Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Six Degrees of Agnes Mangles

As I have said before, I have a particular fondness for this photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron...

Vivien and Merlin  (1874)
It seems very apparent from Cameron's photographs that she found older men very attractive (and who doesn't?) but I think the photographs of Vivien and Merlin are a very overt referrence to this.  In the images she shows her husband, Charles Hay Cameron, falling under the spell of the beautiful, twenty four year old Agnes Mangles.  In one image, she is seen beguiling him, her arm outstretched.  Charles Cameron has closed his eyes, the sourcerer Merlin caught in a web of magic.   The more powerful of the two images shows Vivien pressing her fingers into the old man's beard.  He looks down at her, seemingly comfortable in his superiority, unwary of how he is no match for her.
Now, you know me, I like a dig to find out things about the models and so was interested to find out more about Agnes Mangles, placeholder for Mrs Cameron, and what I found made me realise what a small world it is...

Vivien and Merlin (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

 Miss Agnes Mangles was born in 1850, the youngest of a large family that numbered almost a dozen children.  Her father, Captain Charles Mangles had political aspirations in Southampton but these were never realised as he failed three times to get elected as an MP.  From a long line of gentlemen of daring and fortune, Captain Mangles was a director of the West India Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, whose home port was Southampton. In 1869, The Hampshire Chronicle reported on the launch of the RMSPC  ship 'Nile' from the Northam Ironworks, in front of 'an immense concourse of spectators'.  The ceremony of naming was performed by Agnes, daughter of the chairman of the company.

The Nile, launched in 1869
Captain Mangles and his family lived at a very well appointed house called Poyle Park in Surrey (now demolished, typical).  The Captain died in 1873, leaving less than £7,000 to his widow Rose, who was by that time living in France in the Chalet de Violette in Cannes.  Although Agnes was still quite young and unmarried when her father died, her eldest brother, a solicitor, was almost twenty years older than her and so the loss of Captain Mangles does not seem to have affected the family's social position, despite the relatively modest amount he left to his widow.  It seems likely that the family was staying on the Isle of Wight when Julia Margaret Cameron seized her chance to photograph Agnes as both Vivien and also Tennyson's heroine Mariana...

Mariana (1875-6)
It is unclear whether Cameron's photographs were taken during one season or over two years, 1875 and 1876.  From the works involving Mary Ryan and May Prinsep and their respective partners, it is clear that Cameron loved women on the brink of marriage and Agnes married in September 1876.  Her husband was Arthur Wakefield Chapman (later Sir Arthur), a partner in a jute company in Calcutta, later JP and unsuccessful MP (not unlike her father).  Much like Mary Ryan and Julia Margaret Cameron, Agnes became a colonial wife, going with her husband first to India where their eldest son Paul was born in 1877, then to Italy where younger son Michael followed in 1880.  Arthur Chapman was a close friend of Edwin Lutyens who designed a home for them in 1890...

Crooksbury House, nr. Farnham (thank you, Country Life)
 The seven bedroom house near Farnham was sold last summer apparently, for £2.5M.  Very nice too.  The Chapman family settled into life in Surrey society and Michael married Lilian Mackintosh in 1906.  Lilian's name might well be familiar to some of you...

Lilian (1904) G F Watts
Lilian Mackintosh was the orphaned daughter of friends of George Frederick and Mary Watts.  She was the love-child of Major General Henry Dyer Abbott and Alice Maud Mackintosh, and her mother died when Lilian was three. Lilian was befriended by the Watts' in 1889 and following her father's death in 1892, she became their adopted daughter or ward (how very Gilbert and Sullivan).  Maybe it was because of the connection to Julia Margaret Cameron or maybe it was just chance but Agnes and George Frederick Watts became family through the marriage of their children in 1906. It seems a shame that neither of them lived to see it, as Agnes died only a few months before Watts, in May 1904, at home in Crooksbury House, aged 54.

Much like most families of their generation, the Chapman family was not left untouched by the First World War.  Michael and Lilian lived in Toronto for a while before he went away to fight, and subsequently die in April 1918 in Nieppe, Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  His wife was left with two children, Anthea and Ronald, who remained close to Lilian's family in Compton.  Mary Watts designed the War Memorial in Compton where he is remembered on the first panel.

Compton War Memorial, unveiled in 1922
Agnes' grandson, Ronald, shared his mother's love of G F Watts and his work and published The Laurel and the Thorn in the 1940s. It seems a coincidence that two of Julia Margaret Cameron's models would become related through the marriage of their children but I suppose it is just indicative of how small social circles could be.  I like to think of it as a little bit of Cameron magic weaving together her muses from beyond the grave and I'm sure it would have made her happy to know how the extended family of her art remained together, after a fashion.


  1. Ronald Chapman amassed a biggish collection of GFW items, as revealed by later provenances, so clearly v committed to his mother's connection with Wattses

  2. what a lovely post, thank you


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