Tag Archives: Female Painter

Margaret Sarah Carpenter – Theobald Sisters

12 May

There are two reasons why I decided to write about this female Victorian painter. Firstly, she was active in the 1840s, and her paintings match the aesthetics of my story. Secondly, she painted in the manner of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and I really admire his portraits.

1840. Miss Theobald - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1840. Miss Theobald (1825-1841) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Margaret Sarah Carpenter (née Geddes) was born in 1793, in the city whose cathedral has been immortalised by the Romantic painter John Constable – Salisbury. Although fairly unknown today, Margaret was a renowned painter in her time. She was taught art at an early age by a local drawing-master, and her first art studies were those of a Longford Castle. In 1814, Margaret moved to London where her reputation as a fashionable portrait painter was soon established.

Miss Carpenter painted in the manner of Thomas Lawrence, but her portraits have a more feminine and fanciful aura around them. Delicacy and wistful nature of her sitters is probably what allures me the most. I’ll take the portrait of ‘Miss Theobald‘ for example. The dusky background and the lady’s gaze reveal to us the style of Thomas Lawrence.

Margaret painted three portraits for the Theobald family from 1839 to 1850, and one of them, this, is thought to be Frances Jane Theobald. Now, even before I tell you more about Frances Jane, looking at her portrait might reveal even more. At first sight, she seems delicate, fragile, melancholic and dreamy. She’s obviously very young and innocent, with rosy cheeks, pale skin, and soft blonde hair centrally parted and arranged in a fashionable low bun. Her dress is white and simple, and she’s holding her pet spaniel. This portrait is also called ‘The Morning Walk‘; we can assume that this sweet Jane went for a morning walk with her darling spaniel. But look at her eyes, how reconciled and contemplative they seem? Her gaze isn’t direct or proud. She gazes into the distance, into something unknown to us. Frances Jane died of consumption only one year after this portrait was painted, in 1841, aged only sixteen. The contemplative nature of the portrait is one of its greatest qualities.

I wonder what was she really like? Sweet and delicate, seeing only good in people like Jane Bennet? Or, a thoughtful creature, shy, but an excellent piano player? Perhaps she had the voice of the lark? Perhaps every morning she went out for a walk with her spaniel, she laughed, picked flowers and smelled roses, her dress and petticoat swaying and rustling….. we’ll never know.

1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson (née Georgiana Theobald, 1828-1883) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

The portrait above shows Jane’s younger sister Georgiana who was just thirteen when she lost her sister. Tragic, but not uncommon at the time. The face we see is more mature and more serious, but the golden curls are the same. Ten years had passed since the last time Margaret Sarah Carpenter painted a member of the Theobald family. I wonder was Margaret saddened by the news of Jane’s death? Was it strange to paint one sister, knowing that the other one is now lying in a cold grave?

The portrait of Georgiana was painted in 1850, the year she got married to Charles Thelluson, but the absence of the ring indicates that she was still Miss Theobald when the portrait was painted.

Jane is in my thoughts the entire day, had she lived, what would become of her? If she had lived, she’d probably be married and surrounded by children. Nothing exciting awaited her anyways. Still, the heroine of my story (set in 1842!) is sixteen years old. A thought crossed my mind; what if she died of consumption, right now, I can write it, it’s my story. Well, she’d miss out on the fantastic life I have created for her, and her love interest would have to find another lady. Just the thought makes me sad, and I’m talking about a character, and Jane was a real person, living real life, how sad.

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Marie Spartali Stillman – A Grecian Muse

14 Feb

Marie Spartali Stillman was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter of Grecian descent, but she was also a muse and a model to other Pre-Raphaelite painters, enchanting them with her elegant stature and classical features, resembling a Grecian or a Roman goddess.

1868. Marie Spartali Stillman, Photo by Julia Cameron1868. Marie Spartali Stillman, Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron

Marie studied painting for several years from 1864, as a pupil of Ford Madox Brown, an English painter whose painting style resembles the Pre-Raphaelite version of Hogarth’s work. She studied alongside other pupils Georgiana Burne-Jones and Brown’s daughter Lucy Madox Brown, both of whom would grow up to be a painters in their own right.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti soon found out that Marie had become Brown’s pupil and he wasted no time writing to him, on the 29th April: ‘I just hear Miss Spartali is to be your pupil. I hear too that she is one and the same with a marvellous beauty of whom I have heard much talk. So box her up and don’t let fellows see her, as I mean to have first shy at her in the way of sitting.‘ Marie indeed sat for Rossetti very soon, in 1867. Her head proved to be a hard one for portraying, as Dante had wrote to Jane Morris.

Marie possessed the kind of beauty which was perfect for modelling, and in Dante’s eyes she resembled a goddess with her tall figure, elegant gestures, long hair and a gaze that was straightforward and dreamy at the same time. She embodied the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty, as did Jane Morris before.

1871. Self-Portrait - Marie Spartali Stillman1871. Self-Portrait – Marie Spartali Stillman

That Marie became a painter, a muse and a model to artists, choosing a bohemian life in a way, is not a coincidence for she came from a cultural and refined background; art was valued in Spartali’s household. Her father, Michael, was a wealthy merchant, principal of the firm Spartali & Co, who moved to London in 1828. Her mother, Euphrosyne, known as Effie, was a daughter of a Greek merchant from Genoa. Her heritage, along with later life abroad, is woven in her works, all of which burst with sensuality and richness in colour.

Spartali family lived in a Georgian country house, known as ‘The Shrubbery‘ with a huge garden and views over the Thames and Chelsea. Marie’s father was fond of lavish garden parties so he invited young artists and writers of the day at the gatherings in his blossomed garden. Growing up in artistic environment meant that Marie and her younger sister Christine had many opportunities to meet famous artists of the day. One time, in the house of a Greek business man A.C. Iodines in south London, they met Whistler, an American-born but British-based artist, and Swinburne, an English poet and playwright. Swinburne was overwhelmed with emotions upon meeting Marie, that he said of her ‘She is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry.

1884. Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni by Marie Spartali Stillman1884. Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni by Marie Spartali Stillman

Upon marrying American journalist and painter William J. Stillman, against the wishes of her parents, she divided a lot of time between London and Florence from 1878 to 1883, and then Rome from 1889 to 1896, as William was a foreign correspondent for The Times. Her time spent in Italy proved to be fruitful for her painting style in a way that she entirely absorbed the aesthetics of Italian Renaissance. Her fascination with Italian landscapes and females figures with their unhidden sensuality, vividness and liveliness, along with studious depiction of nature, place Marie’s paintings side by side with works of great Pre-Raphalite painters such as Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais.

Perhaps my favourite painting by Marie is ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni‘ shown above. It dazzled me with its charming and detailed depiction of nature, and the visual equalization of nature with the woman who is actually a character from Dante’s poetry. She is described as a lady in green, very heartless, but very pretty, her moss green robe merged with the nature in the background. She’s holding a crystal ball reflecting the figures of Love and Dante. The depth of the landscape is magnificent, one could feel that is goes on and on, never ending, through the trees, bushes, all the way up to the hills.

Influence of Rossetti’s later period is evident in Marie’s paintings, ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni‘ being no exception. In later phase of his work Rossetti was influenced by the Italian High Renaissance, especially the painters such as Titian and Veronese, representatives of Venetian school. Marie continued Rossetti’s tradition with this painting for she painted the lady half-length in a Renaissance manner, but still, it remains a completely personal painting reflecting the beauty of the Italian landscapes Marie had observed, admired and cherished.