Lot 10
  • 10

Marie Spartali Stillman

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Marie Spartali Stillman
  • On a Balcony, Self-Portrait
  • signed and dated u.r.: Marie Spartali Stillman/ de Ipsa fecit/ London 1874
  • watercolour with bodycolour
  • 63.5 by 51cm., 25 by 20in.


Purchased from the Philadelphia International Exhibition by Colonel John Hay;
Doyle, New York, 5-6 May 1984 as Lady with a Fan, bought by Joan Witney Payson;
Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York;
Sotheby's, New York, 25 April 2006, lot 112 as Self Portrait in Medieval Dress, where purchased by the present owners


Boston, Doll & Richards, 1874;
New York, American Society of Painters in Water Colors, National Academy of Design, 1875, no.284 as On a Balcony;
Philadelphia International Exhibition, 1876 as On a Balcony;
Delaware Art Museum and Compton, Watts Gallery, Poetry in Beauty - The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman, 2015-2016, no.7


Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn (eds.), Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, 1997, p.132;
David B. Elliott, A Pre-Raphaelite Marriage - The Lives and Works of Marie Spartali Stillman and William James Stillman, 2006, illustrated p.2 and p.91, plate 31;
Margaretta S. Frederick and Jan Marsh, Poetry in Beauty - The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman, 2015, p. 80, illustrated p.81


The sheet is undulating and it would benefit from being flattened. There is very fine cracking to the gum arabic visible on close inspection. In overall good condition. Held in an attractive Rossetti style gilt frame and under glass. Please note that this work has not been examined out of its frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

 ‘… a lofty beauty, gracious and noble; the beauty worshipped in Greece of old, yet with a wistful tenderness of poise, a mystery of shadowed eyes that gave life to what might have been a marble goddess,’ (Graham Robertson, Time Was, 1931, p.13)

Born 10 March 1844, Marie Euphrosyne Spartali was the youngest daughter of Euphrosyne and Michael Spartali, a wealthy and cosmopolitan merchant and later Greek consul general for London. Marie and her sister Christine and brother Demetrius were raised in a large house in Clapham, which became the centre of the Greek community in the 1860s. The Anglo-Greek connoisseur Constantine Ionides who patronised Burne-Jones and Rossetti and whose collection is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was a great friend of the Spartalis and it was probably this connection that led to Marie being 'discovered' by the Pre-Raphaelites. Marie was also a cousin of Maria Zambaco (nee Cassavetti), Burne-Jones’ mistress and model, and Aglaia Coronio the confidante of both Rossetti and William Morris, and the three women were known as the ‘Three Graces’ after their Greek heritage and striking beauty. It is said that the Spartali girls’ debut was made in the late 1860s at a garden party in Tulse Hill given by relations of the Ionides family, where their arrival caused a stir among the invited artists. 'We were all á genoux before them and of course every one of us burned with a desire to paint them' recalled the artist Thomas Armstrong. The perceptive Graham Robertson described Marie thus, 'I always recommended would-be but wavering worshippers to start with Mrs. Stillman, who was, so to speak, Mrs. Morris for beginners. The two marvels had many points in common: the same lofty stature, the same long sweep of limb, the 'neck like a tower', the night-dark tresses and the eyes of mystery, yet Mrs. Stillman's loveliness conformed to the standard of ancient Greece and could at once be appreciated, while study of her trained the eye to understand the more esoteric beauty of Mrs Morris and 'trace in Venus' eyes the gaze of Proserpine.' (Ibid Robertson, p.95) whilst the poet Swinburne exclaimed that she was ‘so beautiful I feel as if I could sit down and cry.’ (Thomas Armstrong, A Memoir 1832-1911, 1912, p.195) Around 1864 Marie posed for a series of exquisite photographs by the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and among the most notable costumed portraits of Marie are Hypatia, Mnemosyne and The Spirit of the Vine. She also posed for portraits by Watts and Prinsep and was painted by Spencer Stanhope as Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief in 1887 (De Morgan Foundation) and by Burne-Jones as Danae in 1884 (Glasgow Art Gallery). Marie was also the model for several imposing later works by Rossetti including Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (Walker Art Gallery), The Bower Meadow (Manchester City Art Gallery) and the unfinished Desdemona's Death Song (drawings at Birmingham City Art Gallery and the Collection of Lord Lloyd Webber).

Marie was arguably the most talented of the female Pre-Raphaelite artists, painting over a hundred works in the 1870s and 1880s in a rich style derived from that of Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. She will perhaps always be best remembered as a Pre-Raphaelite model, one of the small group of women whose faces shaped the British notion of beauty. However her paintings have the same whimsical romance as those of her male counterparts and she often came close to greatness. On a Balcony is among her finest works and echoes the work of her mentor Rossetti, particularly La Donna Della Finestra painted five years later. The composition depicting a woman wearing a voluminous-sleeved gown and leaning on a parapet was one that Rossetti had painted since the early 1860s and was derived from sixteenth century Italian painting.

In 1882 Marie wrote to her friend Vernon Lee 'I find portraits always very nervous work' (letter of 16 September 1882, Vernon Lee papers) and despite her talent and beauty, the present picture is one of only two known self-portraits (other depictions of women have erroneously been said to depict her). The other is a charcoal version of the present picture drawn in 1871 (Delaware Art Museum). Evidently Marie was pleased with the monochrome portrait and painted this watercolour three years later which became one of her first works to be exhibited in America. More than 130 years later the portrait was seen in a major exhibition of Marie's work, Poetry in Beauty, at Delaware Art Museum in 2015 and early 2016 and until recently was on view at the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey.