Tuesday, June 22, 2010

G F Watts - The Violinist, Blanche

signed with initials and dated l.l.: G. F. Watts 1875
oil on canvas
64 by 52cm., 25.5 by 20.5in.

Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 85,250 GBP

Veronica Franklin Gould, G. F. Watts, The Last Victorian, 2004

Blanche Margaret Standish Clogstoun was born on 17 October 1862 and when she
was only nine-years-old she became Watts's ward. Her introduction to the artist has
been described by Veronica Franklin Gould thus; 'In a moment of spontaneous joy, a
sad little ray of sunlight pierced Watts's fatherly workaholic heart.' (Veronica Franklin Gould, G. F. Watts, The Last Victorian, 2004, p.109) The little orphan Blanche had been taken with her sisters Adeline and Mary to Little Holland House, dressed in mourning black, to meet their mother Mary's aunt 'Sara' (Sarah Prinsep, neé Monckton Pattle). The three children waited nervously in the doorway of the drawing-room, awaiting their introduction and hoping that they might be adopted by their wealthy relative. As Sara considered which of the girl's she might take as her ward, Blanche suddenly rushed across the room and leaped onto the lap of the surprised Watts who had been sitting reading by the fire. At this moment he decided to adopt the delightful little girl himself with Sara taking charge of her day-to-day care. The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (Sara's sister) adopted the other two girls but unfortunately Adelina died when she was only ten. The responsibility of taking care of Blanche led Watts to write to his friend Charles Rickards; 'I have undertaken the charge of a little orphan girl so I must endeavour to do what I have not hitherto thought of doing, viz establishing a little capital.' (ibid Gould, p.109). It is likely that the portrait of Blanche dressed in a red and green dress and seated on an armchair (FIG 1. Sotheby's, New York, 25 April 2006, lot 114) was painted soon after her introduction to Watts.

Fearing that Little Holland House would not be exciting enough for a young girl,
Blanche was raised at the Prinseps' house at Freshwater on the Isle-of-Wight where
there was space and company for her to enjoy. The sadness of her early life was put
behind her and she grew to be a happy young lady with Watts and the Prinseps looking
after her.

This portrait of Blanche (or 'Daisy' as Watts called her) depicts her when she was
thirteen-years-old and it is unusual that he signed and dated it, suggesting perhaps that the picture was intended as a gift to his beloved daughter. The choice to depict her holding a violin suggests the improving education that Watts and Sara Prinsep gave Blanche. To encourage her to learn to play the fiddle, Watts took lessons himself and disagreed with his friend Rickards that it would be a corrupting influence on her life. He had known Joachim (whose portrait he painted in 1865), Madame Neruda and several other female violinists who had not fallen into a life of debauchery through their music and therefore he wrote to Rickards to tell him that he thought the warning was; 'constructively defective. If not let her wear no stays, run, jump, play at cricket with her brothers if she have any and otherwise exercise her limbs and lungs. I will answer for the violin being innocent of harm to her.' The broken strings of the instrument perhaps symbolise the broken relationships of her life; the loss of her mother and father and of her older sister.

In 1876, a year after painting Blanche, Watts painted another portrait of a girl holding a violin Blanche, Lady Lindsay (FIG 2. private collection) the wife of Sir Coutts Lindsay who was a friend of Lord and Lady Somers. Watts was attracted to the idea of depicting his sitters playing musical instruments, suggesting the contrast of visual beauty musical harmony. Notable examples include those of Alice Prinsep of 1860 and Prudence Penelope Cavendish Bentinck of c.1857. Music was important to Watts, perhaps even essential to his art. When Julia Margaret Cameron took a portrait
photograph of Watts in 1865, entitled Whisper of the Muse he was depicted playing a
violin to a pair of small girls.

When she was nineteen Blanche married Herbert Somers Cocks, the twenty year old
second cousin of Lord Somers. Somers Cocks was a Lieutenant in the Coldstream
Guards who had an exemplary military career and had fought in Egypt where Watts
noted he had been 'the youngest officer there' (ibid Gould, p.171). Blanche and
Herbert's wedding was held at the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Reigate, overseen
by Lady Henry Somerset and her mother Virginia Somers. The wedding reception was
at The Priory at Nutfield and their honeymoon was spent at Eastnor Castle. After the
wedding Watts wrote; 'Darling Daisy. I hoped when you married I should be able to give up feeling all anxiety about you, please let me think this may be.' (ibid Gould p.171)

Around this time Watts painted another portrait of Blanche as a handsome young wife
(FIG 3. Eastnor Castle Collection). In 1890 Watts gave Blanche, who was pregnant, his
house The Briary in which to raise her family; she had two children Arthur and Verena. She died in 1895, nine years before Watts.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Another splendid post - so informative - thanks indeed, i am so pleased that I have discovered your blog.


Hermes said...

Thank you kindly. I mainly work from old auction catalogues. I loved your post on the lovely Moll by the way. And you live in such a lovely part of the world.