a lovely picture!  Rather than having just one lily in there with her, she looks like a mobile branch of Interflora, with a couple of decent candles and Bob the Boatman for company.  So I got to thinking about how Elaine is often the poor relation when it comes to 'Arthurian women who die in boats', even though she is the original.  Inspired by her appearance in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Tennyson wrote her story in his Idylls of the King, and also used her as source material for the doomed maiden, The Lady of Shalott.  Often the iconography in illustrations of the two tales is similar, take for examples the above picture and this rather well known image of that Shalott woman...

The Lady of Shalott (1888) J W Waterhouse
The imagery of guttering, snuffing candles reflecting departed life, the luxurious fabrics, the shape of the boats.  Of course, poor Shalott didn't have Bob the Boatman, so had to do all the casting off and stuff herself, lucky old Elaine could snuff it in the comfort of knowing that there was staff available to do the rowing.
Elaine Edward Reginald Frampton
 Illustrations of Elaine follow one of three patterns.  A bit like her sister, the Lady of Shalott, her story seems to have three moments.  Whereas Shalott is either 'Half Sick of Shadows', 'Oh look, shiny thighs!' or 'Oops, I'm dead in a boat', then Elaine seems to be either snuggling up to Lancelot (and who wouldn't? I don't care if he's feckless and has the moral depth of a puddle), mooching around wondering if he'll ever love her (clue: he won't), or 'Oops, I'm dead in a boat'.  I love the above image from Frampton (who I think sounds like a Prog Rock star...) as it is so delicate and yet so powerful.  Elaine looks at Lancelot's shield, which she is keeping safe for him, and she is holding a beautiful cloth.  I love the warmth of the floor as compared to how ghost-like she seems.

Lancelot and Elaine (William Warder and May Princep) Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron did a marvellous set of Elaine photographs, including the above, which is a nice 'Elaine and Lancelot' moment.  It is what she excelled in; beautiful images of bygone, mythical years, full of romance and emotion, and slightly silly hats.

The Death of Elaine Julia Margaret Cameron
'Come, people of Camelot, gather in strange helmets and what might well be your pyjamas!'  This equally might be Lancelot saying the Lady of Shalott has a nice face, but I suspect the beardy type at the end is Bob the Boatman.

Elaine Emma Sandys
Possibly the best known and enigmatic of Elaine images is this one by Emma Sandys.  What point of the story is illustrated?  The angle is a little odd, is she lying down?  Is she dead in the boat?  It is an image of deep riches, the pearls glinting and the head of the skin behind her just peeking out.  What exactly is her left hand doing?  Is she thinking or is her ear itchy?  Strange and beautiful...

Elaine John Melhuish Strudwick
This offering by Strudwick is so damn Burne-Jones it's untrue, I had to check twice.  Look at the bending willow figure as she gazes on Lancelot's shield. It's another mooching shot, as poor, doomed Elaine looks at the shield (they didn't have telly) and sighs.  And sighs. And sighs.

Elaine (1899) William Loudan
Aside from illustrations from collections of Tennyson's work, or possibly illustrated Arthurian tales from the Victorian period, more painters than I expected addressed the subject of Elaine, and her pointless love of a handsome rat-weasel.  I love Loudan's work for its dark beauty and that rather splendid pot of Lilies that remind me of Rossetti's lilies in his Virgin Mary pictures.  Look at that poor lily, on the ground, ready to get stomped on.  I love the smell of symbolism in the morning....

The Lady Elaine the Fair Howard Pyle
I will leave you with this lovely pen and ink Elaine, her enigmatic expression and romantic surroundings.  Poor Elaine.  To add insult to injury, it is rumoured that Astolat, or Shalott, is actually Guildford in Surrey. Well, I guess the shopping isn't bad, but somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it... 'The curse has come upon me' said the Lady of Guildford... and it doesn't rhyme with Camelot, however clambering into a boat and dying seems a tad melodramatic to me.  If it was me, I'd saddle up a horse and ride off to Camelot and give that shiny thigh-ed wastrel a smack.

But then, I'm not from Guildford.  They are obviously more romantic and fragile up there...

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Kiss Me, I’m a Year Old!

A year ago on this very day I published my first blog. Wowser and Blimey, to say the least, but in that year I have covered many diverse and important subjects (honestly, I have) and spoken about my helplessness in the face of handsome gentlemen in tights and how I probably would forgive Rossetti anything, despite the fact he patently doesn’t deserve it. I also got to use the word ‘Fanny’ over and over again and no-one thought I was being filthy. Well, a few people didn’t think I was being filthy. Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to have a bit of a look back, and it’s an excuse for me to show you my favourite pictures from the last 12 months, plus a brand new one…

Starting with the very first picture from my very first post, O What’s That in the Hollow by Edward Hughes…

I have this directly in front of my desk at work as it is such a beautiful image. I still need to do a post on images on dead men as they tend to do their dying 'off-screen' as it were, hence the proliferation of ‘widow’ images. Also, it’s interesting to consider the number of images of women popping their clogs in a wide variety of ways. This image holds a sort of male ‘sleeping beauty’ allure for me, but I am mostly told it’s revolting and depressing by people who see it at work. I’m not sure what that says about me…

Moving on to May, I talked to you about The Ruralists, who are marvellous and much beloved, making an exhibition of myself in Sweden, the lovely George Boyce, Annie Miller, Alexa, and what makes a picture a portrait (and vice versa). My favourite picture from this month is probably Robins of Modern Times (1857) by J R S Stanhope.

This is a great picture to discuss as it is beautiful and controversial in equal measure. I think this might have been the start of my continuing fascination over the last year with Victorian images of children. It really is a thorny subject and one that seems particularly difficult in regards to that era. After all, we don’t seem to hold earlier images of children in such suspicion. We don’t say ‘those Tudors, they were all child molesters!’, yet possibly due to the proliferation of images of all kinds, the amount and variety of pictures of children cause us no end of eyebrow-raising and lip-chewing. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I love discussing it with you lot, you make such interesting points.
June saw us talk about Rossetti, Alexa (again), Paxton, Scythes, Mermaids, Ellen Smith and the Endymion Tennyson illustrations by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. I especially enjoyed looking at the symbol of scythes and found this gorgeous picture…

The Garden of Adonis (1887) J D Batten
I think one of the main things I love about writing this blog is seeking out the wide range of pictures on different subjects, and also writing about any beautiful pictures I see. This was in a marvellous exhibition catalogue called Love and Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria, which I thoroughly recommend as it is an amazing collection of pictures. Sadly for me, the exhibition was in Australia and I wasn’t able to pop in, so have to make do with the catalogue instead!

July saw three recipes in my ‘art and food' week, pictures to do with letters and sleep (which is the most popular post I’ve written, for reasons I can’t fathom), plus a week of historic paintings and a potter about in Arthurian art. The post about sleeping has been viewed over a thousand times, which is amazing, and contains my picture of the month…

Under the Patchwork Quilt William Peter Watson
I adore this image, it’s so peaceful and such a gorgeous pastel in tone. I also love the fact that she is sneakily peeking out from under her lashes. Too right, you should never take your eye off the artist, you never know what they are up to.

In the height of summer, August contained posts on Pygmalion, Maids, whether Fanny Cornforth was illiterate, Cavaliers, Thomas Cooper Gotch and images of reading. My image for this month has to be Fanny’s handwriting as it is a symbol of what I try and do which is try and find the truth.

I was touched by the response I’ve had after my recent post on Annie Miller, as like Fanny, she too has suffered from an attack of reputation. I can only hope that any forthcoming books that mention Fanny will not call her an illiterate fat harpy. The next person to mention nuts will be taken outside…

On to the autumn, and in September we looked at Seamstresses, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Compton and Watts, Hot Fred Stephens, Evelyn de Morgan, Burne-Jones and Fanny, drinking, and getting illustrations for Stunner (which on occasions led to drinking). I must admit that I adored writing about La Belle Dame Sans Merci as it has the most romantic works of art inspired by it, for example…

La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1902) Frank Dicksee
Oh, swoon and double swoon, I need a horse, a big frock and a chap in armour immediately.

I am sorry that in October I introduced the phrase ‘Lie back and think of cathedrals…’ into conversation, but it was possibly the first time I began to think of Ruskin in anything approaching sympathetic terms. Despite my feelings of sadness surrounding Desperate Romantics, I adored Tom Hollander in it (goodness, I adore him in most anything, but that’s my problem) and felt he did a good job in showing John Ruskin as a human being, albeit a weird one. I look forward to Greg Wise’s interpretation of him in the upcoming Effie film, and hope to be able to wear my ‘Hot Ruskin!’ t-shirt when I see the film. Anyway, I wasn’t just obsessed by Ruskin this month, I also talked about Salome, Milkmaids, Byam Shaw, Twins, Utter Misery, and Mirrors. My image for the month comes from the last post…

Nude Before a Mirror Henri Caro-Delvaille
…due to the fact that she has such a nice bottom. However, I received some very interesting correspondence following the Milkmaids post and now I know much more about the gentlemen who read my blog. Ladies, if you are seeking a man, can I suggest a bucket and a three-legged stool? You wouldn’t believe how popular that look is. Trust me.

In November, Miss Holman and I went on our foot-punishing tour of London, and I talked to you about Simeon Solomon, Etty, Ford Madox Brown and Secrets, hence my pick for this month…

The Confession John Collier
I loved the confessions post as there are some corking pictures of people spilling the beans. The Victorians feared a secret, hence poor Lady Audley, as it never seemed to be a good thing you were keeping back. No doubt you were mad, or not married, or cheating, or French. Goodness, the horror! What will the neighbours think?

I don’t know what possessed me, but in December we had a Blogvent which seemed like such a good idea but was utter madness. Naturally I’ll be doing it again this year as I haven’t learnt my lesson and I get to say ‘muff’ over and over and no-one thinks I’m being filthy. Sadly, there are no images of Fanny Cornforth in a muff or I think I’d be on telly by now.  Doing Blogvent meant I found some gorgeous pictures I’d never seen before, including…
At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away (1897) Val Prinsep
I think this was the inspiration to talk about images of older women, which happened in January. The New Year was a funny one as I talked about little girls and Old Women, which was a bit of a contrast. January also saw a three day exhibition of Fanny’s pictures from the Rossetti Gallery, based on her catalogue, which was personally one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I also talked about Fairies and your friend and mine, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (now officially recognised rhyming slang). After the very interesting discussion that resulted from the Older Women post, my image has to be Astarte Syriaca as Jane Morris is the same age as me in it…

Astarte Syriaca (1877-8) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
In February I talked about Alexa (yet again), May Cooksey, Fortune Tellers, Valentines and my favourite books about Victorian fictional artists. I loved hearing from the descendant of one of Cooksey’s models; one of the joys of the blog is hearing from people’s relatives, so hello to members of Fred Stephen’s family and Charlie Howell’s family too! The image has to be the beautiful Cooksey, so ethereal and pure…

Maria Virgo (1914) May Louise Cooksey
Last month saw the arrival of a tiddy cheque thanks to Lila, and posts on Joanna Boyce, The Souls, weddings, motherhood and William Morris. Possibly the most beautiful image I have seen for a long time appeared in my post about Maxwell Armfield…

Music in New York, Homage to Johann Sebastian Bach (1946) Maxwell Armfield
This month has been my birthday, yet more roadtrips, widows and beautiful dresses, not to mention endless fretting about Stunner. Here we are, a year later, and I’ve made some very special friends, received amazing support from our little on-line community and would like each and every one of you to know how much I love hearing from you, how much I appreciate the time you take to read my nonsense and I am endlessly amazed by how lovely you lot are. My final image in this retrospective is perversely a new one, and I wanted you to see it ahead of time, as it were.

The cover of the new edition of Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth
Because of your support, your comments and messages, this blog, not to mention the new edition of Stunner, are possible.  Thank you.  I can only hope the next twelve months will be as much naughty fun as the last twelve have been.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Art in Millais' Home Town

I am awaiting the proof copy of Stunner 2.0 and can be roundly described as 'on the ceiling' or 'off the chain' depending on who you ask.  While I can fake a veneer of nonchalance and calm in type, I am a little unmanageable at present, and so I was taken to see some art to calm me down.  Nothing sorts me out like a nice shed of pretty pictures and Southampton has some corkers, including a room of glory, which I will come to.  So, here is a little guide to the magic of Southampton Art Gallery.

John Everett Millais was born in Southampton (just round the corner from Halifax and Waterstones) and so in a way it is unsurprising that in their rather modern, open-plan art gallery lurks some splendid items of Victorian art.  Take this for example...

Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cunnor Hall (1866) Edward Matthew Ward
Gosh, well we all know how I feel about a man in white tights.  Okay, so possibly not the best picture to start with and Ward was opposed to the Pre-Raphaelites for being 'un-British' (the scoundrels!), but I do love a good historical picture, and Amy's frock is rather splendid, although a bit long.  She ought to be careful in that...

Anyway, what else can I find?

The Casualty List Leonard Frank Skeats
Oh, the despair!  Possibly this isn't a wise choice of painting for me to be looking at as I'm a little wobbly at present and the sight of this sobbing-in-aprons scene is enough to set me off, however gorgeous the colours are, and the use of shade and the delicate white highlights.  Quick! Move on!

Despair (1881) Frank Holl
Oh Good God, what if there is still spelling mistakes lurking in my book, unseen by the four proof readers who have been so vigilant for me?  What if I haven't spelt my own damn name right?!  The horror!  The shame!  Oh, hang on...

Hope (1883) Frank Holl
Ah, that's better, see, everything will be alright...I think it's interesting that Holl painted Hope after Despair, which is a rather optimistic way of looking at things.  I usually see these two pictures as a woman waiting for her husband to return (Hope) then finding out he's dead, drowned, gone out without a coat, drunk lye, that sort of thing (Despair), but no Holl showed it the other way round, you may Despair to start with, but stiffen that upper lip and pull yourself together, there is Hope!

Romeo and Juliet (1884) Frank Dicksee
Now I'm in a more chipper frame of mind, here is a very romantic image indeed, and more man-tights!  I am a sucker for Shakespeare images, and Dicksee is such a star who gets easily overlooked because he's not whizz-bang enough, but he did some crackers (technical term, obviously).  Not only are the figures beautiful, look at the detail in the architecture, the foliage, and the scenery.  Oh, swoon.

The Captain's Daughter (1873) James Tissot
Southampton have a brace of Tissots; the picture of the widow in church which I used in the last blog and The Captain's Daughter.  This picture is subtitled The Last Evening which gives you a hint as to what is going on.  The Captain's Daughter is acting all casual while the rosy cheeked young man tries to pluck up the courage to ask her something.  I'm sure it's something romantic, not 'can I borrow your tiny binoculars?' or 'Is your Dad Captain Birdseye?', but he's off on the boat tomorrow, hopefully not destined to sail into a Holl painting, or else he's not coming back.

Cordelia's Portion (1867-75) Ford Madox Brown
How splendid it is to see a Ford Madox Brown painting up-close, as the colours are amazing and fresh and the detail is so sharp.  This riot of russet and gold is another Shakespeare lovely, marvellous in action and looming tragedy.  Those bad sisters, it'll end in tears (as long as you have any eyes left).

Well, as wonderful as all this is, it is mere foreplay (oh, naughty) for what is a room of wonderfulness.  After a couple of rooms painted all pale and modern, there is a dark, wood-panelled sanctum of fabulousness.  The Perseus Story, a series of 10 gouache studies by Edward Burne-Jones line the walls and surround you with their utter beauty.  They were commissioned by Arthur Balfour between 1876 and 1885 but the paintings were never executed.  What we have left are these extraordinary, ocean-toned scenes of Perseus and Medusa...

The Doom Fulfilled
The Baleful Head
Perseus and the Graiae
The room is quite dark and feels everso peaceful, I have to admit I love going there, just to relax and be amongst the beautiful pictures.  Also, in the shop they sell the most gorgeous little book about the series which costs next to nothing.  In times of stress and panic, it's nice to know there is a room I can go, for free, to be soothed.

I think that Southampton probably is better known for its amazing modern art collection (modern, t'uh), and I ought to mention two rather splendid examples that caught my eye.  First up, is Claude Rogers' Miss Lynn...

Miss Lynn (1951) Claude Rogers
It seems to me like a rather nice reworking of Manet's Olympia and I love it's watercoloured casualness very much.  Second of all is a very modern piece, at least in terms of date.  Norman Blamey's Vesting Priest with Apparelled Amice from 1991 made me think of Holman Hunt's images of religious men, both from the Middle East and closer to home...

It has a touch of the medieval about it and a hint of Stanley Spencer, and I love that hanging lamp, so I give it my full endorsement.  Who doesn't love an apparelled amice?

So, to sum up, come to sunny Southampton, park in the Toys-R-Us car park (it's cheaper) and walk up the steep hill to the art gallery.
It's worth the climb for the Burne-Jones room alone.

Thursday 19 April 2012

What Would Queen Victoria Do?

I'm not sure if it's because I'm in a bleak frame of mind, attempting to finally upload and sort the final bits of Stunner 2.0 (so damn close now, it's not funny) but I have picked the subject of 'Widows' for today's blog.  I think it all started when I saw this rather jolly image of Queen Victoria...

Never one to be over dramatic, obviously, here we have Queen Vic and Princess Alice, having a jolly good mourn.  When Albert died in 1861, shortly after her mother's death, Victoria retreated into black and solitude, a state that she only partially returned from during the remainder of her long reign.  Much was made of her absence, how inappropriate it was for the Queen to plunge so greatly and so privately into sorrow.  Yet, in her actions Queen Victoria was being as Victorian as it's possible to be...

The Widow (1899) Ralph Hedley
If you type 'Widow' into Bridgeman Art Collection or the BBC's Your Paintings, you will find a wealth of images of ladies in black, mostly bending like gothic willows in church.  Take our lady above: she is both praying and crying, clutching her handkerchief and contemplating the loss of her husband.  The date of the loss is rarely obvious, but in terms of depictions of, and actual, grief, yesterday is the same as decades ago.  He is gone and the widow is still a folded offering to grief in his absence.

In Church James Tissot
Widows are depicted as elegant creatures, handkerchief at hand, like this beautiful specimen by Tissot.  Mind you, what can you expect from Tissot?  It all gets gorgeous under Tissot's brush, and this has to be one of my favourite pictures in Southampton Art Gallery.  Gosh, I like Southampton's Art Gallery, but I'll talk about that at the weekend.  Anyway, back to misery...

A Widow's Mite (1870) J E Millais
I think it's interesting that the term 'Widow's Mite', which refers to the same amount traditionally afforded by widows to charity, also implies to their 'might' or strength.  The widow in the Bible (from where the term originates) gave a greater proportion of her money to help others than the rich man, despite it being a small sum, or a 'mite'.  It speaks of their ability to survive their sorrow enough to think of others, to remain hopeful in the face of devastation.  Millais' Widow has the look of dignity as she gives her small, but significant sum to those worse off than herself.  It is a Victorian recognition of thinking of others before yourself.  Or is that the Brownies?  Probably both.  Being a good Victorian probably involved doing a good deed every day and doing your duty to God too.  The Baden Powells were obviously very good Victorians indeed.  But I digress...

At the Pawnbroker Thomas Reynolds Lamont
Being a Victorian Widow seemed to be very harsh, and no wonder.  The man of the house has gone, and if you have no discernible money-making skills then it's off down the pawn shop for you to see how much you can get for your eldest child.  In the case of the poor lady above, it's her dead husband's watch that's being pawned.  We stand behind the pawnbroker and can see that every nook and cranny of his shop is stuffed with pawned trifles such as this watch.  It makes you wonder how many more grieving, desperate women have stood in front of him crying, and how he grows plump on their misfortune.  Oh well, he doesn't seem bothered...

Widowed and Fatherless (1874) Leon Perrault
There is a definite seam of images to be mined of young mothers, suddenly swathed in black.  These rather beautiful young women are often accompanied with cherubic-cheeked daughters looking shell-shocked and fragile, or little gentlemen, carbon-copies of their fathers, stiff-upper-lips in readiness.  If you think about it, when considering mortality in Victorian times, I'm more likely to think of a woman popping off in childbirth, yet there are countless images of young mothers, deprived of their husbands.  If I was a cynical creature, I might suggest that a widow is a perfect opportunity to show a woman on the edge, a damsel in distress, especially if you consider how many of these women in black are remarkably attractive....

Olivia Edmund Blair Leighton
These women are young, attractive and on the look-out for a new man.  I feel a Saturday night game show coming on.  Anyway, she's short of money and desperate, so is unlikely to be picky...

The Lure John Byam Liston Shaw
Heavens, this young lady's husband is barely cold in the ground and she's got a glimpse of naughty cupid.  Really, women are so fickle, it's outrageous.  No wonder she has to pawn that watch.  Young widows seem to be a suspicious bunch, grieving one minute, chasing gents the next.  You're far safer with a nice old lady...

Mrs St George Rich (1920) Madeline Macdonald
Out of the countless old women in black I could have picked, I chose Mrs St George Rich.  Granted she's a little later than I normally stray, but look at that face, you wouldn't mess with her.  Mr Walker says she reminds him of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter.  I love the veil and the rings, she has dignity and power, despite her position.  In the case of the young women, there is a hint that their beauty would go to waste if they didn't marry again, safety would only lie in the arms of another man.  However, the position of the old widow, the dowager, is assured if she has a son or some wealth.  Mrs St George Rich doesn't look worried about the future.  The only thing she needs to worry about is whether her mantilla stays put. 

I'll be off to think cheerier thoughts and wrestle with uploading Stunner 2.0.  It might take some time...

Saturday 14 April 2012

A Scandalous Stunner

It was almost a year ago that I talked to you about Annie Miller.  Annie is one of those character who I assume I know about.  You know Annie, she's the one who was a filthy tart, who slept around, who drove Holman Hunt to despair and then tried to blackmail him.  In comparison to Fanny, pages and pages have been written about Annie Miller.  She was there at the beginning of the brotherhood, defining how the brothers shaped their art, being the muse for Holman Hunt, then breaking his heart as she put her muse about a bit.  You know Annie, she's this one...

But wait, that's not Annie, as we discussed here.  I began to wonder about Annie, and if I knew her at all.  One thing I have learnt from my years with Fanny is that you should always question what you are told and who tells you.  There is a lot of repeating of stories in this business, there is a lot of taking people's word for it.  However, you and I both know that people lie, people tell big lies and little lies because what they don't want you to know is the truth.  So, what is the truth about Annie Miller?

Desperate Romantics.  Not a bad portrayal of Annie, actually. I know, who knew?
Annie had a tough upbringing which is a matter of record.  Her mother died after Annie's birth, and her father left her and her sister Harriet with his brother George Miller and his wife Bess, who live behind a pub close to Hunt's rooms.  When Annie was old enough, she works in the pub, but was also looked after by Mrs Hill, a neighbour who is presumed to be a casual prostitute.  It was common knowledge that the Miller girls were lice-ridden, uneducated, feral and dirty. 

Right away I use 'presumed' and 'common knowledge'.  We know neither of these things for sure, we have no photos, we have no trustworthy written testimony, all we have is hearsay and stories that are used to embellish William Holman Hunt's biography.  It's a wonder that Annie didn't crack nuts between her teeth.  What we do know is that Annie Miller was beautiful.  We can assume fairly safely that she didn't have access to education because of poverty, we can assume that she possibly wasn't the cleanest woman on earth, who was?  The only thing that is putting me off time travel is the smell, really I'm guessing they all smelt rank.  One thing we do know is that Annie was beautiful, because among the biographers who painted her as a slutty harpy it was suggested that she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  We can tell this from the portrait Hunt did of her, Il Dolce Far Niente...

Ill Dolce Far Niente (1866) William Holman Hunt
Oh, hang on, that isn't her either.  Now that's something we definitely know about her, it's in all his biographies.  Hunt was so angry at the end of their relationship that he scraped her out of all of his pictures.  Really scraped her out, nothing left underneath.  If he was willing to scratch her face out of all of the images, she must have done something really, really bad.  Only he didn't, because this is her...

Morning Prayer (1860s) William Holman Hunt
Oh, and this one too...

Lady Godiva (Moxon Tennyson)
...although you could excuse this one as it was already out there and published, so he couldn't take it back.  She is also the face of his Lady of Shalott in the Moxon Tennyson.  So, we do have some Hunt images of Annie, but admittedly there are more by other people, mostly Rossetti.  Ah, Rossetti, I wondered when we'd come to you...

Woman in Yellow D G Rossetti
Things we know about Annie Miller #2: When Holman Hunt pottered off to the Holy Land, she slept around.  It was in Desperate Romantics, therefore it must be true.  It is the basis of her reputation as a nymphomaniac.  However, when you examine each time this little character assassination is cited, it boils down to this.  She was beautiful and men wanted to sleep with her, therefore she was sleeping around.  We transpose neatly from external desire to action by the person, which makes no sense.  It's like saying I make really good cake which a lot of people would like to eat, therefore I'm feeding everyone.  It makes no sense.  By the way, I make incredible cake, but I digress.

We know that Rossetti thoughts she was beautiful as he used her as a model incessantly while Hunt was away.  It apparently drove Elizabeth mad, but arguably it might not have been a purely sexual jealousy, it might have been something deeper, something that threatened her persona as Rossetti's muse, Rossetti's true artistic vision.
Annie Miller (1860s)

Annie Miller (1860)
Woman with Harp
Annie, again

My God, I could go on and on, there are loads of Rossetti sketches, and they are beautiful.  She's all flowing hair and slightly gypsy-ish gorgeousness.  Images of Fanny from this time are quite similar, loose-haired, big-throated women, and they suit the vision that Rossetti was working at this time.  By the way, Hunt did not forbid Annie from sitting for Rossetti at this time.  He loved Rossetti, but left his name off the list of endorsed artists that Annie should sit for.  While this is a strong indication that Hunt was a little uncomfortable with leaving anything in the room with Rossetti (I wouldn't leave a plastic pot plant with the man), he didn't say a definite no.  He should of, as Rossetti is reported to have said 'Hunt stole my subject, so now I shall steal his model.' Well, that's what he is reported to have said, but then Hunt had used Lizzie as a model before, mainly due to Rossetti's persuasion, and Found stalled for many reasons, not least that the artist wasn't overly convinced of the message.  Anyway, it's generally acknowledged (based on nothing) that Rossetti slept with her, and not only him, but also George Boyce, who also used her as a model...

Annie Miller (1854) George Price Boyce
Now, there is slightly more reason to believe that Boyce had been romantically involved with Annie, due to the speed that he pointed the finger at Lord Ranelagh when Hunt confronted him.  We know that Ranelagh was involved with Annie in Hunt's absence because he merrily admitted it, the only person who did out of all the men we assume Annie slept with.  Possibly the only man Annie slept with?  Think of it this way - the man who pays your bills clears off to the Holy Land, with no promise that he would return alive (Thomas Seddon who went with him died out there), you are put through education which you are unused to, and all without any promise of matrimony.  Then a Lord makes you an offer of a little money and a little fun.  I don't blame her for taking a chance.  How often does a Lord fall in your lap?  I mean, literally?

While I'm here I'll also mention Millais.  No-one ever says 'Oh, that Millais, he painted Annie a few times, he must have been sleeping with her!'

Waiting J E Millais
Annie Miller J E Millais

I think Millais' depictions of Annie look like the remaining examples we have of Hunt's portraits of her, without the loose hair and presumed loose morals of Rossetti.  Is it just me, or does everyone who touches Rossetti come away a little tainted?  Anyway, I digress, again.

Hunt ditched Annie, after all his friends said what a wanton slutbag she was (even though Hunt was the subject of a story in Household Words in 1858 about how he had seduced Emma the country lass in The Hireling Shepherd) and she became too hot to handle, running up debts which she left him responsible for.  He planned to send her to Australia.  She sought the advice of Lord Ranelagh and met his cousin, Thomas Ranelagh Thomson, an officer in the Royal East Middlesex Milia.  Where Lord Ranelagh was there for fun, his cousin married Miss Miller, and that tends to be all we know about Annie Miller as she finally left Hunt's life forever.

Annie Miller (1860s)
Well, not quite all.  Hunt said that he ran into Annie later in life, and she was a buxom matron with a carriage full of children and he finally put the whole period of his life with Annie in the past, and moved on.

But this is me talking, well typing.  Do you really think I'm going to leave it at that, believing William Holman Hunt?  Not a chance.  I wanted to know what happened to Annie, so I did a little digging (there is a graveyard involved, so can I point out that I mean that metaphorically).

Annie and Thomas Thomson married on 23rd July 1863 at St Pancras Parish Church, and they lived in Hampstead, where little Annie Helen was born on 11 October 1866.  They moved to 75 Oxford Gardens in Kensington by the time of the 1881 census, where they employed a cook, a housemaid and a parlour maid.  By the end of the century, they were living on the south coast, settling in Shoreham by Sea.

6 Western Road, Shoreham by Sea, home of the Thomson family
Rather than the gaggle of children described by Hunt, Annie only had Annie jnr (although Diana Holman Hunt mentions a son, Thomas Jnr, but he doesn't seem to appear on any Census, so presumably he died as an infant), who remained unmarried and lived with her parents in Shoreham.  Thomas died in 1916 from chronic bronchitis, and Annie passed away 23rd February 1925, of the same illness as her husband, at the age of 90.  She had come a rather long way from a yard behind a pub, not on any Census due to how full of criminals it was.  She was remembered by her daughter as being lovely and ladylike, wearing exquisite handmade shoes and kid gloves. 

The intrepid Miss Holman (no relation of Mr Hunt, well, maybe no relation, I'll let you know) and I found her grave in Shoreham, unmarked but in plot B.19.7, next to James and Isabelle Slaughter, who were helpful enough to have a stone...

Annie's on the right...
Annie and Thomas are buried towards the back, centre.  Note the lack of stones all round...
I think the point I would like this post to have is that when we consume 'history', we should be aware that the writers had a reason, an agenda, a motivation to write it. Also, just because something is repeated it doesn't make it true. Question everything, my friends, and visit Annie at Shoreham.  When you think about it, she wasn't really as bad as all that....