Sir John Everett Millais
- Sir John Everett Millais
- Portrait of Kate Perugini, daughter of charles dickens
- signed with monogram and dated l.r.: 1880
- oil on canvas
Sir Henry Dickens, his sale, Sotheby’s, 15 March 1967, lot 116 bought by Cyril Dickens;
C. Hawksley in 1969;
Christopher Wood Gallery, London
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1881;
Manchester Corporation Art Gallery, Autumn Exhibition, 1885, no.407;
Royal Academy, Works of the Late Sir John Everett Millais, 1898, no.73;
London, Christopher Wood Gallery, Elegant Ladies: Images of Women in English and French Art Circa 1830-1930, 1994, no.12;
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art; Denver Museum of Art; Newcastle upon Tyne, The Grosvenor Gallery: A Palace of Art in Victorian England, 1996, no.35 (Yale only);
London, National Portrait Gallery, Millais: Portraits, 1999, no. 54;
London, Tate Britain; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum; Fukuoka, Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Millais, 2007-2008, no.119;
London, Victoria & Albert Museum; Paris, Musée d'Orsay; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement in Britain 1860-1900, 2011-2012
Lucinda Hawksley, Katey - The Life and Loves of Dickens’ Artist Daughter, 2006, pp.2, 3-4, 253, illus. opposite p.191
In the bi-centennial anniversary year of Charles Dickens’ death, the famous and innovative portrait of his youngest surviving daughter Kate is offered for sale. It has returned from San Francisco where it was shown in the exhibition The Cult of Beauty, a glorious display of British Aestheticism from the later nineteenth century which had opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum before touring to Paris and the USA. Included in the exhibition of Millais’ portraits at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1999, it was also prominent in the Millais retrospective at Tate Britain, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and a tour of Japanese art museums in 2008. Kate Dickens is the subject of a fascinating book by Lucinda Hawksley Katey, The Life and Loves of Dicken’s Artist Daughter, published in 2006 and now recognised as a significant historical figure in her own right, not simply the wife and daughter of famous men.
In 1850 Dickens had written one of the most famous and scathing attacks on Pre-Raphaelitism when he violently criticised Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents (Tate). However by the mid-1850s the vitriol was forgotten and Millais and Dickens had become good friends. Millais met the writer’s daughter when she was a teenager. As the daughter of the most famous writer of his age, Kate Dickens (1839-1929) enjoyed celebrity and high profile in society. She moved with artistic circles which allowed her to explore her own painting and to meet many of the most inspirational men and women of London, Paris and Italy. Millais encouraged Kate’s painting and she became a successful portrait painter, particularly insightful when painting children. In 1859 Millais painted Kate as a woman parting with her lover on the eve of Waterloo in The Black Brunswicker (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight).
Millais’ portrait depicts the pivotal point in Kate’s life when she married the Italian painter Carlo Eduardo (Charles Edward) Perugini, with whom she was passionately and blissfully in love. She was drawn to artistic men; her first husband was the painter Charles Collins (brother of Wilkie Collins) and she had an affair with the artist Val Prinsep. Millais and her were great friends as was Frederic Leighton through whom she she met Perugini. The wedding ceremony of Catherine Elizabeth Macready Collins and Charles Edward Perugini took place on 4 June 1874 at St Paul's Church in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge. Millais was one of only five guests at the wedding and the only non-family member (Kate’s own mother and Charles’ parents were not invited). Millais’ portrait was begun as a wedding gift but was not completed until 1880. It expresses the defiantly modern and sophisticated later style of Millais and also captures the intelligence and elegance of the sitter. It has an informal intimacy and charm uncluttered by peripheral, unnecessary fashionable accessories. ‘The result is a stunning, unusual portrait that captures the artist’s feelings towards a mature, intelligent, fellow artist... a sexually provocative painting, indicative of Kate’s forceful personality.’ (Ibid Hawksley, p.3)
It is said that Kate decided upon the pose she would adopt for the picture when she walked into Millais’ studio, turned her back to the artist, looked over her left shoulder and told him that this was the way she wished to be depicted. Millais clearly agreed and the pose is both original and powerful: ‘her stance, the prominent bustle positioned near the centre of the portrait and the way in which Millais captures the sitter’s haughty self-possession are provocative in more ways than one, drawing the eye and creating questions in the viewer’s mind.’ (ibid Hawksley, p.3) Kate probably also chose the black costume – she was officially in mourning for Collins but black was also her favourite colour in which she believed she looked her best. The portrait has been compared to Sargent’s infamous portrait of Virginie Gautreau Madame X of 1884 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) but whilst the suggestiveness of Sargent’s picture created a scandal, Millais’ eroticism was more subtle with the French-seemed gossamer black organdie of the sleeves and back revealing the golden skin beneath. ‘The black dress is exquisitely rendered, with its enticing sheer sleeves providing a welcome relief from the more funereal tones of the bodice and the rich satin of the bustle’s bow gleaming in contrast with the more sombre material of the skirt. Millais manages to make the several subtle shades of black appear as varied as a patterned silk, emphasising the femaleness of the sitter by deliberately highlighting the movement of the fabric around her corseted curves.’ (ibid Hawksley, pp.3-4)
We are grateful to Lucinda Hawksley for her additions to this catalogue note.
Katherine W. Mellon, known as Kitty to friends, was a colourful and enthusiastic personality with an unrestricted range of interests and an inexhaustible appetite for knowledge. She was known to speak passionately about Palladian and Gothic architecture, Caravaggio, the White Gardens at Sissinghurst and Victorian garden watercolour painting, Siena, Keith Richards and all things British. She was a devoted Anglophile, evidenced in all aspects of her life from her collections of fi ne and decorative art, her taste in jewelry and the design of her gardens, and even her lifelong commitment to the Courtauld Institute in London. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Latham Woodward of San Francisco; she lived there until her marriage to Richard Mellon. While they maintained residences in New York, Ligonier, and Woods Hole in Cape Cod, Kitty Mellon realized her dream of moving to England in the late 1980s with a mews house in London and Vincent’s Farm House in Suffolk. It was during this time that she met Elizabeth Gage, Christopher Wood and Vernon Russell-Smith and they became her lifelong friends and collaborators. With Gage, she designed jewellery that celebrated her love of the Gothic style and tudor roses. Her gardens at Vincent’s Farm House were designed Russell-Smith, who also introduced her to Nancy Lancaster – often described as one of the best moments of her life! She also worked with Christopher Wood, the preeminent dealer in Victorian art, who guided the formation of her vast collection of Victorian watercolors, Kate Greenaway collection and who advised her on the present picture.. It was clear that she loved the pieces that she acquired, studied them and became close to the people involved with them, such as Lucinda Hawksley, the granddaughter of Kate Perugini. Art was her passion, along with gardens, and floral motifs recur throughout her collections. She would continue to acquire great works throughout her life and she curated a beautiful home in Stonington, Connecticut.