PROPERTY FROM A JAPANESE PRIVATE COLLECTION
Ethel was a beguiling personality and attracted the attention of the artist Ralph Peacock who married her sister. Around 1900 she posed for several pictures by Philip Wilson Steer, including Hydrangeas (Johannesburg Art Gallery) and whose sketchbook (Victoria & Albert Museum) contains several flirtatious notes from her; one note reads simply "Chase me boys". Whistler also admired her as a model and perhaps had a less professional interest in her too - he was said to be devastated when she married.
Although she had initially trained to be an artist and was an accomplished and successful model, Ethel also took lessons in acting and in 1900 made her stage debut in the play The Corsican Brothers at the Grande Theatre in Fulham. She was continually in demand for the next few years, her time taken entirely with touring plays. Draper and Peacock painted her several times in 1905 and 1906 but her posing ceased on 24 March 1906 when she married Edmund Waller, a handsome young actor who she had fallen in love with on the stage. The Wallers embarked on a worldwide tour with various plays, travelling through South Africa and Australia but in 1910 they returned to London and took over the management of the Queen's Theatre. In 1915 she divorced Waller but continued to live a glamorous lifestyle that she could not afford and was declared bankrupt in 1923. Despite this set-back, throughout the 1920s and 1930s she was a very successful actress at the New Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Many thousands of post-cards bearing her beautiful face continued to be bought by adoring fans and she found further fame in a series of films, including The Magistrate, The Life I Gave Him, Bachelor's Baby and The Bigamist. She died in a nursing home in Bognor Regis in September 1951 aged only 68 and almost completely forgotten. However she has left countless images of her beauty, this charming picture by Godward being one of the most recently re-discovered.
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