Friday 29 July 2022

Exhibition News: Telling Tales

This is just a quickie, but I'm absolutely delighted to bring you news of an exhibition that will appear in the Autumn of 2022.  It's all about the Victorian passion for narrative art and it is very special to me as it is my first major exhibition as guest curator! While all the planning and writing is being done, I thought I would do a quick post to give you some idea of what I'm up to...

The Captain's Daughter (The Last Evening) (1873) James Tissot

Narrative Art was popular in Victorian Britain at a time when the artistic elite of the country had official turned its back on story-telling. In 1877, the novelist Henry James reported a trip to the Royal Academy when he watched the other viewers tell each other the ‘story’ of the painting:

‘Two ladies stood near me, entranced: for a long time they were silent. At last – ‘Her mother was a widow!’ one of them gently breathed.’

The popularity of such art to the general public was due to its sensational quality but also its accessibility, allowing the viewer to put themselves into the situation and to identify with the characters. Who doesn't love a painting where you can see some drama taking place? Are there people falling in love or, even better, dying tragically? Are there handsome young men being tricksy or dogs telling us something about the human condition?

Tick-Tick (1881) Briton Riviere

In many ways, art was a visual companion to the novels of the time, and it’s no coincidence that many famous narrative pieces drew their inspiration from works of literature...  

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1866) Edwin Long
Not only that, but 19th century narrative art tells us so much about the concerns of the age, what Victorians feared, desired and what surrounded them in everyday life. I've always been drawn to the Victorian love of story-telling and it's fascinating to see the range of subjects and themes and the ways they found to tell those stories, all in a single image. 

Tea in the Conservatory (undated) Harry E J Browne

I have the absolute pleasure of working with the collections of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and the Southampton City Art Gallery to create an exhibition which will cover subjects such as love and loss, childhood, animals, Empire and war. There will be more information available soon, but at the moment I can tell you that the exhibition will initially start at the Russell Cotes in October and will appear at Southampton next year.

Always Welcome (1887) Laura Alma-Tadema

I'll keep you informed and look forward to welcoming you to the exhibition in the Autumn!

Friday 22 July 2022

Alice Havers

 I have a rather dubious confession to make about my research - I absolutely love divorce papers. I'm not sure what that says about me, very likely nothing good, but you learn an awful lot about people from the accounts in the supporting statements submitted with the various decrees.  I know of one well-respected Pre-Raphaelite painter who punched his wife in the face with a book, something I've never read about him in any biography. Sometimes it's graphically awful and you are delighted that you are reading this in a divorce document rather than a newspaper report after their murder (sorry, Dolly Henry). Anyway, all this confession is in way of explaining how I met Alice Havers...

Rush Cutters (1887)

Alice Mary Celestine Havers was born into a very well-to-do family in May of 1850. The Havers lived at Thelton Hall in Norfolk, which had been built by Thomas Havers in around 1592 with a chapel which no doubt houses generations of Havers.  Alice's Dad, yet another Thomas (1810-1870) decided the Norfolk life was not for him and so moved to the Falkland Islands (which is a bit of an overreaction in my opinion) in 1854, with her older siblings, mother, Ellen, a nurse and governess Mary Coppinger. Alice's childhood was spent growing up in the Falklands, which is fascinating to people of my vintage who really only know a few (mainly war-related) things about the Falklands. There is a very good, Falklands-centric page on Alice here.  Sadly, Ellen died not long after they arrived in the Falklands.  Thomas then promptly married the governess.  Moving on.

They Homeward Wend Their Weary Way (1875)

When Thomas left his work with the Falkland Island Company, he took his family over to Uraguay, where he died in 1870, when Alice was 20. She was finally free to have her own life and returned with some of her siblings to England.  Her sister Dorothy became the writer Dorothy Boulger, after marrying in 1879 (presumably publishing in her maiden name from her first book in 1871 until then). Alice attended the art school in South Kensington and began painting and exhibiting her works.  She became quickly known for her small and delicate works on slightly melancholic or rural scenes. The Gentlewoman magazine commented on her work after her death as being 'graceful, delicate, almost ethereal...She never painted anything large or very ambitious in design or colouring', but this was because each painting was a treasure of beauty from her heart, according to the gushing memorial. It is easy to see what they meant when looking at pleasing images such as Blanchisseuses: What, No Soap? (1880)...

Blanchisseuses: What, No Soap? (1880)

She also illustrated many books, including her sister's, becoming known for her expressive line drawings...

'Bobby, My Boy' from Bumblebee Bogo's Budget (1887)

'Nautilus' from Bumblebee Bogo's Budget (1887)

She married fellow artist Frederick Morgan in April of 1872 at St George's in Bloomsbury, falling pregnant almost immediately.  The couple's son, Valentine, was born the following February. In most accounts, Valentine Havers (yes, he took his mother's name when he became a professional artist) was born on 13th February, rather than the assumed 14th, but in the divorce papers of Alice and Frederick (sorry, spoiler alert, but we all knew it was coming), his birthday is listed as 14th, which makes more sense, given his name. The little family lived at 5 Clyde Street in South Kensington to start with (Clyde Street has since been renamed Redcliffe Place, part of Redcliffe Gardens, by Redcliffe Road, making them neighbours of Alexa Wilding. It's a small world etc etc) and were joined in 1875 by daughter Lilian, moving round the corner into Cathcart Road. 

Frederick Morgan

Although he possessed a great big moustache, Frederick Morgan does not strike me as a happy or particularly nice man. In the divorce proceedings of 1889, Alice is very specific about how atrocious their marriage had been. Trouble is recorded as starting even before Lilian was born, with the first affair coming the year after Valentine was born. In 1876, Frederick committed adultery in Dieppe (I'm not sure if that's a comment on Dieppe as I have never been there and possibly for the good of my marriage, I shouldn't). In 1878, the Morgan's housemaid, an aptly named lass called Hetty Screwby, was found sitting on Frederick's lap in their studio, and his retort was that Alice should not have employed such an attractive maid. Frederick's affair with Rose Kerrison, in Park Walk, Chelsea, resulted in him catching an STD, but on top of these many affairs, Alice claimed that Frederick was often violent towards her. In the divorce paperwork, Frederick denied all of it, claiming that any time he struck Alice was entirely in self defence, but undermining this was the presence on more than one occasion of Dorothy, who backed up her sister's stories of mistreatment.  On one occasion, Frederick pulled Alice off a chair, on another he forced her onto the floor to make her apologise, then dragged her round the room by her arms after a disagreement over seating at that evening's dinner party.  Alice was so badly injured that Dorothy had to take her place at the event.

After all that appallingness, possibly it is unsurprising to learn that alongside all the pastoral loveliness, Alice had quite a talent for an unhappy picture, such as this one...

End of her Journey (1875)

I actually wrote a post on this painting as part of Sobvent back in 2019. It was an absolute hit when it was shown in 1877 in Liverpool with crowds gathering around it in the galleries. Newspapers rhapsodised about the wistful little child clinging to the dead mother, and the callous indifference of the onlookers.  The Yorkshire Post debates whether the woman is actually a tramp, 'unknown and uncared for' who has been found by the workers on their way to the fields. The Manchester Courier refers to the woman as a 'returning wanderer', suggesting the woman has come home to die. The various, sometimes contradictory readings of pieces of narrative art is why I love this sort of picture. 

Trouble (The Sick Child) (1882)

When this painting was exhibited with the Society of Lady Artists in 1885, it was praised in the way she 'treats the domestic sorrows of humble life with touching tenderness of sentiment.' I think there is no coincidence that the image looks like one of her well-known and loved images of another mother...

'But Mary Kept All These Things And Pondered Them In Her Heart' (1888)

Interestingly, although this was a very popular painting with the general public, there were some  criticisms, including the appearance of the Virgin Mother, which was outrageously shocking, apparently. According to the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail (Clarion of Truth, no doubt), there was a lot to be questioned about these presumptuous lady artists: 
'The girlish figure with her pretty thoughtful face, and soft brown hair falling about her shoulders, is certainly anything but the conventional Madonna, and you can enquire disapprovingly why the lady artist has thought proper to depart from the traditions of more than a thousand years. It surely, you will suggest, argues an unwise amount of presumption and besides, if the BVM is to be represented entirely according to the caprice of the painter, it leaves the field open to endless offence against good taste.  Perhaps we might eventually find her attired in the latest novelty of nineteenth century fashion, or even represented with the features of some fashionable beauty. Eccentricity, you will crushingly conclude, is not the true offspring of original genius, but only its bastard imitation.'

 Well, that's us told. Apparently it's disrespectful to show the Holy Mother with brown hair, but it's cool to refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as BVM...

Advertising card for The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan

Alice also illustrated programmes for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, providing the perfect blend of whimsy and playfulness that the works inspired. I particularly liked this card for The Gondoliers, which I appeared in (an amateur production) aged about 15.  My costume was nowhere as nice as the lady above, although my kimono for The Mikado was gorgeous. I digress.

Ought and Carry One (1874)

When Alice exhibited Ought and Carry One at the Royal Academy in 1874, Queen Victoria bought it during the private view, as she was so charmed with the image of the school girl puzzled by a sum. It had already been purchased by someone else but apparently if the Queen wants the picture, there really is no arguing with that. I think the sentimental nature of many of Alice's pictures made them perfect subjects for prints and engravings that appeared in magazines, perfect for the walls of your own home.  Her work, and that of many other artists including her husband, saw their narrative works become popular and loved by the sort of people who might not make it to the Royal Academy, but knew what paintings were popular. It is one of those circular discussions - are they popular because they are prints or do they become prints because they are popular?  It certainly doesn't seem to be because they are critically acclaimed, but maybe the more commercially canny watched to see where the crowds gathered during public viewings and those were the pictures that were selected. It's a fascinating process, dictating taste.

Fast Asleep (undated)

Fred's affair with his model, Mary Reardon, lasted all of 1888 and involved them going to Shanklin, that well-known sin city. That appears to have been the final straw for Alice who packed up her children and went to Paris. Whilst there, she filed for divorce and returned to her studies in art under Benjamin Constant. By this point Valentine was 15, Lilian 13 and Reginald 7 so must have been aware of what was occurring in the family home. Alice's health was suffering and the divorce was drawn out over a year with Fred contesting the claims of cruelty and adultery. However, as the newspapers gleefully reported, Dorothy had been present in the house for the violence and Fred and his mistresses had not exactly been discreet so he didn't have a leg to stand on. The divorce was finally granted on 1st July 1890 with costs awarded to Alice. Alice and the children moved back to London, to St John's Wood where she rented a house with a studio, but the new life was not to last long. She had been suffering from neuralgia and medicating with morphia, injected straight into her forehead, spending her nights on the coach in her studio. On the morning of 25th August 1890, the maid found her insensible from an overdose, with the needle still clenched in her hand. On the table was a letter to her doctor, describing her symptoms as unbearable and requesting another course of treatment.  She died the next day.  The newspapers had a field day and I wonder if this was an escalation of the mild (by comparison) interest shown in Elizabeth Siddal's death, almost 30 years previously. There were some newspapers that made much of the fact that she was newly divorced, therefore miserable not to be married anymore.  Some drew an interesting line between her status as a successful career woman and mental instability. Much of her obituaries concentrated on her (ex) husband, calling her Mrs Frederick Morgan, and her male ancestors, one of whom was Gentleman of the Horse to John, Duke of Norfolk at the Battle of Bosworth Field. In the Pall Mall Gazette, an obituary 'by One Who Knew Her' remarked how she was 'the best dressed woman in the room' at the last meeting of the Salon, 'her dress somehow always had both cachet  and courage, and her slight, girlish figure enabled her to adopt with success combinations of colour that in greater mass would have looked audacious.' They went on to praise her 'little fame'. Charming. What was enduring was the popularity of Alice's art with mentions of her talent after her death, and reprints of her popular pieces, possibly even more popular with the tragedy attached.

A Turkish Lady (undated) Val Havers

As a sad postscript, Valentine followed in his mother's footsteps and also became an artist, using her surname, which I think is very telling. He also married and divorced, with Valentine taking after his father in his many affairs, including liaisons on the Isle of Wight. I have to start asking questions about what's in the water over there... The decree nisi was granted in October 1911 but Valentine died in the January 1912, a sad echo of his mother, again in his 40th year. Both Lilian and Reginald died before 1920, both shy of their 40th birthdays. That's a very specific family legacy.

Friday 15 July 2022


 I feel this might well be a ranty post as doing the research for this infuriated me and I'm hoping I will leave you well ticked off as well. It is about a young woman called Dolly who died at the hands of the artist who painted her, but it is also about how we write about women.  As always, it's also about Fanny Cornforth, because everything I write is about Fanny in the end. It all started when I looked again at some pictures of witches for an article I was writing for Enchanted Living.  I was reminded how much I loved this striking image...

The Witch (1913) John Currie

I liked this image because it was a bit of a change from pointy hats and broomsticks, and plays into one of my favourite subjects, the banality of evil. Really evil people never look particularly evil or else they wouldn't be able to do what they do. You'd see them coming a mile off if they were all flashing cloaks and twizzling moustaches. Anyway, who says the witch has to be evil? There was just something about John Currie's witch that was slightly unsettling, that let you know she had all the power and she knew it. Mr Currie is a bit out of my normal realms of interest, although I don't mind a bit of Gertler and Carrington, so I didn't know the story behind this image. I do now and I'm hacked off.  Not only that but I'm tagging Fanny in to back me up.  Let's start with the witch above, because this is her story.

Dorothy Eileen Henry was born in the Autumn of 1893.  Her parents, Thomas and Kate had met in Colchester, after Henry had come over from Ireland and married when Kate was barely 15. Around a dozen children swiftly followed, with Dorothy somewhere in the middle, making the Henry household somewhat packed.  Thomas worked as a travelling salesman, so the family started by living with Kate's widowed mother before moving out on their own. Not all the children survived childhood but on the whole, an impressive number of the Henry children lived until the latter end of the 20th century. By 1901, Thomas and Kate and 9 of their children lived at 20 Kendall Road, Colchester, a mid-terrace house that must have been a squeeze. Kate continued having children until 1907, so it's unsurprising that the older children made their way into the world as soon as possible. Eldest daughter Katie got married, as did next oldest John. Dorothy's brother Thomas, named after his father, only made it to his 12th birthday before he died. Dorothy decided she wanted to see a bit of life and so she took herself off to London.

When in London, Dorothy became 'Dolly' and found work both in domestic service, then as a dress model at Jay's on Regent Street.  Jay's had started out as a Mourning Warehouse, a place to get everything you needed for that full Victorian experience of death. This particularly wonderful page on it describes it as 'the Argos of grief'. It became so ubiquitous that by the turn of the century it was known simply as Jay's, rather than it's full title of 'The London General Mourning Warehouse' (magnificent) and by the look of the adverts it wasn't selling itself solely on the mourning, unlike early ads like the one above. Even a very pleasant summer tea-gown in apple green was covered in black net in 1900, so maybe those habits died hard, if you excuse the expression. Anyway, Dolly had found work as a dress model by the summer of 1911.  She had flame red hair and a beautiful face and I'm sure she looked smashing in black. She met artist John Currie who was immediately attracted to her and asked her to model.  She agreed and he produced a portrait of her, Head of a Girl.  She was 17 years old.

Head of a Girl (Dorothy Henry) (c.1911-14) John Currie

John Currie was 27 and married. Originally from Staffordshire where he had painted ceramics at the potteries, he had studied at the Royal Academy from 1904 to 1906, before becoming a teacher of art in Bristol for 18 months, then an Inspector under the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland until 1909. Interestingly, both John and Dolly are referred to as 'Irish' in various accounts of their lives, despite neither actually being from Ireland. I wonder if it is a handy slur to explain the violence of their relationship.  After that, he decided that he needed to return to college and took himself to London and the Slade, studying part time with Mark Gertler and Augustus John.  He still had to work to afford it, and he is listed in the 1911 census as an 'Art Instructor', living on his own in Hampstead.

 John had married Jessie Brandon, a Grocer's daughter from Staffordshire in 1907, their son Mark appearing in 1908, but Jessie did not follow John to London or if she did, she had returned home by 1911 when he met Dolly. The timeline of their affair is a little uncertain, but according to later accounts, Jessie Currie asked her husband to stop his affair with Dolly, but John refused so she broke off relations with him.  John took young model Dolly to live at 1 St George's Square, Pimlico, before the couple went to Newlyn and joined the artists's colony there.

Okay, I'm pausing because what comes next is horrible.  However, does this story remind you of anyone so far? Sarah Cox came to London to find work and was discovered by an artist and she became 'Fanny'.  When I saw the above image of Dolly from 1911, I was instantly reminded of this...

Bocca Baciata (1859) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A beautiful, desirably, red-haired girl looks out of the canvas of her lover.  Both paintings are warm and sensuous, Dolly and Fanny looking coy and knowing. Because of the title, Bocca Baciata seems to imply more about Fanny than Dolly's plain Head of a Girl but both paintings seem to add biography to their subjects rather than to their creators.  That is doubly true of Dolly's portrait The Witch and arguably Fanny's outing as Lady Lilith...

Lady Lilith (1867) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Both women, at the end of their love affairs (allegedly) with the artists, pose for paintings as witches. Fanny and Rossetti were drawing to the end of their flurry of romance after the death of Elizabeth Siddal, and he would famously paint over her in the oil of this image, never again using Fanny as his main model. For many of Rossetti's friends and subsequent biographers, this image of Fanny, drawing her fingers through her hair, engrossed in her own reflection, summed up how deeply they hated her. She was unnatural, wicked, able to possess the artist and make him weak. Never did they acknowledge the cataclysmic mental health disaster that Rossetti went through. Somehow, Fanny and her evil powers were at the root of Rossetti's problems and would eventually be the death of him. Looking at it in those terms, I am almost inclined to forgive Fanny's critics as they were trying to explain something that had happened to their friend and brother without opening the box marked 'mental health'. They didn't know what to do with his titanic self-destruction so they blamed it on Fanny, after all Fanny survived.  They make Rossetti's art about Fanny, and that is ridiculous. Back to Dolly...

There are some much fuller accounts of the years 1912-1914 (here for example) but it didn't take long for John and Dolly's relationship to become violent. This leads me to wondered why Jessie was already living with her parents in 1911, and it could be that she had left with her son before Dolly was even on the scene. While in Cornwall, Dolly fled from John who threatened her with a razor, and was found by Laura Knight hiding in her garden among sunflowers. An artist from Eastbourne, St. Clare O'Malley, reported how he had met Dolly who was sporting a black eye given to her by John in one of his jealous moods. John wrote to Dolly's parents promising to marry her, leaving out the part where he was already married until they found out and he promised to get a divorce. He didn't.  Dolly turned 18 years old.

Seamstresses  (Dolly and her cousin Mary) (1913) John Currie

Mark Gertler, tremendously in awe of John's talent, hooked up with the couple to make an odd threesome that travelled to Ostend together. Mark was closer to Dolly's age than John's and hero worshipped him. He had his own romantic problems, in love forever with Dora Carrington and arguably attracted to John, with not a little jealousy about Dolly. John Woodeson's 1972 biography of Gertler is not the place to go looking for a fair assessment of Dolly's life, but you certainly get an idea of what she was up against. Gertler became enmeshed in the couples dysfunctional, violent menage, and took John's side. He wrote to a friend "Currie is ill with most of my evenings are spent with him in his rooms. Henry makes supper. I enjoy these quiet and peaceful evenings very much." Other friends of John and Gertler visited and passed judgement on Dolly - "the fair-haired girl was evidently not highly educated" remarked one, and patron of the arts, Edward Marsh gave his own verdict "There was no great harm in her but she was extremely vain and quite empty-headed - and jealous of his work." 

Dolly, John and Mark in Ostend (1912) from John Woodeson's biography

I have a special level of anger for when grown men feel entitled to pass judgement on teenage girls but really any privileged man who feels the need to comment negatively on a working class woman is going to receive my ire. Fanny Cornforth received heaps of criticism from Rossetti's circle, the majority of which was class-based in origin - the difference between Fanny, Elizabeth Siddal and Jane Morris was that Elizabeth and Jane allowed themselves to be elevated out of one class into another, by training, talent and keeping their mouths shut. Fanny did not lose the accent, nor have a talent for art,and she did not remain quiet and still.  All of these things were commented on,  even by William Allingham who, arguably, did not mean to criticise how she spoke or how she ran about the garden after the 'chicking', but it comes off as an educated man commenting on an uneducated woman. Luckily for Fanny, Rossetti was a cluster-mine of personal issues so when his mental health deteriorated most of his friends primarily blamed the death of Elizabeth rather than his relationship with Fanny.  Had Elizabeth not died would Rossetti still have had the mental health he did? One thing Fanny was never blamed for was Rossetti's mental health - she was blamed for possibly enabling his addictions, but I suspect that to blame Fanny for Rossetti's depression would mean acknowledging it existed. Luckily for John Currie's friends and supporters, the blame for his mental health issues and violence could be placed squarely at the feet of a teenage girl.

I think the moment I really connected Fanny and Dolly in my mind was when I read Mark Gertler's comment - "It was bad enough when she kept quiet but now that she gives herself airs and talks, I can't stand it." This was said in response to Dolly attempting to talk about art with the men. The art that she appeared in. Others concentrated on how Dolly was destroying John with her womanly powers, as contemporary novelist Michael Sadleir wrote in his memoirs -

 "Her lure for men was irresistible, and Currie was of course utterly enslaved to her physical attraction, a fact of which she was well aware. In her way she had a genuine love for him; but no glimmer of a notion that art could be of importance to anyone. Resenting his absorption in his work, determined herself to be his dominant preoccupation, she used her power to goad him from abject desire to baffled fury, and then, suddenly complaisant, to win him back again. This dangerous cruelty led to violent quarrels, and I suspect to blows."

At this point they are describing a woman of 20 who had lived with a violent man for 2 years.  She would not live to see 21.

Dolly left John, and when her mother came looking for her, found her daughter with a razor-scrape across her throat, given to her by John of whom she was terrified. However, yet again she returned to him when he called for her. John had a new source of anger, a belief that Dolly had been spreading lies about him to his fellow artists, but I can find no reporting of what these untruths were. Dolly had told other artists that John beat her, possibly that is what he was referring to. Before the couple left for Brittany, for the good of John's health, he wrote to Edward Marsh, a patron and friend, apologising for his recent bad behaviour - "I have behaved badly lately, but I am not well...Dolly is doing all that anyone could do to help. There is peace, but much is lost for the time."

The trip to Brittany remind me very much of Rossetti and Fanny's trip to Cumbria. It is a little relief in what is a god-awful situation. Both couples were happy for a while, with letters back from Brittany from John saying how they have danced and laughed, but soon Dolly left to return to London and Cornwall. They had met another English artist in Brittany who told her to her face that she did not appreciate art as she wasn't clever enough. That is no worse than everyone seems to have been saying behind her back but it was enough to drive her back, at least in John's report. It seems to me that Dolly had put up with far worse in the previous three years, so the words of a stranger seem a bit light to have sent her packing when it had been fear of John himself that had previously driven her away.  Despite proclaiming himself content without Dolly, he followed her to Cornwall and threatened to throw her off a cliff and once more she fled.  She stayed at Alderney Manor, near Poole in Dorset, with John's old friend Augustus John who didn't like her - "She was an attractive girl or used to be when I knew her first, but seemed to have deteriorated into a deceitful little bitch." Augustus John's portrait of her, The Woman in Green hangs in the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

Dolly Henry (1913-4) William Strang

Dolly's last home was a flat in Paultons Square in Chelsea. She found work as a nude model but once more John found her, enraged that others were seeing her naked. On the 8th October 1914, John came to the flat early in the morning. When shots rang out, neighbours rushed to find Dolly in her nightdress, bleeding profusely on the landing and John, in the bedroom, with chest wounds. The defence of Dolly and John after their death was done by friends and family. Only Dolly's mother came forward to report the violence of the previous three years. John's wife appeared at the inquest, described as 'a slightly built lady of youthful appearance', and described her husband as having a 'passionate temperament' and told how she was trying to rebuild their marriage but he was too involved in his intrigue with Dolly. Michael Sadleir, a friend of John's, stated "Dolly drove Currie mad, and deprived the world of a genuine artist and a devoted worker." At the end of the entry on Paultons Square in the marvellous Murder Houses of London by Jan Bondeson, it is noted that because the murder happened not long after the First World War started, it was not given a great amount of publicity, so John's friends were able to buy up his work and it never dipped in price.  If they had shown as much care for his behaviour as they did for his artistic reputation then maybe he would have had a longer life and Dolly might not have spent her late teenage years being attacked before being murdered.

Head of a Woman (Dolly Henry) (1912-4) George Clausen

I get very angry about the way Fanny Cornforth is written about in the biographies of her contemporaries and later, because not one iota of space is given to what she dealt with, for which she had absolutely no experience or preparation. Fanny never let go of Rossetti, but possibly that's because the moment she took her eyes off him in 1872, he attempted suicide. She provided him with his drugs along with his paint as she just wanted him to continue living. It took around 8 years for Fanny to go from 'the kissed mouth' to 'the witch'; it took Dolly Henry barely 2. Rossetti's family shaped a narrative to disguise a reclusive man's mental illness, but John Currie's friends took his existing problems and placed them on the shoulders of a 17 year old girl. John Currie is an obscure artist now, kept from entirely slipping from view by interest in Dolly's murder, which is how I found him. Still the narrative that Dolly was a temptress who drove him mad is prolonged - for example, she is referred to as 'the volatile Dolly' in Bondeson's book, and the accounts of John's friends are repeated without question in their modern biographies. We need to be quicker to question these received 'facts' from the past and look at who is telling us what and why. Hopefully these days if a 27 year old man, a married man, hooked up with a 17 year old girl, we would know which way that power dynamic was flowing. 

We need to do better because history, and life, is full of women like Fanny and Dolly and after the appalling things they had to put up with, they are overdue some respect.

Friday 8 July 2022

Eleanor Butcher Made Life Seem More Worth Living

You know how much I like a delicious tragedy. I'm always drawn to people who have a life of unfortunate events, then die in a swift and unexpected manner, better still if their entire family is peppered with calamity.  Imaginethen my delight when I met the beautiful Eleanor Butcher...

As it turned out, I already knew Miss Butcher, and have used her image many times in the past because she posed for Beatrice in this painting by Henry Holiday...

Dante and Beatrice (1883) Henry Holiday

Beside the river Arno in Florence, Beatrice, in white, takes a stroll with her bestie, Monna Vanna, and a maid, watched by Dante. In those flowing white robes is Eleanor, out for a stroll with Milly Hughes and Kitty Lushington.  At first, I wondered if Milly was Emily Hughes, daughter of artist Arthur Hughes, but apparently Milly was the daughter of an old friend of Holiday.  Kitty Lushington is marvellously famous, and there is no doubt who she is...

The lovely Kitty Lushington

I could write an entire post on the lovely Kitty, who was the blueprint for Mrs Dalloway and plunged to her death over a banister and down the stairs (not by accident, according to Virginia Woolf). However, this is Eleanor's post, so Kitty's tragedies will have to wait.

Eleanor Butcher (unknown photographer)

Eleanor Louisa Gertrude Butcher was born in April 1860. Her parents, Mary and Samuel were Irish and had homes in both London and Ireland after Samuel became Rector of Ballymoney. The family moved their Irish residence to Ardbraccan House when Samuel became the Bishop of Meath in 1866. Eleanor was the second youngest, after Elizabeth (1849-1908), Samuel (1850-1910), John George (1853-1935), Margaret Frances (Fanny) (1854-1934), and Augusta (1856-1899). Eleanor was followed by Clara in 1861.  I'm not entirely sure what became of Clara as I can find her until the end of the century, as, like her sisters, she was musically accomplished and acted as bridesmaid to society friends. After that, it seems we don't talk about Clara. If I hadn't seen her in the 1881 census, I would have imagined she was fictional, but there she is. I don't think she came to a particularly tragic end so let's move on.

Eleanor's family was exceptionally well connected and her siblings furthered that through work and marriage. Elizabeth married Thomas Spring-Rice, the 2nd Baron Montegal of Brandon in 1875. If the name Spring-Rice is familiar, it's because of things like this...

Mary Spring-Rice O'Brien (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
The Spring-Rice family were in with the Freshwater crowd and knew Tennyson, so Tennyson went to visit the Elizabeth at her new home after her marriage, as Hallam wrote home to his mother - "they were most affectionate...Papa read Maud which gave great pleasure, and Eleanor Butcher (the babe) was found on a rock by herself in the Shannon. She is a wild, simple young child.All the three Miss Butchers are each 'eine natur' as Goethe says." As Elizabeth married Montegal in 1875, the wild child discovered by Hallam in the Shannon must have been a teenager and already knew how to make an impression, obviously.

John George Butcher (1926) Lafayette

As for the rest of her siblings, John became MP for York and was elevated to the House of Lords in 1923.  He balanced being a keen sportsman with being anti-vivisection, which is an interesting combination seeing as he was of the class that always involves killing something small and squeaky. Both Fanny and Augusta also married well, and we'll come to Augusta in a bit, but as you can imagine, when it came to marriage, the beautiful Eleanor was a popular girl.  Lucky for us, she took her time and weighed up her choices which caused her to be written about in quite a few people's diaries.  However, in 1876 something tragic occurred which could have ruined her chances completely. Her father committed suicide.

Samuel Butcher had been the Bishop of Meath for a decade, and his family was established into English society with great success. I get the impression that Samuel spent a lot of time at Ardbraccan as that is where he had been convalescing in 1876 from bronchitis which had been lingering for a few weeks, however it was felt he was recovering. On Saturday 29th July, he rose earlier than usual and went to his study, where he locked the door.  They had to break the door down, discovering that he had cut his throat with a razor.  In his hand was a scrap of paper containing a single word, 'mad'. It was concluded that he had been temporarily insane, caused by his illness and in light of his life's work, a remarkably modern view was taken, at which I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. There were some pretty florid descriptions of his funeral at Ardbraccan, including a complete appraisal of his coffin (shell and lead inside, polished oak outside) and visions of the 'almost impassible profusion of summer foliage' on the way to the graveside.  My goodness, the Victorians loved a funeral. There seems no stigma, at least publicly about his death, and in comparison to the alleged panic around Eizabeth Siddal's death, it all seems sympathetic and sad.

Augusta, Fanny and Eleanor (1880s) Eveleen Tennant Myers

Despite the tragedy, the three eligible Butcher girls, Fanny, Augusta and Eleanor were launched on the marriage market in the 1880s. William Rothenstein remembered them in his memoir as being "three enchanting ladies, spirited, enlightening and vivacious talkers."  Eleanor especially "made life seem more worth living; to have her friendship...was, I felt, a privilege." The brothers, Samuel and John, had gone to Trinity College, Cambridge and the girls had gone to enjoy the society there. Fanny had befriended Ida Darwin, daughter-in-law of Charles Darwin, and  sister-in-law of George Darwin, who was looking for a wife.  There was quite a bit of interest from their clique when after on a few meetings over two years, Fanny became engaged to George Prothero. A family friend questioned her decision: "I asked how she could know her own mind so instantly. She said whenever anyone else came near her somehow he never seemed as nice as Mr Prothero, and though not the least unhappy about it, she knew from that that he was her standard. Everybody including me thinks her very fortunate."

Fanny Prothero (1898) Charles W Furse

 Fanny and Eleanor were extremely close, and their friends worried that Eleanor would be lonely. Or possibly they were worried that Eleanor would not be lonely, if you know what I mean, as it didn't take long for several names to be attached to hers. Eleanor was very much admired for her looks - "She is lovelier than ever, in such an exquisite highbred way, which throws such a bar-maid beauty as Mrs Fred Myers completely in the shade..."

Oh good Lord, well that's appalling. So, Mrs Fred Myers was actually Eveleen Tennant, photographer and bar-maid beauty - I assumed Bet Lynch and leopard print, but was sadly disappointed.

Eveleen being not very barmaid-y, 1870s (unknown photographer)

Eveleen married Frederick Myers in March 1880, but before (and to be honest afterwards) he was a bit of a one for the ladies. In 1878, he set his sights on Eleanor but, as would become apparent, Eleanor was a bit of a procrastinator when it came to men, which I think made everyone nervous. Possibly it showed good taste. If Fred was still interested in Eleanor, it didn't stop Eveleen and Eleanor from being friends as the group shot of the sisters is labelled "Taken by their friend Mrs Frederic [sic] Myers" in Lady Jebb's memoirs, and also didn't stop Eveleen taking this exquisite image of Eleanor in the early 1890s...

Eleanor Butcher (early 1890s) Eveleen Tennant Myers

When it came to Fred Myers, the women looked on with some concern - "He is very companionable and with an insidious nature. Fanny said her mother is so afraid of him that she believes if there were no other way of keeping Eleanor, another sister, from his influence, she would leave London altogether."  However, any fancy she had for Fred soon waned and she moved on to the next suitor...

Gerald Balfour (1890s) Lord Battersea

Gerald Balfour was the brother of Arthur, Prime Minister and member of the Souls. Like Fred Myers, Gerald was deeply involved in spiritualism and served as President for the Society of Psychical Research. It was noticed that Gerald was attracted to Eleanor, and why not, as she was described as having "a most attractive face, which fastens your eyes and fascinates you" (yes, but could she pull a pint?). Anyway, a family friend noted in 1879 that she was inclined to think Gerald had had an effect on Eleanor as "she is more silent and shy with him than with others, a good sign. He makes no effort to conceal the attraction she has for him, talks to her at dinner parties all the evening, never speaks to Augusta, nor does anything but openly show his intentions." Firstly, poor Augusta, but possibly she had a lucky escape because his courting seemed to involve endless conversation about political economy. Ladies love political economy.  Sadly, the romance did not last long, as he found that she was full of fun and humour, which is absolutely disgusting in a woman. 

Walter Leaf (1891) Henry Herschel Hay Cameron

Unfortunately, Eleanor actually quite like Gerald and rebutted the advances of Walter Leaf and George Darwin because she was in love with him. Eleanor actively started to pursue Gerald (with all her fun and humour, the horror) and gatecrashed boating parties where he was supposed to be, but to no avail. Gerald swore he would never marry, then in 1887 married the (no doubt rich) daughter of the former Viceroy of India. Although Walter Leaf and George Darwin continued to court Eleanor into the 1880s, neither seemed to like her much. George admitted that "married to a wife so devoted to excitement he should only have been miserable" leaving a friend to conclude "She is selfish, there is no doubt; yet she is the cleverest girl I know in England...[George] says it is her self-consciousness that stands in the way, nothing repels so much." 

Lewis Nettleship (c.1870s) Unknown Photographer

By 1883, Eleanor decided that she should be looking to get married, as a friend said "she is getting to a suitable time of life, twenty-eight." I was again surprised that a woman was allowed to reach that sort of advanced age without being completely written off but I think if you have good connections and a fair amount of money, any age is a good age to get married in the eyes of society. Eleanor befriended Jane Ellen Harrison, suffragist and linguist, and the pair holidayed together with other friends at Robin Hood's Bay including Alfred and Violet Hunt, the imaginative biographer of Elizabeth Siddal, and Lewis Nettleship, described in one of Jane Ellen Harrison's biographies as "a sad aspirant for Eleanor's affection". Nettleship died in 1892 from exposure after getting trapped on Mont Blanc, which is a marvellous effort on the tragic front. 

Eleanor Butcher (1890s) Charles W Furse

Eventually, Eleanor met her match. Charles Wellington Furse was also a son of the church, in his case the Archdeacon of Westminster. Charles was a talented artist, attending both the Slade and Julian's in Paris, before setting up his studio in Tite Street, alongside such people as Whistler and Singer Sargent, whom he greatly admired. Eleanor became a frequenter of not only his studio but also others. Devon Cox's wonderful book The Street of Wonderful Possibilities tells of how Eleanor would burst into George Jacomb-Hood's studio and demand tea and toast, staying until the early hours of the morning. 

Private View at the New Gallery: The Crush in the Central Hall from The Graphic, May 1893

Around this time, Eleanor posed for Charles Edward Hallé and the subsequent portrait was exhibited at the New Gallery in May 1893, possibly alongside a portrait of Margaret Burne-Jones with which it had shared studio space. The exhibition was extremely busy and the Richmond and Ripon Chronicle had kind words for the portrait, declaring it "most striking".  Somewhat less friendly was the Yorkshire Post who declared "Anything more wooden...can hardly be imagined and its presence on the wall is scarcely to be excused by his official connection with the gallery." Well, ouch.

Portrait of a Lady (Eleanor Butcher)  (1894) Charles Furse

A much better reception came for Charles's portrait of Eleanor which appeared in Volume 1 of The Yellow Book in 1894. Aubrey Beardsley judged it to be "A1".  Eleanor and Charles's engagement was announced on 24th April, coincidentally in the same edition of the Westminster Gazette as the announcement of old suitor Walter Leaf's engagement to Charlotte Symonds. Their wedding was set for May, a month later, which might be a bit of a red flag.  Charles's health was somewhat delicate as he had been suffering from tuberculosis since his days at the Slade, but when it came to it, Eleanor went first.

Exactly how she died is a little muddled. In Jane Ellen Harrison's biographies, it is inferred that Eleanor went into a nursing home for a minor operation, on Jane's encouragement.  She was recovering well but then died suddenly after an afternoon of receiving visitors, which is fairly dramatic.  Another account states that she had been suffering from TB and this had weakened her to the point that she dropped dead, after a short illness. Whatever was the case, her funeral was a lavish affair in the presence of a large group of her family and friends.  Her coffin was completely smothered in white flowers sent by those who loved her, including Florence Balcombe (Mrs Bram Stoker) and Anne Thackeray Ritchie.  Charles did not outlive her for long and died a decade later of TB, after marrying the younger sister of Charlotte Symonds, Katherine in 1900.

The letters of Lady Jebb, which is a wonderfully gossip-y read contains this note from 1895 - "Did I tell you that Augusta Butcher is to be married at Easter? She has accepted a Mr Crawley, a great friend of Frank Darwin's, a barrister, and apparently a very nice man.  All her friends are delighted, for her life was very lonely after Eleanor's death." 

Wouldn't it be a relief to finish here? Sorry.

On a blissfully hot August afternoon in 1899, Charles and Augusta Crawley visited one of Charles's sisters in Bryngwyn, near Raglan and decided to leave their two young children with a nurse and go for a boat ride down the Wye. The elderly boatman who accompanied them accidentally struck the boat on some underwater debris, sinking it. In the resultant panic, Augusta, Charles and his sister drowned. As a footnote suggests in Lady Jebb's correspondence, death did seem to stalk the Butchers, which makes the comment that Eleanor made life seem more worth living seem rather ironic. However, the brightness of Eleanor Butcher, her fun and humour and demands of toast and tea, does seem to have provided such vivid light to others. She illuminated the memories of others long after she had gone.

Friday 1 July 2022

Exhibition Review: Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries

 I have to admit that before yesterday, I had never been to Leamington Spa. What drew me there was a new exhibition intriguingly entitled 'Modern Pre-Raphaelite Visionaries: British Art 1880-1930'. I was suitably curious as the term 'Pre-Raphaelite' is so hotly debated beyond the Brotherhood, but I'm a firm believer in the thread of Pre-Raphaelitism that continues to run today so I took myself off to Leamington...

I don't know what I was expecting but Leamington Spa Museum and Art Gallery reminds me of many different ones I've been to - the local history gallery and the large open gallery where you accommodate classes of fidgeting school children.  However, it has a sneakily beautiful art collection, including a treasure trove of works by Frederick Cayley Robinson. Tucked at the back of the local history gallery is the temporary exhibition gallery and here Cayley Robinson is definitely the star of the show. I was left with an impression that it could almost have been a show about him alone but his name is not yet famous enough to draw people, so he is shown amongst his peers. Placing him in context makes some very interesting comparisons - all the artists in the show obviously draw their inspiration from the Pre-Raphs but 30-80 years after the initial spark of 1848 brings in all sorts of other themes and inspirations.

Close of the Day (no date) Frederick Cayley Robinson

Cayley Robinson is probably not a name that is instantly conjured when you are asked to name Pre-Raphaelite artists but you'd definitely recognise some of his work which is in places like the Tate and the Walker Art Gallery. Leamington Spa have some beautiful examples and have borrowed more so that his work is peppered throughout the show. One of his most striking examples is the poster image for the exhibition...

In a Wood So Green (1893) Frederick Cayley Robinson

You can almost smell the green of that wood, it's so saturated.  The touches of gold on the girl and the knight illuminate the darkness of it and it becomes a magical picture. That essential link between Symbolism and Pre-Raphaelite sensibility is so strong towards the end of the century and gleefully detonates that notion I was taught at University, that the Pre-Raphaelites were a cul-de-sac of art, going nowhere and leading to nothing. I was instantly taken back to my trip to Brussels last Autumn and seeing the Fin-de-Siècle Museum. The threads of Pre-Raphaelitism ran through to the twentieth century without us even noticing it seems, finding a place in Symbolism, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and all the other names we give to the work that flirted with the end of the century.

That's not to say there isn't a bit of Pre-Raphaelite OG present in the mix. Rossetti is here to show the seed, with images such as this charming double hang of Roman de la Rose (1864) and How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sanct Grael; but Sir Percival's Sister Died by the Way (1864) (there is a whole lot going on it that painting). The Rossetti that really surprised me, mainly because it looked so contemporary alongside the Symbolism, was this one...

Damsel of the Sanct Grael (1857) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The narrow starkness of the figure in this 1857 watercolour is so startlingly modern, I was taken aback. The beauty of the exhibition is that it pairs works like this one with Arthur Hacker's Annunciation...

The Annunciation (1892) Arthur Hacker

Bear in mind that the Hacker is huge, heading for 3 metres in her frame, the powdery dream-like quality of the girl seemed almost old fashioned in style compared to the little vibrant stick-woman with her golden cup, which was painted over 30 years before. I think what I will take from the exhibition is that the idea of an concept's progression is not linear or simple. What is Pre-Raphaelitism? It is Madonnas and gold and forests and sharp focus and soft focus and absolutely nothing but beauty. I can see why people argue so much about what it is...


As time moves on, it's good to see the women artists appear as part of the narrative without there having to be a 'special lady section'. Another awesome double hang featured Christiana Herringham, a name that is familiar thanks to Mary Lago's 1996 book on her, but I can't remember seeing her featured in an exhibition of this sort before. Her cloud of Butterflies, Dragonflies and Damselflies in watercolour and gouache was a hurricane study of nature. Obviously, Evelyn De Morgan was there, with images such as Evening Star Over the Sea (1910-1914) and highlighted the influence of Spiritualism on the artists.

The Polar Star (1920) William Shackleton

This is a wonderful exhibition, which tours to the Watts Gallery in the autumn, filled with unexpected treasures and familiar friends. The moving of the Pre-Raphaelite narrative away from the 1850s and 1860s means that we can get away from Rossetti's love life and look at the work of those who took the things that inspired the original Pre-Raphaelites and brought their own sensibilities and techniques to them. It is interesting to see the likes of De Morgan, who I am very familiar with, alongside May Hart Patridge's tiny enamel...

Enamel Plaque (c.1904) May Hart Partridge

Both women were working at the same time from the same well-spring but it such different ways for different results. The exhibition is a glorious combination of artists united in intangible inspiration to glorious effect. I think the image I will take away, the one I have thought about the most over the last 24 hours is this one...

The Bridge (1905) Frederick Cayley Robinson
Who are they? What an odd framing of the image with the women almost lost from view, but the blonde lady looks directly at us and she looks sad, or is it annoyed? Or does she have a secret? Her friend is Maria Zambaco as far as I can see. I thought it was Dante and Beatrice but the man is too old. Is it Dante remembering meeting Beatrice and Monna Vanna? It is such a beautiful, mysterious image, I can't help asking questions and imagining a story.

The exhibition is beautiful and haunting, with some unusual and little-seen works. Even better, there is an accompanying catalogue, with essays by Jan Marsh, Elizabeth Prettejohn and Colin Cruise among others. It's a great read and glossily presented with good reproductions. Get yourself over to Leamington Spa this summer and treat yourself to a catalogue as well. It is very much worth it.

Further information about the exhibition can be found here.