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)|
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)|
'But Mary Kept All These Things And Pondered Them In Her Heart' (1888)
'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)|
|A Turkish Lady (undated) Val Havers|