One of my favourite stories about Evelyn de Morgan is when her sister, Mrs Anna Stirling visited the Russell-Cotes at Gallery and saw their massive painting Aurora Triumphs by, er, Edward Burne-Jones...
|Hang on a minute...|
It had been bought as a Burne-Jones by the Russell-Cotes family, but as Mrs Pickering informed the rather startled curator, that was definitely her sister's work because the figure of Aurora was her nursemaid. Although Herbert Russell-Cotes had bought what he thought was a splendid Burne-Jones in 1922, what he had actually bought was one of de Morgan's finest paintings, recognised because of the unforgettable face of a nursemaid called Jane Hales.
|Study of Jane Hales (1872-1887) Evelyn de Morgan|
There's been a bit written about Miss Hales of late, or rather about her and Mrs de Morgan and possible readings of their relationship. For the record, I neither known nor care if Evelyn and Jane were in love or if Evelyn fancied Jane, because all that detracts from the fact that people can find other people aesthetically pleasing without it being about sex. We're not all Rossetti, you know. Anyway, Jane appears so often and so strikingly in Evelyn's work, she is almost her touchstone, the constant in her artistic vision. So, who was Jane Hales?
|The Dryad (1884) Evelyn de Morgan|
Mary Jane Hales was born in the summer of 1851 to John and Maria Hales of Leverington, Cambridgeshire. Her father was an agricultural labourer and Jane was at school only as long as a child of that class was allowed before being sent off into the world of work. As it was, Jane's first job was the only one she would have and she dedicated herself to it whole heartedly. At 15, in 1866, Jane joined the Pickering household as nurse to look after one year old Anna Maria Wilhelmina Pickering. Mr Pickering had apparently become so worried about child kidnappers that he insisted on a nurse-companion for each child to keep them safe. His choice of Jane was apposite as she proved a loyal and dedicated companion to Anna and her sister.
|Boreas and Oreithyia (1896) Evelyn de Morgan|
She was initially paid £11 a year which rose to £16 after she took time away from the Pickerings to return home, possible to nurse a family member. Her brother William died in 1873, but he was already married so it seems unlikely Jane would have been needed to care for him. Looking at Jane's family tree, not many of her siblings make it to adulthood, seemingly only her sister Henrietta and Jane making a decent age, so it could have been there was a lot of illness in the family home. Anyway, Jane returned to the Pickerings in 1871, where her pay was raised to £16 per year. Jane's Uncle had also worked for the Pickerings which is possibly where the opportunity for Jane came from. Evelyn Pickering (later de Morgan) was 11 when Jane came to work for them, and already a determined artist. As her talent grew, her need for life models increased and Jane, described as 'pretty' in Anna Stirling's biography of her sister, was always to hand to be 'bullied or cajoled' (as Anna recorded in her biography) into posing.
|Luna (1885) Evelyn de Morgan|
Evelyn's mother had chronic back problems (which makes you wonder about Evelyn's later relationship with Jane Morris, another sufferer and only a little younger than Evelyn's mother) and so Jane became a close substitute for the little Pickering children as well as a companion for Evelyn. She spent nine months abroad with the family at a spa in Germany as Mrs Pickering took a rest cure, and travelled over England with the children.
|Lux in Tenebris (1895) Evelyn de Morgan|
The classically proportioned and beautiful Jane enabled Evelyn to always have a model to hand and she inspired works of art from the young artist. As Evelyn developed an interest in the spiritual side of life, I wonder if Jane's kind and caring nature and role within the family is what inspired the beauty of Evelyn's art.
|Helen of Troy (1898) Evelyn de Morgan|
Even when Anna married in 1901, Jane remained, a necessity to the family, a member of the family. In 1911, she is still there, listed in Anna's home - Anna had become Mrs Stirling and pleasingly the head of the household as an author (Mr Stirling was a university lecturer) - and Jane had graduated from nursemaid to lady's maid to her 45 year old charge. Jane died, aged 75, and was buried in the plot adjacent to Evelyn, who predeceased her by seven years. Jane's inclusion in the Pickering/de Morgan/Stirling graves marks the closeness of the girls of the family and how Jane had dedicated herself to them. Beyond whether or not Evelyn de Morgan was sexually attracted to her model, is the story of a woman who was valued in another family as being their own necessity and given a grave among them because they could not bear to be separated from her, even in death.
See you tomorrow.