Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery
The style of this painting attributed to George Dunlop Leslie (1835–1921) has no resemblance with any of the pictures that are certainly by him, nor can it be identified in the Leslie papers in the Tate Britain Archive. Could this be a very late painting by George Dunlop Leslie's father, the American Charles Robert Leslie (1794–1859), or could it be by a totally different mid-Victorian British artist?
I wouldn't have thought this is by either of the Leslies. It is, however, very much like James Sant (1820-1916), prolific Victorian genre and portrait painter. His work is very variable but see http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/a-thorn-amidst-the-roses-205975 for comparison and even though A thorn amidst the roses is of a later date, there are some similarities. He's fond of a bit of extra detailing in his portraits, such as the letter in this case. And George Audley was known to have other works by Sant. The idea of Sant as the artist will have to be tested in the usual ways.
Is Hermann Winterhalter a possibility?
Sant is a very good suggestion, but if by him it must be at least two decades earlier than the painting in Manchester City Art Gallery, referred to Barbara above, and possibly even earlier than that.
A group of Sant's letters is in the National Art Library
Comments on the woman's costume from our costume specialist: "It may be late 1850s – the bodice appears to be the second half of the 1850s, but then the sleeve is not right – it is a sort of concoction – could it be a theatrical ‘studio prop’ sleeve? It is wrong for the period. The hat is like a bergère, an 18th-century straw hat. The skirt can’t be seen clearly enough for comment. The hairstyle is late 1850s or early 1860s – not into the 70s."
Entry on this painting from the Walker's catalogue of Victorian & Edwardian Paintings by Edward Morris: "George Audley catalogued this painting as Leslie's 'Willow, Willow' of 1867, but the review of this painting in the Athenaeum [11 May 1867, p 629] indicates that this identification cannot be right. The present title is also scarcely appropriate, as the painting presumably represents a woman who has received a (love?) letter from a man, a miniature of whom she holds in her left hand. Nor, despite the inscription, can the attribution to Leslie be regarded as secure."
Walker Art Gallery Fine Art Curators
There is a better reproduction of the painting here (scoll down) http://www.liveinternet.ru/users/ludmila5/post316407345
I do find garments which have bodices/sleeves similar to the pictured dress, including:
Scroll down to Museum no. T.702-1913. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Scroll down to Two silk day dresses (c 1850). The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I read that George Audley (1864-1932) exhibited Victorian pictures at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1925. Perhaps documentation of this exhibit and/or newspaper articles may have information about the painting in question.
I also read that George Audley's will specified that the Corporation of Liverpool could choose no more than 50 paintings from his collection to hang in the Walker Gallery. Perhaps their archives could provide further information.
See also http://www.audleyfamilyhistory.com/newspaper-articles/about-family-c
Please consider whether this picture represents a young unmarried woman (e.g., the pink gown) who has only recently emerged from mourning (e.g., urn and willow behind her shoulder). To a young woman, the period of mourning must have seemed endless (e.g., dark patch on the grey shawl). Although what lies ahead is certainly brighter, she seems unsurprised by the words on the paper, yet uncommitted, hesitating between the past and future.
I do not think that there is any more information in the Walker Art Gallery archives [I was a member of staff there from 1973 to 1977] . Edward Morris was very thorough in examining them when he was compiling the catalogue of Victorian pictures referred to above. Audley was too young for him to acquire this picture close to the time at which it was painted and might have acquired it after the death of G D Leslie
Thank you for your reply, Mr. Hopkinson. If I read correctly, there were two Audley painting bequests: the first in 1925 (any or all of which may be connected to the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition) and the second in 1932, the result of George Audley's will. If I read correctly, the 1932 bequest ultimately involved the following groups: Corporation of Liverpool (named in Audley's will as the owner of the paintings); Liverpool Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee (charged to recommend which of Audley's paintings to select); and Walker Gallery (named in Audley's will as the institution where the paintings would hang). Is it possible that the archives of the Corporation of Liverpool contain the detailed recommendation or other correspondence of the Liverpool Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee?
Please consider whether the painting is by Augustus Leopold Egg RA (1816-1863), a member of "The Clique". The style of these paintings are reminiscent of the painting in question:
At least two of Egg's paintings were collected by George Audley, as follows:
Audley also collected works by other members of “The Clique” including Alfred Elmore, William Powell Firth and Edward Matthew Ward.
I do not know whether the relevant Corporation of Liverpool Committee papers still exist in the city's archives
The present staff of the Walker probably can answer this question
Egg does indeed seem to be quite a possibility for the authorship of this painting - his style seems to me to be closer than James Sant, the only previous suggestion worth considering in this discussion
Hilarie Faberman's thesis on Egg was published by University Microfilms in 1983 and republished in 1992 or 1993 . There are probably more recent articles on his work - and obviously his exhibits at the RA need checking
Pardon the diversion, but I read that George Dunlop Leslie exhibited two paintings back-to-back in the 1866-1867 time frame, "Clarissa" and "Willow, Willow". Perhaps the title "The Novel (Willow, Willow)" were notes left behind as the attribution was being sorted out and later mistakenly taken as the title of the painting?
I am also a bit perplexed by the title "Clarissa" given to this painting, which does not match the description in Leslie's biography:
Dear Martin, and Patty Macsisak,
Thank you for this further correspondence on the painting. We will add this information to the picture's history file for future research. Your comments are very much appreciated.
Walker Art Gallery Fine Art Curators
Interesting Patty, certainly the 'Clarissa' sold at Christie's isn't the picture described as 'Clarissa' in the link you provided and unless Leslie did two Clarissa's, the title is probably erroneous.
The exhibited 'Willow, Willow' accompanies a quote from Othello (see attached RA exhibitors), and surely isn't the picture here.
Perhaps coincidentally(?) the description of Clarissa reading a letter in the garden matches the work under discussion.
Thank you for your comment, Mr. Williams. Before posting, I re-read the quote from "Othello" which supports the title of "Willow, willow":
Desdemona...My mother had a maid call'd Barbara:
She was in love, and he she loved proved mad 30
And did forsake her: she had a song of 'willow;'
An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her fortune,
And she died singing it: that song to-night
Will not go from my mind; I have much to do,
But to go hang my head all at one side, 35
And sing it like poor Barbara. Prithee, dispatch.
Thanks, too, for the reference which corrects by "back-to-back" comment. It seems that many mistakenly associate the "Willow, willow" painting to Hamlet and the Internet facilitates propagation of the error:
Clarissa, of course, might be Clarissa Harlowe, of Samuel Richardson's famous novel
I would like to draw your attention to another painting by Augustus Egg which reflects a posture similar to the painting in question. The painting was one of six by Egg reproduced in the book "Heroines of Shakespeare".
Faberman can be consulted in the Tate Library, the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art and in the Courtauld Institute. The British Library and National Art Library do not have copies
If Egg painted this, it probably dates from the late 1840s-early 1850s- compare S W Reynolds' mezzotint of 1853 after 'Tonight, a picture by Egg of a young woman reading a poster for Meyerbeer's Le Prophete at the Royal Italian Opera [impression in the British Museum]
It would be worth checking the records of prints in Catalogue of engravings registered by the Printsellers' Association from its establishment in 1847 to 1863 to see if the Walker's painting was engraved
Egg's 'The Opera Mantle' of 1851 in the Harris Museum , Preston shares the composition of the painting engraved by Reynolds as 'Tonight'
Hilarie Faberman is contactable at the Cantor Center for the Arts, Stanford University, California where she is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
This discussion has revived with great enthusiasm. While not being convinced this painting is by Egg, I will certainly contact Dr Faberman and see if she would like to venture an opinion.
Egg, like several artists who worked for a period at 'Keepsake' paintings is known to have painted at least one work titled as 'A girl reading a letter', an oil sketch which was no 95 in his Estate's sale, Christie 18 and 19 May 1863
Faberman's book only records works that she knew - not works then untraced
I did contact Hilarie Faberman a few weeks ago but have had no reply so I think we have to regard that as a dead end. Consideration of an attribution to Egg will have to carry on by other means. Just looking at his work in general, I would say Egg's style is more precise and measured than the image under discussion here.
Tonight, I saw a re-run of Antiques Roadshow program from Detroit, Michigan (2013) in which this painting ca. 1860 was appraised. I immediately thought of the dress in this discussion and wanted to bring it to your attention.
The Walker Art Gallery now attributes this to George Dunlop Leslie, C R 's son. G D exhibited 'Willow, willow. 'The fresh stream ran by her and murmur'd her moans .. Othello at the Royal Academy in 1867 as no 656
I suppose the subject of this painting could be reading the text in the Shakespeare play - but this seems far-fetched.
There are rather few known paintings by G D Leslie of the 1860s to test this attribution against.
The attached article, from the Illustrated London News, of Saturday 29th February 1868, might be of some interest to this discussion's contributors.
Attached is a description, from the Bucks Herald of Saturday 11th May 1867, of the painting 'Willow, Willow', by George Dunlop Leslie, as it was presented at the Royal Academy exhibition of that year as catalogue #656. Other reviews of the RA exhibition describe 'Willow, Willow' as depicting a desolate lady sitting beside a desolate stream. These bear no resemblance at all to this discussion's painting.
Apart from the references cited above, 'Willow, Willow' could also be this painting:
Regarding the 1866 painting 'Clarissa', see the attached detailed description. It would appear to be this painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1866, as catalogue #410:
Which then begs the question as the validity of the identity of this painting, sold at Christies in 2012:
Apologies, the 'Willow, Willow' review did not attach earlier. Here it is, I hope....."the trail of the water fowl" does not appear in the right-hand-see painting of the attached composite of possible paintings.
Right-hand-see should, of course read right-hand side.....here is the attachment.
Thank you for this further correspondence on the painting. We will update this information to the picture's history file for future research. Your comments remain very much appreciated.
Walker Art Gallery Fine Art Curators
Hello Walker Art Gallery Fine Art Curators, if possible, please upload to this site an image of the back of this painting.
Martin pointed out in his original submission over three years ago that the painting is not close enough on style to G.D. Leslie for the Walker's attribution and title to hold water. The Walker's 1996 catalogue admitted this decades ago so it is a shame that the Art UK data continued this early misattribution. Kieran has found more likely candidates.
So there seems little point in looking again at G.D. Leslie. It looks to be a 'fancy' picture painted around 1860 by a good artist of a slightly earlier generation. A tedious search of RA exhibits between 1855 and 1865 might produce some more candidates.
G. D. Leslie seems to have been ruled out. Andrew suggested (20/02/2018) that a search of the RA exhibits between 1855 and 1865 might turn up other candidates.
Should we discuss further whether the artist could be Augustus Leopold Egg? Thank you to Barbara for trying to contact Hilarie Faberman. Martin pointed to Hilarie Faberman's thesis on Egg, published by University Microfilms in 1983 and republished in 1992 or 1993.
Egg's RA exhibits could be checked, possibly late 1840s onwards, unless anyone has already done this? Martin also mentioned 'A girl reading a letter', an oil sketch which was no. 95 in his Estate's sale, Christie 18 and 19 May 1863.
Faberman's thesis is held by the Courtauld Institute Library and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in Bedford Square
Possible inscriptions usually turn out to be ghosts - and Martin's description of Edward Morris's thoroughness in cataloguing makes it even less likely; but at the bottom edge of the painting, slightly to the right of centre in a dark triangle between dress and cloak, there is something that could conceivably be a signature/date. See the attached detail with brightness/contrast adjusted.
Could you look at the higher-res of this area, Marion (if you have it), and see if there's anything promising?
Faberman may be reachable through the Cantor Center, Stanford University
Egg's sale Christie 18 May 1863 - there is a copy of the catalogue in the National Art Library
Osmund, our image isn't at very high resolution, but I've attached two details, one adjusted.
Here is a list of the paintings he exhibited at the RA summer exhibitions between 1847 ad 1860 (from chronicle250.com). None fits our painting.
Martin and Marion, I contacted Hilarie Faberman at the Cantor Stanford e-mail in 2016, to no avail. But nowadays with everyone's CV on the internet, I see she left there in 2014. She does have a website, so if anyone wants to pursue her opinion that way, they can.
But for my money, this picture is not by Egg.
Please see the attached close-up of the letter. Thanks to Andrew Shore for pointing out that the signature at the bottom of the back page appears to be 'Jane'.
How are we to interpret the 'signature' ? Is Jane the leading character in a novel which provides the subject for this picture, or perhaps more likely the name of the artist?
It looks to me an unlikely place for an artist's signature, but also strange that an otherwise illegible letter should have a clear name at the end of it. The natural explanation would be that it is the name of the letter writer, but that seems to complicate any story behind the subject of the painting (who in literature would have received a letter from a 'Jane'?). It does seem to have the look more of a narrative painting than a formal portrait.
I suppose it could conceivably be a purported portrait of Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet reading a letter from her sister Jane.
For what it may be worth, there's something about this picture that reminds me of the work of William Powell Frith.
Thank you very much to the collection for these photographs of the frame and the back of the painting.
George Dunlop Leslie exhibited'Willow, Willow....' at the Royal Academy in 1867 as no 656 with a quotation from Othello
see the inscription on the back of the frame with these two words.
However, the description of the above painting in The PortfolIo, I, 1870 does not match the Walker's painting, but was the rest of the text on the page meant to match Desdemona's song?
If the painting really cannot be by G.D. Leslie (and is that certain?) I wonder if this is a case where one round-format canvas has been swapped into the frame originally for another - though it would imply that GDL's 'Willow, Willow' was circular: the old title label which also looks like it has the ghost of his name on it, and the painted one on the front, suggest that might have been the case. It may sound unlikely, and would be less so if both were at least by the same artist even if not a pair, but odd things happen: NMM has a 1689 Kneller of Sam Pepys in the frame originally holding the 1660s portrait of his wife by John Hayls which was destroyed when both were still in the Pepys-Cockerell family in the 19th century. As to the 'illegible letter' signed 'Jane,' it looks as though the start reads 'Dear' followed by a name that may be 'Margaret' or at least one starting with M and a middle letter that has a tail below the line. A folio letter, if sent in a stamped envelope, would normally start on the page 1 recto (and this lady does look into the Rowland Hill penny-post era) but the earlier practice was to fold, seal and address on the outside, with text starting on the page 1 verso as this appears to do.
Pieter, not only is it stylistically quite wrong for G.D. Leslie, but, as Kieran shared with us on 18/2/2018, there are two, almost mirror-image versions of his 'Willow, Willow' viewable online: https://bit.ly/2q4dGkl & https://bit.ly/2VHbIlP.
The second of these, with its "trail of the waterfowl" in the "quiet stream" (as per the description in the Bucks Herald, again courtesy of Kieran) seems likely to be the one exhibited at the RA in 1867. The first is doubtless this (unillustrated) one sold at Christie's in 1994: https://bit.ly/326ebbJ. Neither of these is circular, and it seems most unlikely that Leslie painted another one that was.
So yes, the frame is not only clearly from another painting (the switch taking place before the Walker acquired it), but I don't believe it ever held Leslie's 'Willow, Willow' either. With some tweaking, the old label you refer to just about shows another name, but it doesn't look remotely like 'G. D. Leslie' to me (see attached). What it does show I'm not sure - perhaps ' _ _ Yates' or possibly even 'G F Watts'. But it doesn't matter who it is, because it's nothing to do with our painting! 'Willow, Willow' is a complete red herring, as is 'G. D. Leslie' - presumably the misread label was the source of the whole idea.
Incidentally, no other work called 'Willow, Willow' seems to have been exhibited at the R.A. by anyone else at any time.
OK: that clarifies and thanks for straightening out! 'The Novel' in the current title is presumably another red herring.
Should be looking for a less well known mid century artist of the calibre of James Curnock? see his Sisters Ann and Henrietta Maria Shaw of 1854 [Bristol Museum and Art Gallery]. I am not here suggesting that he is our artist, but more that we should widen our search
Has Alfred Elmore been sufficently considered? He was associated with The Clique and his painting of fabric could be excellent, see 'On the Brink' in the Fitzwilliam Museum. https://collection.beta.fitz.ms/id/object/864
an interesting suggestion and well worth investigating futher
Caomhin de Bailis published an article on him in Irish Art Review, 31, 3 September - November 2014, pp. 120-7
His studio sale was Christies, 2 August 1881
He was also an illustrator
de Bailis' thesis of 2017 of University College, Cork Alfred Elmore, life, work and context should help
the thesis is online
The catalogues of the British Institution and Irish exhibition societies should be consulted
This thesis (https://cora.ucc.ie/handle/10468/5433) deals primarily with Elmore's religious subjects, and unfortunately the online version omits the illustrations. The list of illustrations however does not seem to include anything particularly relevant. The art historian Paul Barlow was also a specialist on Elmore and his contemporaries, but unfortunately he died a few years ago.
Caomhin de Bailis's article in Irish Art Review (available via JSTOR) is short and not especially helpful except to comment on Elmore's love of fabric and colour, and that 'On the Brink' was seemingly his only contemprary genre painting. I have looked as far as possible at his RA exhibits 1848-1865 and found nothing helpful: they are overwhelmingly historical, religious and literary subjects.
This is actually signed G D Leslie, bottom left. You can see it if you change the highlights/contrast on Photoshop, as on the attached. (NB I also had access to a larger file than was shared above.)
Well spotted: the next query has to be 'is that a convincing GDL signature or a hopeful addition by someone else?'
A long time ago, nearly fifty years, I was in correspondence with George Dunlop Leslie's grandson, and I subsequently went to see him at his house on the Kent / Sussex border. He showed me the paintings and other material he had by his grandfather. I share Pieter's apparent concerns about that signature (post of 03/09/2022).
My question was not implying doubt but asking for fact. I don't know GDL's usual signature form(s): is this recognisably one?
There are signatures clearly visible on paintings such as https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22590/lot/71/ and particularly on those on the Art Renewal website https://www.artrenewal.org/artists/george-dunlop-ra-leslie/2066.
His signature separates each letter of his name, and the G has distinctve serifs. The signature of these paintngs is not in my view incompatible with the, rather blurry, image on our painting.
I am revising my dismissal of Leslie on 20/02/18. His paintings seems variable in quality but at their best do have great facility with fabric and costumes, although much of his work consists of bland, poorly composed mock-18th century costume pieces. The mixed-period costume in our painting is therefore typical, but better painted than most.