Saturday, 30 January 2021

A Drawing of Mary Hillier

 One of the things I most love about this blog is being contacted by people who have images to show me, and then being able to bring you those pictures for your pleasure too.  Also, I love the fact that we often act as a hive mind to solve art mysteries and this is a bit of both. This weekend I have been contacted by someone who had a drawing of Mary Hillier.  Imagine my utter delight because, after all, this book appeared last year...

Up to that point, I was unaware of many, if any, drawings of Mary, who only seemed to exist in the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron and a bas relief by Murial Perrin. As you can see by that post, the Perrins also drew Mary, but as an old woman.  However, I knew that Mary had acted as a traditional artists model, as in a 1926 local newspaper interview, she talked about sitting for people like G F Watts and Coutts Lindsay, but I had never come across their, or any, other sketches of Mary.  I am fairly certain that Watts turned this photograph given to him by Cameron...

The Holy Family (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

...into this painting...

Charity (1898) G F Watts

...however, up to this point I had not seen anything like the chalk drawing I was shown, which I shall now show to you.

Right, to start with, it was bought as 'Portrait of a Scottish Girl' by Margaret Cameron, but is clearly Mary Hillier (who wasn't even vaguely Scottish, in case you were wondering).  Here are a couple of useful photographs for comparison...

Group (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron

Study After The Elgin Marbles (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron

The nose bump gives it away. As far as we know, Cameron did not draw as well as photograph, but her circle certainly contained enough artists to be likely candidates.  I have to admit, I was strongly reminded of some of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sketches of Fanny Cornforth, like these...

Fanny Cornforth (late 1860s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Fanny Cornforth (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 Whilst we know Rossetti knew Julia Margaret Cameron, so it isn't out of the question he borrowed her best model, we also know that Rossetti avoided her company, and didn't visit her on the Isle of Wight.  Rossetti would have mentioned it in his copious correspondence that we still have, and I can't imagine for a moment that Julia would have been able to hold back from telling everyone she could if she managed to get Rossetti in the doors of Dimbola.  Plus, she would have definitely have photographed him.  

Okay, so who else?  Edward Burne-Jones was in the Little Holland House circle, so could it be him? He doted on Cameron's niece Julia Jackson, so could he have used the lovely Mary as a model too?

Desiderium (1873) Edward Burne-Jones

Whilst Burne-Jones did have the opportunity, his style of drawing is often more stylised.  I mean, we can all pick a Burne-Jones woman out of a line up, they are so willow-y perfect.  However, that's not to say that he didn't do the chalk sketch of Mary, he had range as we can see from Desiderium.  However, are there any other suspects?

Portrait of a Girl (undated) Val Prinsep

How about a member of the family, like Val Prinsep, who would have had lots of access to Cameron's home? I don't know enough of Prinsep's drawings to be able to compare, and I haven't seen any chalks by him.  This is where you lot come in - do you have any ideas who did this wonderful chalk of Mary Hillier?  If so, tell me, I'll be excited to hear you thoughts.  It's such a gorgeous chalk and I am so pleased to see other artist's imagery of Mary.  

 I look forward to hearing from you...


  1. I feel it's not quite good enough for Rossetti or EBJ. Stylistically it's not unlike William Morris's graphite drawings but I can't remember seeing a pastel by him. Does he fit relationship-wise?

    1. It's suggested to be 1880s but I think 1870s is a fine guess too. Much like with Rossetti, if Cameron had managed to pay court to any famous artist outside her normal circle, I think she would have raved about it and tried to take their photograph. Can you imagine how good a photograph of William Morris by Cameron would have been? That woman appreciated beards...


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