Friday 19 October 2018

The Trouble with Mary Pinnock

You know me, I can never leave anything alone.  I am always up for a challenge and possibly the worst thing anyone can say to me is 'you probably won't find anything out about so-and-so.' Never tell me there is nothing to find, it's like a red rag to a bull.  However, even I will admit that when it comes to history, women can be somewhat elusive, especially, and this really hacks me off, if they don't have anything to do with men.  In terms of trace-ability, the worst thing a woman in the past could do was be middle-class and unmarried because you will vanish.  With no trade records to find you or no children to treasure your memories, your footprint is a tad tiddy.  You're not fighting in wars, you are not joining the Masons (well, not without a lot of questions being asked, like why has that mysterious new member 'Gerald' got a magnificent bosom?) and being the respectable daughter or some middle-class chap, you are not really working or doing anything than occasionally cropping up at a flower show.  Sorry, anyway, all this rambling brings me to the subject of my recent research, Mary Pinnock...

Ophelia (Mary Pinnock) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Arguably, one of the most startling images created by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron has to be Ophelia from 1867, the model for which was the mysterious Mary Pinnock.  For years the model for this, and other images was misidentified as either Adeline Vaughan or Cyllena Wilson, despite not really looking like either one of them...

Adeline Vaughan, with daughter Augusta (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

Rosalba (Cyllena Wilson) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
In one of Cameron's many copyright entry forms, she recorded that the model for Ophelia was actually Mary Pinnock, so that settled that.  In the few volumes of Cameron's work that address the identities and lives of the models, no firm leads on Miss (or Mrs, but we'll come to that) Pinnock were given, apart from the fact that 'Pinnock' appeared in Cameron's household records as someone she paid as a merchant or labourer. So I got out my social history shovel and I started to dig...

Mary Pinnock (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Heavens, no wonder she was a tricky one, she looks just like Mary Ryan in this photo.  Anyway, I will tell you who I think Mary Pinnock was, but also why she might not be and we'll see where we go from there.  Searches in books such as Sylvia Wolf's indispensable Julia Margaret Cameron's Women and Nicky Bird's Tracing Echoes found no trace of a Pinnock family in Freshwater in the 1860s and in fact searching further afield you really aren't over-blessed with Pinnocks on the island as a whole. Therefore she must have come from outside the village at the very least, but this is not uncommon, taking the stories of Agnes Mangles and the Peacock sisters into account. I have found a Mary Pinnock, born 1844 in Newport on the Isle of Wight.  Her father, Robert, was a bit of a big-wig in the town, being not only a draper but also a town councillor.  He was also Mayor of Newport five times and had a very well connected civic career that spanned almost fifty years.  On his death in 1887, the Isle of Wight Country Press wrote that 'A great blank in the public life of Newport, and as greater void in the hearts of numberless personal friends have been caused by the death of Mr Robert Pinnock JP' and 2000 people attended his funeral from all over the island and the mainland.  Flipping heck.

 The Pinnock family of Sealand Cottage, Blackgang (posh house, not the caravan park that now bears its name) were well known locally.  The sons of the family seem to have gone into the drapery business which was shared with Robert's brother Henry.  Henry had been in business in the West Indies, and on his return started the business with Robert who had moved from Lewes in Sussex to the Wight.

Robert Pinnocks General Drapery, Newport (1889 advert)
 Mary had quite a privileged, but not entirely uneventful life.  It's hard to comprehend how frequently deaths occurred in the nineteenth century, and I am often rather shocked when part of a family just pop off all of a sudden, especially if they are wealthy. However, in 1861 Mary lost both her younger sister and mother within four weeks of each other. On the 11th October, Elizabeth, aged 40 died, followed by her 13 year old daughter Kate, on the 14th of November. The drapery business was then robbed in December of the same year, so 1861 was not the best year for the Pinnock family.  The reason I know these sad facts however is because the family were so well known and it makes that fame that makes Mary Pinnock, the third child and second daughter, Julia Margaret Cameron's Ophelia.  If no Pinnocks can be found in Freshwater then you have to find your Pinnocks somewhere...

Ophelia Study 2 (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Another reason that I suspect Mary Pinnock of Newport is the model for the Cameron photographs is she actually mixed socially with another of Cameron's models, Agnes Mangles.  As you will remember from this post, Agnes' father was involved with a Steam Packet company and attended social events in Newport.  Also there, according to the newspapers, was Miss Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor and it isn't beyond reason that if Julia Margaret Cameron acquired Miss Mangles through social events then Miss Pinnock could have been found too.  Added to this, the Pinnock recorded in the Cameron accounts could well be the drapers in Newport who may have been able to get the fabrics that the Camerons were after, what with Mr Pinnocks foreign connections. Hurrah! Success!

Now let me come to the fly in my ointment...

The Passion Flower at the Gate (1865-70) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mary Pinnock of Newport remained a spinster until her death in 1908 but this image of Mary appears to show a ring on her left hand.  Damn. It is possible therefore that the model was Mrs Mary Pinnock, married to a yet unknown Mr Pinnock.  I have found suspects, such as Mary Moore who married George Pinnick (sic), a blacksmith from West Cowes or Mary Marsh who married William Pinnick in 1861, but none had the immediate standing, connections or locality to make them as likely as Mary from Newport.  It also depends on Julia Margaret Cameron misspelling 'Pinnock' in the records of her photographs and household accounts.  

At this point I call upon my good friend May Prinsep to help me out...

Pre-Raphaelite Study (October 1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
Here we have a lovely image of the delightful Miss Prinsep and what is that I spy on the ring finger of her left hand?  A full four years before her marriage to Andrew Hichens, Miss Prinsep was wearing a ring on her finger for no apparent reason.  Now, we could say that maybe the image is reversed on purpose (or by accident) and so both May and Mary Pinnock are the wrong way round, or maybe in dressing up for the picture they chose to wear rings.  Maybe Mrs Cameron wanted the woman in her image to be married, as if that carried meaning in the story she was portraying.  We may never know, but it does tell me that just because a woman in wearing a ring in a work of art, it doesn't mean the model was married, especially if the image is not intending to be a portrait.

Miss Mary Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor of Newport, and a rather quiet, good-works-in-the-parish sort of woman, lived a reasonably long life, outliving all but two of her siblings.  I would very much like to get hold of the Francis Pittis & Sons catalogue of the auction of Miss M A Pinnock's effects on 29th April 1908 to see if she had any of Cameron's images of her which would seal it.  However in the meantime we have to content ourselves with some beautiful pictures of an attractive young woman who sat in front of a camera in the late 1860s on the Isle of Wight...

Daphne (Mary Pinnock)  (1866-8) Julia Margaret Cameron

Thursday 11 October 2018

In Defence of Rosa Corder

Whilst writing Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang there were a couple of ladies that I really only had a passing knowledge of before researching for the book.  One of those was Rosa Corder, included because her involvement with Pre-Raphaelite art was somewhat unique and she seemed to be rather an interesting person, so I started to do a bit of digging. You know me, I never take anyone's word for anything, especially when it comes to the word of people who didn't even know them.  As I wrote in this post, always remember - what is it that we know for sure?

Let's start with the accepted knowledge when it comes to Miss Corder. 

Mr._ and Miss._ nervously perpetuating the touch of a vanished hand (1922) Max Beerbohm
 Rosa Corder is known primarily to Pre-Raphaelite fans as a grand faker of Rossetti pictures, peddled by her erstwhile loverboy, Charles Augustus Howell (whose naughtiness is talked about here).  She is portrayed as sneaky and wicked, the moll to Howell's criminal mastermind.  The description that bothered me the most came from Stanley Weintraub's 1974 biography of Whistler:

"She exuded sexual appeal, and knew it, and, in her mid-twenties, had no interest in marriage although considerable interest in men." (page 165)

Well, that's a little bit creepy. Thanks Stan.

Let's start at the beginning of Rosa's story. She was born in 1853, the daughter of London merchant and musician Micah Corder, one of six children.  Her siblings were by and large successful and she seems to have been especially close to her brother Frederick with whom she took music lessons.  She was also talented at languages and published a translation of Science Without God by Rev. Father Didon before she was 20 years old. Frederick went on to become a composer and a Fellow and Curator of the Royal Academy of Music but Rosa took training in painting and portraiture, studying under Felix Moscheles (painter and advocat for peace and Esperanto).  

Portrait of Rosa Corder, from an etching by Mortimer Menpes, 1880
 She continued her studies with Frederick Sandys, where she excelled as a draughtsman and copyist.  Before we all jump to conclusions here, being a copyist was all part of becoming an artist (and possibly still is).  Actually, making copies of famous works of art for buyers was a roaring trade legitimately - for example Sir Merton Russell-Cotes wanted a copy of Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt but she refused, so he got Henry Justice Ford to do it for him, and it hangs in the collection of the Russell-Cotes in Bournemouth today.  To prove how good Rosa was, we have this...

The Marriage of St George (1870s) Rosa Corder
The above is a copy of Rossetti's cartoon for stained glass, by Rosa.  Rossetti was actually so impressed with her work he considered employing her as an assistant and it is through Rossetti that Rosa met Howell. There began a beautiful friendship (of forgery and adultery...)

Charles Augustus Howell (1882) Frederick Sandys
Right, just to slam on the breaks for a moment, if we take Rosa and Howell's relationship to date from the early 1870s, then Rosa was barely 20, whilst Howell was into his 30s.  It is arguable that Howell saw Rosa's potential as the producer of forgeries but quite what Rosa knew of their partnership is another matter.  I'm not arguing that Rosa was some unwitting rube in all this - Rosa was a very clever girl indeed, and some of the pictures that she copied were Henry Fuseli, referred to as 'objectionable' by subsequent biographers, which I think is fancy talk for 'boobs'...

An Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Girls (1793) Henry Fuseli
I think we can safely say that Rosa wasn't an innocent lady painter, but making the leap from someone who was an independent spirit and broadminded to criminal is a bit harsh.  Also, it seems to me that those qualities appear to be enough to condemn her rather than the forgery.  

Arrangement in Brown and Black, Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder (1878) James McNeill Whistler
It was Howell who asked for the portrait of Rosa to be painted by Whistler.  Weintraub suggests that Rosa had received some drawing instruction from Whistler and '...spent time in Whistler's studio, if not also in his bed' (p.165). Again, thanks for that. Howell offered Whistler £100 to paint their allegedly shared mistress.  The artist got her to stand in a doorway - '...with the darkness of a shuttered room behind her, her firm body clothed in black and turned away from him, her face in profile, left hand on hip, a dark plumed hat in her right hand.' (p.165).  Whistler took his time, with 40 sittings, or in fact standings, which took hours until she passed out.  It was only when Rosa decided it was done that Whistler finally gave it up and let the poor woman go.  It is an amazing portrait, with 25 year old Rosa looking self possessed and confident.  In regards to Weintraub's above quote can I draw your attention to 'firm body' and 'hand on hip'. Seriously Stan, please dial it down.

Fred Archer (c. 1880) Rosa Corder
So, whilst being the evil temptress forger, Rosa also managed to set herself up as a painter in Newmarket.  In the 1880s Rosa took over the studio of Harry Hall, an accomplished equine painter, in a town devoted to horse racing.  There was a little resistance to this woman coming into what was undoubtedly a male-dominated world, but Rosa had a love of animals that drew her to her subjects both human and otherwise.  It wasn't long before she fitted in completely.  One firm friend was the jockey Fred Archer who Rosa painted a couple of times during his prolific career.  Rosa was very close friends with Ellen Terry, who gave an account of visiting Rosa in her studio: 

'"How wonderfully different are the expressions on terriers' faces," I said to her, looking at a painting of hers of a fox-terrier pup. "That's the only sort of pup I should like to have." "That one belonged to Fred Archer," Rosa Corder said. "I dare say he could get you one like it." We went to Archer and from him "Fussie" [Terry's dog] was obtained.' (from The Story of My Life by Ellen Terry)

Now, Ellen Terry actually knew Rosa and so I always like to hear the opinions of people who were there at the time, so let's see what she has to say...

Ellen Terry, Fussie and Drummie (her terriers)
Ellen described Rosa as 'plain-beautiful', 'so far more attractive than some of the pretty ones', she was pale with great hair and she wore 'odd clothes'.  Fellow painter W. Graham Robertson described her as 'gentle and crushed looking'.  None of which says sexy siren exactly... Back to Newmarket, and sporting newspapers spoke glowingly of Rosa's pictures of the race horses.  Her paintings became popular engravings and she became a fixture in the town.  In secret, she had given birth to Howell's daughter the same year as she had moved to Newmarket.  Her love of animals also brought her into conflict with some of her potential clients and fellow Newmarket residents.  She seems to have been fined regularly for refusing to muzzle her dogs in public and in 1890 she was a witness at a trial against animal cruelty.

Mrs Charles Augustus Howell (Kitty) (1873) Frederick Sandys
When Howell's wife Frances Kate (Kitty) died in 1888, Rosa took care of the Howell's daughter Rosalind, who grew up alongside her half-sister, Rosa's daughter Beatrice.  Howell died in 1890 and it was rumoured that he had been found with his throat cut in a gutter with a sovereign between his teeth but the truth was somewhat more mundane.  He developed pneumonia after a chill and was confined to a hospital where Rosa visited him daily.  Rosa only outlived her mentor by a couple of years, much in the same way as Alexa Wilding and Rossetti, or Dorothy Dene and Leighton.  Rosa's love of animals proved her undoing as she too developed pneumonia after taking extra time to ensure her horse was dry on a cold wet day before seeing to her own needs.  She died in 1893, aged only 40.

Right then, so what is it that we can say for sure?  Rosa was bright and talented with an independent spirit.  This we know because of her many accomplishments and the fact that she represented herself in male-dominated art and sports worlds.  She obviously loved Howell who she not only had a child with but also cared for at the end of his life.  She also cared deeply for animals, proved by her willingness to stand up in court and testify against an owner who had mistreated his horses.  She undoubtedly produced the forgeries that Howell sold but we don't know if the young woman knew what her lover was doing or that she felt comfortable within that relationship to object.  It seems to me that in reading accounts of the whole forgery business, Rosa and Howell are seen as equal partners in the villainy.  Actually, more than that, Howell is seen as a crook but Rosa is seen as a temptress, sexually promiscuous even before she meets Howell.  Weintraub's casual assertion that she had probably jumped from bed to bed before ending up with Howell is a judgement not a fact.  He's not the first to condemn her - in Murray Marks and His Friends (1919), G G Williamson says that Rosa lived on 'very intimate terms' with Whistler, Rossetti and Howell.  When Ellen Terry refers to her friend as 'plain-beautiful' somehow there is no judgement. I don't know what it is about Rosa that makes writers want to believe she was promiscuous and immoral, where as someone like Howell can get away with being 'a bit of a rogue' or even criminal. For a woman, being criminal is not enough, she also seems to have to be slutty.  I think that says far more about the biographers than it does Miss Rosa Corder.

Anyway, I think it is probably better for us to think of Rosa as an animal-loving young woman who may or may not have known what her much older lover was up to, but still stuck by him and his daughter until the end of her life.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Review: My Ladys Soul: The Poems of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall

Whilst doing the rounds to publicize my new book Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang, I was mainly asked questions about one woman. Above any other Pre-Raphaelite woman, Elizabeth or Lizzie Siddal (or Siddall) remains most people's idea of what 'Pre-Raphaelite' means.  With her long red hair and tragic legends, people definitely have an opinion about her, but as Serena Trowbridge, editor of a new collection of Siddal's poems, says in her introduction 'the woman has come to be represented purely by her face.'

Elizabeth Siddal (1850s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From the countless images drawn by the obsessive Dante Gabriel Rossetti all through the 1850s, we feel we know Lizzie, but without knowledge of her work our impression is only ever surface-deep or what we project upon her.  It is beyond marvellous therefore that Serena has brought together all of Siddal's poems for the first time in one handy volume.

First a note about 'Siddal' vs 'Siddall'.  Elizabeth was originally 'Siddall' but it was suggested by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that one 'l' was better than two and so she dropped an 'l' professionally.  However as Serena discusses, 'Elizabeth Siddal' has come to represent all the woman-in-the-bath-tub, buried-then-dug-up-with-the-poems type nonsense, whereas 'Elizabeth Siddall' is the actual person who lived, wrote, painted, modelled and all that jazz.  One is a construct of first of all, arguably, herself, but mainly the Rossetti family, then of countless biographers, novelists, film-makers and journalists, until all that is left is a Sad Ginger (TM).

Sketch for Ophelia (1852) John Everett Millais
The book is just over 100 pages long and contains not only Siddal's poems but also Serena's helpful notation which gives not only a perfect understanding of each of the poem but also how it fits with Siddal's other work and her life. Serena draws on the work of other biographers and art historians to explain the poems in wonderful depth.  The explanation often covers more space than the poem itself showing not only how complex Siddal's writing is but also Serena's own palpable love of the subject that is infectious.

Clerk Saunders Elizabeth Siddal
It's not a wholly jolly read, unsurprisingly, but it is in the sad poems you hear a proper 3-dimensional version of  'Lizzie Siddal'.  'Thy strong arms around me love' speaks of a woman who has been worn down by her lover so much that her only hope is that he will leave, even though she knows it will break her further.  As Rossetti wrote of the lure of tendrils of hair binding men to conniving temptresses, Siddal's lover with his strong arms has her captive and weakened even though she can see the physical difference he has reduced her to, just as clearly as Beyonce in 'Crazy in Love'. Sorry, couldn't resist, but it's true.

Lady Clare (c.1854-7) Elizabeth Siddal
Reading the poems I was struck not by the resignation to death that some of the poems seem to hold, but the feeling of being a part of nature.  She speaks of woods, trees, earth, all metaphors for life and the return to dust but also as being connected to nature and the seasons.  These emotions express not only a strength but also an inevitability that she is as unpossessable as summer, and this changes my view of Siddal in a permanent way.  Through her poetry she speaks of love and its trials and tribulations but by aligning herself with nature that will welcome her home at the end, the woman who speaks is never truly owned by the man who never appreciates her. Whether you embrace one 'l' or two, Elizabeth Siddal is not merely one man's 'face' to look out from his canvas.  It's time to get to know her better.

Elizabeth Siddal (c.1860)

My Ladys Soul: The Poems of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall edited by Serena Trowbridge is available now from Amazon (UK, USA) and all good bookshops.