Completed Continental European after 1800, North West England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, British 19th C, except portraits 10 Why was this painting's title changed from 'A Fair Student' to 'Girl Reading'?

Girl Reading
Topic: Painting description

Although in the gallery the title of this painting is officially given as 'Girl Reading', on the actual frame itself it is called 'A Fair Student'.

Why was the title changed and by whom?

The collection comments that, after completing research into its own archives, it remains unclear as to who changed the title of the work and why. The artist himself titled the work 'A Fair Student' as is evident by the frame plate.

As early as 31st May 1878 (the year it was painted), the Royal Academy Times refer to the work as 'Reading Girl', and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy that year as 'A Girl Reading' – but in the Manchester City Art Gallery exhibition catalogue of the James Blair bequest (1917), it's called 'A Fair Student'.

A label found in the archive calls it 'A Fair Student', and it (or a version of it) also seems to have been called 'In the Orangerie' at some point. It was still being referred to as 'Girl Reading' in 1998 in the Royal Academy 'Art Treasures of England'.

It would seem to have been the RA who changed the name. There is no reference to Perugini calling it 'Girl Reading', at least not in the archive.

Why anyone would have changed the title is unclear, nor do the collection hold any information of any discussion about a change.

Matthew Pointon, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

This discussion is now closed. The evidence suggests 'Girl Reading' was the painting's original title, so the Art UK record will remain unchanged.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

9 comments

Scott Thomas Buckle,

The earliest image that I can find of the painting is in Academy Notes, published in May 1878, where it is described as 'Girl reading'. The artist would have provided the correct title of the picture to the RA and Academy Notes. Graves confirms this in the RA exhibition list for that year and the picture is still called 'Girl Reading' in Austin Chester's 'The Art of C.E.Perugini', published in the Windsor Magazine in 1909, when the painting was in the collection of Sir William Eden, Bart. Presumably the frame plate with the alternative title was added sometime between then and when it was exhibited in 1917. A possible reason for the change of name would be that a new title for the painting was made up by an auction house when the picture came up for sale. There are instances when a painter has renamed a painting for a subsequent exhibition - if this was the case we would need to see a label in the artist's hand confirming this. Titles of paintings and even attributions can change within an artist's lifetime, as the picture moves from one owner to the next.

[Scott, you beat me to it!] It would seem that the proper title of the picture is "Girl Reading". This was how Perugini submitted it to the annual Royal Academy exhibition in 1878. A splendid example of Aestheticism in painting, the work is all but subjectless, and is simply a beautiful study of a woman in a white dress. Very well reviewed at the time of the exhibition, it was also engraved by the Illustrated London News in July 1878 and here it was also called "Girl Reading". This was obviously Perugini's title. What happened after has to do with several factors, including the predilections of its subsequent owners and/or the auction houses. When in Sir Willliam Eden's collection, it sill bore that title and was listed as such in his sale of 1889 when bought by someone called "West" (evidently bought in as we can see from Scott Buckle's comment that it appeared in another Eden sale later). It was not at all uncommon for an owner to change the name of a picture to suit him or herself. This happened to several of G.F. Watts's works and so it is not so surprising that it happened to this work by Perugini. But certainly for accuracy, one would call it "Girl Reading".

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a copy of the 1878 Illustrated London News review, plus a copy of Charles Edward Perugini's obituary, as it appeared in The Times on Monday 23rd December 1918.

Also attached is a composite of this discussion's painting with that of Perugini's wife, Catherine 'Kate' Elizabeth Macready Dickens (29 October 1839 – 9 May 1929), who was the daughter of Charles Dickens. The couple were married in London in 1873.

Comparing the images in the composite, there can be little doubt that the 'Girl Reading' is Kate. In 1860, at the age of 21, she modelled for John Everett Millais' masterpiece, 'The Black Brunswicker'. In 1874, Millias started a painting of her, as a wedding gift, but he did not complete the work until 1880. ( wowa.artlinkart.com/en/top/detail/6e8aACui.html ). Perugini appears to have used Kate in several other of his best works, and she would appear to have been something of a muse to several of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Although 49 years-old at the time, she is also most likely to be the three girls in Perugini's 1888 'A Summer Shower', albeit in a youthfully idealized form.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Edward_Perugini#/media/File:A_Summer_Shower,_by_Charles_Edward_Perugini.jpg

Charles Edward Perugini is buried (in a rather neglected looking grave) in St. Vincent Church cemetery, in Sevenoaks, Kent, alongside the remains of his infant son, Leonard Ralph Dickens Perugini (1875 - 1876).

Antoinette Gordon,

Apologies that earlier my comments did not get through. Anyway Kieran Owen has now submitted almost precisely similar comments, so I support the proposition that this is a portrait of Perugini's wife Kate Dickens, although the marriage date I found was 4.6.1874. Kate was previously married in 1860 to the ailing Charles Allston Collins who died of cancer in 1873. The marriage was never consummated. I suggest it is significant that our portrait has a dense background of orange blossom flowers, the Victorian wedding flower and a symbol of purity. The ripe but untouched apple is also symbolic. Perugini produced several portraits of a lady reading a book - quite a popular theme at the time - so catalogue references under this title may not be too helpful. Kate was an artist in her own right and first exhibited at the RA in 1870.

An explanation for the change of title (presumably in 1878) may be that prior to the Royal Academy exhibition the artist sold the black and white reproduction rights to a publisher who was not keen on the title 'A Fair Student' and in return for what would have been a significant sum Perugini changed the title to the more commercial sounding 'Girl Reading'. In that period the demand for such prints by leading artists was enormous and many artists would no doubt have accommodated such a request. There are of course other possibilities but this may be plausible.

Antoinette Gordon,

The biography of Kate Dickens by Lucinda Hawksley "The Life and Loves of Dickens's Artist Daughter", pub. Doubleday, 2006, states 'Katey's talent for drawing was noticed early and, at the age of twelve, she was enrolled in art classes at The Ladies College in Bedford Square'. The English social reformer Elizabeth Jesser Reid (1789-1866), founded Bedford College in 1849, at 47 Bedford Square, London, "to provide liberal, non-sectarian education for women". It was the first higher (further) education college for women in the UK. For previously governesss-educated young ladies, this new form of schooling was avant-garde. Katey Dickens was one of the earlier students. In 1855 Katey was sent to Paris to study dancing, art and languages, being taught Italian by the exiled patriot Daniele Manin (1804-1857). When in 1859 Katey modelled for John Everett Millais's "The Black Brunswicker" she was said to be 20 years old and an art student at Bedford College. Millais encouraged her studies in art. Thus, "A Fair Student" would appear to be a most appropriate title for Perugini's tender portrait of his beautiful and talented wife.

My earlier contribution failed to appear.

I must strongly support Scott and Barbara in stating that there is no reason to doubt that 'Girl Reading' was the title given by the artist when he first exhibited the work at the RA in 1878. As Barbara points out, with evidence, the title on the frame could have been added at any later time by a later owner (Blair?) - in my experience title plates were generally added by collectors and galleries, not by the artist.

I also cannot see why Kate, then aged 38, is a put forward as a candidate for the model in 'Girl Reading', let alone for 'A Summer Shower' 10 years later. I do not find Kieran's comparison very convincing. In any case, both are strongly idealised genre paintings of young women and were not intended and should not be interpreted as portraits.

I am making a formal recommendation, supported by the earlier comments by Scott Thomas Buckle and Barbara Bryant, with which I strongly agree, that the evidence is that the original title was 'Girl Reading'. This was the title provided by the artist to the RA in 1878 and given to the picture in an article in 1909, when owned by Sir William Eden. Sir William died in 1915. I have not found an Eden sale, but the title was later changed presumably by the new owner James Blair before 1917 to 'A Fair Student' and then recorded on the frame. There is no reason for Manchester or Art UK to change the current title.

Very good. Manchester Art Gallery will make a note of this discussion on the object record.