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One of the Delaware Art Museum’s most striking works in the British Pre-Raphaelite galleries was actually designed and produced by Americans: our Tiffany stained-glass Spring and Autumn window set. The Spring and Autumn windows were commissioned by Samuel Bancroft, whose collection forms the core of the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite holdings. In the early 1890s, Bancroft expanded his home in order to better hold and display his growing collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. The Philadelphia architect Frank Miles Day was employed to design the structure, and a significant portion of the decorative scheme was carried out by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. While Tiffany Studios glasswork has been associated with the vision of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the owner and main artistic designer of the company, the Spring and Autumn windows were actually designed by one of the many women he employed over the course of his career: Lydia Field Emmet (1866-1952).

Behind every great man is a woman, as the saying goes, and behind the success of Tiffany are numerous women whose artistic skills and business acumen helped his company in all its iterations earn great acclaim and popularity. Early in his career, Tiffany launched a business with textile designer Candace Wheeler, before becoming head of design at his father’s firm, Tiffany and Co. The history of women artists at the turn of the 20th century was also connected to the popularity of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with which Tiffany Studios was associated both artistically and politically, and to the American decorative arts industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In turn, women artists entering the workforce and the Arts and Crafts movement were also influenced by developments in organized labor in the United States, meaning these three concepts are all intertwined.

At the company’s height in the late 1890s, Tiffany employed some 40-50 women in a special glass-cutting division. Tiffany’s desire to hire so many women may have been a testament to what one writer called his “progressive spirit.” The popularly-held view that women had a better sense for decoration and took direction better than their male counterparts was also a factor, as were their status as non-unionized workers. The Women’s Glass Cutting Department was established in 1892 and was responsible for the production of some of Tiffany’s most successful and delightful lamps and window patterns. Led by the indomitable Clara Driscoll and her strong sense of design, the department originated the “Dragonfly,” “Wisteria,” and “Butterfly” lampshades, among other notable Tiffany glass products. It’s not known for certain whether Lydia Field Emmet was considered one of Driscoll’s so-called “Tiffany Girls,” but she became known as an artist and art worker in her own right, as well as a part of the Tiffany legacy.

Aside from designing stained glass windows like Spring and Autumn, Emmet exhibited oil paintings, designed wallpaper, illustrated articles for Harper’s Weekly, taught painting at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, and even created murals for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Many of Tiffany’s female workers, including Emmet, arguably exemplified the promise of the critic and progressive reformer John Ruskin’s conception of the “Unity of Art,” excelling in multiple disciplines and blurring the lines between creating fine art and craft.

During Ruskin’s era, the Industrial Revolution changed the nature of work and employment in major cities, replacing manual labor with rapid machine production of all sorts of goods. In response, the Arts and Crafts movement (led by William Morris in Britain) sought to reinvigorate the role of the artist and artisan in everyday life, and in so doing, improve the conditions of workers and of society as a whole. In the pursuit of pure profit, these theorists argued, creative labor was discouraged and devalued, its dignity lessened; mass-produced objects honored neither the skills of the worker nor the pursuit of beauty.

John Ruskin (who starred in DAM’s Wyeth/Ruskin show a few years ago), “felt that society should work toward promoting the happiness and well-being of every one of its members, by creating a union of art and labour in the service of society.” In other words: instead of working repetitive, menial, even dangerous manufacturing jobs and being paid a pittance for them, workers should be given the opportunity to manufacture items with the full force of their creativity and skill behind them, and should be fairly and justly compensated for doing so. Ruskin’s Unity of Art model disregarded hierarchies among what we consider today “fine art”—painting, sculpture, architecture—and “decorative arts” or “crafts”—embroidery, illustration, glasswork, pottery, textiles, and other media. Artists and artisans were both equal in Ruskin’s mind as creators of beauty and meaning.

The Arts and Crafts movement in Britain and the United States thus combined issues important to artists, craftsmen, and organized labor in opposition to industrial capitalism. Progressives of all social classes therefore had a stake in the game: the Unity of Art espoused respect for labor as significant and creative, and touted art work as a form of labor that should be properly compensated. Women artists and art workers in cities like New York thrived under the Unity of Art ideal, and worked in numerous industries and media, creating everything from magazine illustrations to paintings for exhibition halls.

The “Tiffany Girls,” therefore, represent a partial success of the Unity of Art, and of women’s growing recognition as artists and art workers at the turn of the century. However, while the proliferation of women artists in professional employment represented a victory for these women, it came at a cost for other members of society, and for the labor movement as a whole. Labor unions, responsible for the establishment of such now-commonplace workplace concepts as the weekend and the eight-hour day, did not generally accept women among their ranks. Therefore, women were often hired at firms like Tiffany as strike-breakers, and they were paid less than their unionized male counterparts. So while Tiffany hiring women in his glass department may have been influenced by the changing view of women’s capabilities and value outside the domestic sphere, it also allowed Tiffany to use them as a cudgel against labor unions demanding fairer wages and working hours. (To this day, women are still less likely to be unionized than their male counterparts.)

The Unity of Art ideal allowed Lydia Field Emmet to make a career as an artist and an art worker, but its popularity as a scheme for incorporating art into larger societal ideals did not last. Replaced in esteem by the concept of “Art for Art’s Sake,” which placed a premium on art “[capable] of producing pleasurable impressions in the viewer” (Masten 245), the mindset that had allowed Emmet to both paint murals and design wallpaper fell out of vogue, with commercial arts industries knocked down a peg on the ladder of prestige. Indeed, ideas about how labor should be compensated, how the creation of art should be compensated, and indeed, whether art work is a form of labor, continue to be furiously debated and negotiated to this day.

Deborah Krieger
Curatorial Assistant, 2017–2019
MA in Public Humanities at Brown University, Class of 2021

Sources and further reading:

April F. Masten, Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-19th Century New York(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)
Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray, and Margaret K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (New-York Historical Society, 2007)
Joseph G. Rayback, A History of American Labor (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1964)
Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986)
Philip S. Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement: From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I (Free Press, 1979)
Meredith Tax, The Rising of Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917 (University of Illinois Press, 2001) Mark Bassett, “Breaking Tiffany’s Glass Ceiling: Clara Wolcott Driscoll (1861-1944),” Cleveland Institute of Art news site, January 1, 2012: https://www.cia.edu/news/stories/breaking-tiffanys-glass-ceiling-clara-wolcott-driscoll-1861-1944/
Amelia Peck and Carol Irish, with Elena Phipps, Candace Wheeler: The Art and Enterprise of American Design, 1875–1900 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001). Downloadable here: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Candace_Wheeler_The_Art_and_Enterprise_of_American_Design_1875_1900
Jeffrey Helgeson, “American Labor and Working-Class History, 1900–1945,” Oxford Research Encyclopedias: American History, August 2016: http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-330?rskey=5l9Ed5&result=2
Alex Hass, “Design History,” in Graphic Design and Print Production Fundamentals, B.C. Communications Open Textbook Collective, 2015: https://opentextbc.ca/graphicdesign/chapter/chapter-2/
“Lydia Field Emmet,” National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1267.html
“The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap,” American Association of University Women, http://www.morsemuseum.org/louis-comfort-tiffany/tiffany-studios-designers)
“Women in Unions,” Status of Women in the States, https://statusofwomendata.org/women-in-unions/


Image: Spring and Autumn, c. 1892. Lydia Field Emmet (designer, 1866-1952) for Tiffany Studios Leaded glass, 37 × 51 1/2 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.

What happens when you place two unrelated works of art from different continents, centuries, movements, and artistic backgrounds next to one another on a gallery wall? Something magical it seems. Even when works of art have a 150-year gap in their creation and stylistically come from different eras, relationships can form between them if they connect visually or tell similar stories that strengthen their bond.

The way that a museum is able to share these stories with the community is through the practice of collecting. This idea has become the basic premise of the upcoming show Collecting and Connecting: Recent Acquisitions, 2010-2020. Over the past ten years, the Museum’s curators have worked hard to expand each of the collections (American Illustration, British Pre-Raphaelites, American Art to 1960, Contemporary Art, and the Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives), which has resulted in the acquisition of more than 1,500 new works. Always keeping the existing artwork in mind, the curators have actively shaped the collections to emphasize stories of women, artists of color, LGBTQ+ communities, local artists, and works which express innovative creativity.

Viewing artwork is an interpretive and subjective experience because everyone brings a different perspective to the table. This is the main reason why the works that will be shown in Collecting and Connecting are organized into groups based on visual, contextual, and emotional connections instead of by collection or chronological order. This way, we hope to create juxtapositions with artwork which extend past the barriers of time, movement, collection, country, style, or medium, and focus on what viewers physically see in the moment.

When beginning to plan the exhibition, it was difficult not to organize by collection, chronological order, or overarching theme, which is how most shows that feature recent acquisitions are laid out. The organization by theme was appealing, but felt forced, and we wanted to give the audience as much freedom for interpretation as possible. This quickly evolved into what the basis of the show will be: creating strong relationships between unrelated works through interesting juxtapositions. After looking through all 1,500+ works, a few significant relationships began to appear, one of which was that between Jerry Pinkney’s Cover Study for The Old African,” 2005, and John Everett Millais’s The Bridge of Sighs, 1857.

Take a moment to view these two works. With no background or context, what are you seeing? What stories do you think they are telling independently? What story do you think they tell together?

Pinkney, a successful illustration artist, created this watercolor as a study for the cover of Julius Lester’s children’s book, The Old African, published in 2005, which tells the reimagined legend of the Old African, a slave who uses mystical powers to free and lead a group of his fellow slaves on a journey back to their homeland of Africa.[1] Pinkney illustrated the entire book, creating stunning visuals that revealed both the horrors of slavery and the magic of hope in a way that still engages and educates readers of all ages. Expressing his desire to tell stories through images, Pinkney states on his website, “I’ve made a concerted effort to use my art making to examine as well as express my interest in Black history and culture—the tragedy, resilience, courage, and grit of African American people in their contributions to this country’s development. This deep dive into my own roots also bridged my interest in other cultures and histories of people who have been marginalized.”[2]

Both this study and the final version feature the main character, the Old African, gazing out into the ocean horizon where ships are sailing by, presumably on their way to deliver or pick up slaves. The ships are deceptively colorful albeit their ominous nature. Pinkney chose to depict a scene that sits in the interim of the story’s action—between fleeing the plantation and arriving in Africa. The energy and emotion of a scene that shows the Old African in contemplation is palpable. Pinkney filled this moment with vibrant colors to possibly represent the spiritual nature and magical abilities of the Old African, but also to express an optimistic attitude that good will conquer evil. The Museum acquired this piece in 2018 for a number of reasons, one of which was its visual relationship to Howard Pyle’s colorful pirate works, such as An Attack on a Galleon (1905), a work already in the Museum’s collection.

In 1857, John Everett Millais etched the scene in The Bridge of Sighs based on the poem of the same name by Thomas Hood, which was originally published in 1844. The poem tells the story of a woman driven to suicide because of her status as an impoverished, homeless, vagrant living on the streets of Victorian London. In this print, Millais depicts the woman contemplating her decision. The common archetype that developed in Victorian England of the “fallen woman” was a woman who was cast out by her family because of a sexual transgression and/or who lacked opportunities provided to men, such as a proper job or housing.[3] This woman, according to social myth, would then go to the city where she became a prostitute, eventually throwing herself off of a bridge out of guilt, and then literally falling to her death.[4]

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and related artists chose to depict confrontational scenes of modern life, contrary to the Royal Academy’s preference for sentimental genre scenes. The fallen woman was depicted by many Victorian artists in various stages of their plight, with many artists seeking to arouse empathy in the viewer for the difficulties a modern woman faces. Many artists also sought to warn their audience about what can happen if a woman is led astray from the social norm. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s unfinished Found (1854), the woman has already fallen but is being rescued, whereas in George Frederic Watts’s Found Drowned (1848-50) the woman has already completed suicide by jumping from a bridge. Millais’s work, however, shows a woman between these two possible endings, not yet rescued but not yet having lost all hope. It is a moment of anticipation in which the viewer can imagine the woman turning her life around and recovering or suffering the same fate as many others.

While planning and selecting works for the exhibition, there were a few visual relationships that we identified right from the start and used as the basis for creating other connections between work of art. Even when we did not have a clear idea of how this show would be presented, we knew that the relationships we were seeing were important and shared the story of the Museum’s collections in a different way. It has been a fascinating exercise to look at the museum’s 1,500+ recent acquisitions and see how much a work from 1857 and one from 2005 can tell the same story or have a very similar composition.

Like Pinkney’s study, Millais’s print also shows a moment of contemplation and anticipation. Both the Old African and the fallen woman have been horribly abused and mistreated by society at large, abandoned and left to their own devices. Whereas the Old African chooses to see hope and fight for freedom, the fallen woman sees endless despair and will ultimately choose to accept her tragic fate.

Compositionally, the figures in Pinkney’s study for The Old African and Millais’s The Bridge of Sighs sit on opposite sides of their framed scenes and face opposite directions. The woman in Millais’s work is in standing on the right and gazing out on the environment to the left with her face open to the audience, most likely because she has nothing to hide anymore. Alternately, Pinkney’s Old African stands waist deep in the water on the left, while looking out on the ships and expanse of ocean to the right and is turned away from the audience, adding to the mystery of the character. Pinkney’s work is a bright, colorful day scene, whereas Millais’s is a black and white, shadowed nocturne. Although the two artists lived more than 100 years apart and in different continents, they each used their artistic talents to meaningfully share a story that would educate, create empathy and understanding, and potentially have an impact on their community. Cover Study for The Old African and The Bridge of Sighs make for an unlikely pairing, but have a deeper visual and contextual relationship that instantly made them a vital part of Collecting and Connecting: Recent Acquisitions, 2010-2020.

Collecting and Connecting: Recent Acquisitions, 2010-2020 will run from March 13 to September 12, 2021, in the Anthony N. and Catherine A. Fusco Gallery, with additional recent acquisitions installed and highlighted throughout the Museum and Copeland Sculpture Garden.

Caroline Giddis
2020 Alfred Appel, Jr. Curatorial Fellow
MA in Art History, Savannah College of Art and Design

Above, left to right: Variant of or study for the cover of “The Old African”, 2005, for The Old African by Julius Lester (New York, Dial Press, 2005). Jerry Pinkney (born 1939). Watercolor and graphite on paper, 12 1/4 × 10 3/16 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2018. © Jerry Pinkney. | The Bridge of Sighs, 1857. John Everett Millais (1829-1896). Etching, plate: 4 ½ x 3 ½ inches, sheet: 16 ¾ x 11 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2015.

Sources/Endnotes

1. Publisher’s Weekly, “The Old African, Julius Lester, Author, Jerry Pinkney, Illustrator,” book review, Publisher’s Weekly, October 24, 2005, https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8037-2564-5.
2. Jerry Pinkney, What’s New?, JerryPinkneyStudio.com, 2019, accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.jerrypinkneystudio.com/frameset.html.
3. Linda Nochlin, “Lost and Found: Once More the Fallen Woman,” in Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, 1st ed., (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), 226-229.
4. Lynn Nead, “The Magdalen in Modern Times: The Mythology of the Fallen Woman in Pre-Raphaelite Painting,” Oxford Art Journal 7, no. 1 (1984): 30-32.

The 1920s were a heady time in fashion illustration. Magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar featured illustrated covers and pages of articles highlighting the latest styles. National ready-to-wear clothing companies hired top illustrators to promote their brands with eye-catching, full-color layouts. The Museum has a fascinating collection of fashion illustrations from the 1920s. I’ve been exploring them lately as work toward an upcoming exhibition on Jazz Age Illustration.

Vogue commissioned top-notch illustrators like Sarah Stilwell Weber and Helen Dryden to design creative, playful covers in the teens and twenties. These covers didn’t always showcase current styles—Dryden’s 1922 Cover for Vogue (see below) seems to evoke an earlier era—but they convey a stylish sensibility and enthusiasm for fashion. Interior images, like Manuel de Lambarri’s straightforward graphics, generally related more directly to current questions of what to wear.

Image Above: Cover for Vogue, December 15, 1922. Helen Dryden (1882–1981). Gouache, ink, and watercolor on paper, 19 × 15 1/2 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 1992.

By the twenties, fashion illustration permeated American culture, appearing well beyond the publications dedicated to fashion. Even the most ordinary products—men’s shirts and suits, hosiery for women—were promoted with striking visual campaigns that appeared in widely circulated general-interest magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. J.C. Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar Man was one of the most iconic images of the period. Strikingly handsome and impeccably turned out, the Arrow Collar Man supposedly received bags full of mail from admiring women. Ads often pictured him encased in an oval—his chiseled features perfectly framed by a white collar and necktie. A recently accessioned sketch in the Museum’s collection may be a study for an Arrow Collar ad. The model for the Arrow Collar Man was Charles Beach, Leyendecker’s partner in business and life for 50 years.

Image Above, left to right: Portrait Head (Possible Study for Arrow Collar Advertisement), c. 1925. J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951). Graphite on coated canvas, 10 3/8 x 7 5/8 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1984; Accessioned, 2020. | Figure Study for a Kuppenheimer Advertisement, 1929. J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951), Oil on (linen) canvas, 22 x 9 1/4 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2016.

Beach modeled for many of Leyendecker’s advertisements, likely including this over-the-top Kuppenheimer Suits promotion. The Museum owns a Figure Study for this luxurious spread. A famous illustrator whose signature style dominated the covers of The Saturday Evening Post in the pre-Rockwell era, Leyendecker himself brought a gloss of glamour to the ad campaigns he created. According to one critic, he crystallized “the refined American male look of the first 30 years of the 20th century.”

C. Coles Phillips brought his ideal of the fashionable modern woman to advertisements and magazine covers. Phillips designed many ads for Holeproof Hosiery, featuring women displaying their flawless stockings. In his cover for The Saturday Evening Post (top) a stylish woman must cope instead with impromptu repairs to her hosiery. Everything about her—the dropped-waist dress, bobbed hair, and chic shoes—made her an aspirational image for contemporary women.

Even as these beautiful images were appearing in American magazines every week, change was brewing. In 1923, Edward Steichen became chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Steichen became one of the pioneers of fashion photography, pushing the field in new artistic directions. By the early 1920s, photography was making inroads within magazine layouts, and in 1932, Vogue printed its first photographic cover. Issues with photographic covers soon outsold ones with illustrated covers. A period known as a “golden age” of fashion illustration was coming to an end.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

Top: Cover for The Saturday Evening Post, October 2, 1920. C. Coles Phillips (1880–1927). Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on illustration board, 20 × 16 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 1988.

Along the Harlem River, 1925. Malvin Gray Johnson (1896–1934). Oil on canvas board, 12 × 16 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2017.

Art history has a bias toward “mature work” and signature styles. Within our public galleries, most artists are represented by a single work, so museums tend to seek out and exhibit the most characteristic examples of an artist’s career. But I have to confess my affection for many artists’ early works. I love it when you can see an artist discovering their interests and talents. One of the things I admire most about the living artists I work with is how they constantly solve problems. I love a work that still has traces of that problem-solving labor and experimentation.

Upstairs in the gallery dedicated to modern American art, early works by Malvin Gray Johnson and Hughie Lee-Smith hang side by side. The Johnson is an impressionist glimpse across the Harlem River, and it was painted in 1925 when he was still a student. Johnson died of heart failure at age 38 and may never have settled on a mature style. Active at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, he was a relentless experimenter who quickly moved on to incorporate elements of cubism and African art into his work in the late 1920s. In 1934, he headed south, recording the daily life of rural African Americans in watercolors. His experiments with modern styles may have started with impressionism in works like Harlem River.

Hughie Lee-Smith lived a long life and gained fame for his psychologically charged depictions of isolated figures in urban settings. Holland Cotter described Lee-Smith’s work in the artist’s obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Lee-Smith’s paintings usually have spare settings suggestive of theater stages or bleak urban or seaside landscapes. Walls stretch out under gray skies. Men and women, as lithe as dancers, seem frozen in place. Most are dressed in street clothes; some wear exotic masks. Children frequently appear, as do props reminiscent of circuses. The work has an air of mystery associated with the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper.

imageThe Bouquet, 1949. Hughie Lee-Smith (1915–1999). Oil on Masonite, 23 3/4 × 17 3/4 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2018 © Estate of Hughie Lee-Smith / VAGA for ARS, New York, NY.

DelArt’s painting by Lee-Smith, The Bouquet, has the artist’s characteristic bleak landscape and air of mystery, but it has a stronger implied narrative than many of his best known later works. There is urgency and energy in the figures’ interaction that is echoed in the rough, textured paint of her dress. It seems like a picture of young love gone wrong. The artist was about 34 when he made it. Four years later, Lee-Smith would launch his career, finishing his bachelor’s degree at Wayne State and winning a top prize for painting at the Detroit Institute of Art.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Chief Curator and Curator of American Art

About Copyright: Through the protection of Fair Use (Section 107, title 17, U.S. Code), the Delaware Art Museum is able to place low-resolution images of works of art in our collection for which we do not hold the rights on this blog. We assert that these images are for educational research only, and follow guidelines for digital thumbnail images outlined by the Association of Art Museum Directors . The Delaware Art Museum respects the intellectual property rights of others, and is committed to researching which works in the collection are protected under copyright and to clearly providing that information where necessary.

In January of this year the Museum was fortunate to acquire a stained-glass window designed by Edward Burne-Jones for Morris & Co. The window, featuring the Old Testament patriarch Noah, was offered through a dealer, one of several windows featuring patriarchs and saints, originally installed in the Chapel of Cheadle Royal Hospital, near Manchester.

Between 1906 and 1915 Morris & Co was engaged in creating the windows for the newly built Chapel of the Cheadle Hospital. Stained glass windows made up a significant portion of the products sold by the decorative arts firm from its beginnings in 1861 as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, a collective which included Burne-Jones, among other members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The early years of the Firm coincided with the Gothic Revival and the subsequent boom in church building and refurbishment. The level of excellence which came to be associated with the Firm’s glass was crucial in establishing its financial success.

Morris and Burne-Jones’s interest in stained glass derived from a shared passion for the medieval period developed while the two were at Oxford University in the early 1850s. Their joint enthusiasm developed into a unique creative partnership in which Burne-Jones’s linear designs were augmented by Morris’s sense for color. Morris wrote, “Any artist who has no liking for bright colour had better hold his hand from stained glass designing.”[1] And Burne-Jones commented, “figures must be simply read at a great distance…the leads are part of the beauty of the work…”[2]

Cheadle Royal Hospital Chapel and WM Chairs Above, left to right: Cheadle Royal Hospital Chapel, c. 1920. Cheadle Civic Society Archives. | The Arming of a Knight and Glorious Gwendolen’s Golden Hair, 1856-1857. William Morris (1834-1896) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Painted deal, leather, and nails, Delaware Art Museum, Acquired through the Bequest of Doris Wright Anderson and through the F. V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 1997.

With the exception of Miriam (1896),[3] all the designs were drawn within a two-year period, 1874-76. Their style reflects the artist’s assimilation of Italian Renaissance art developed on several visits to Italy and culminating in an 1871 viewing of the Sistine Chapel. His wife Georgiana recalled, he “…bought the best opera-glass he could find, folded his railway rug thickly, and, lying down on his back, read the ceiling from beginning to end, peering into every corner and reveling it its execution.”[4] His work from this point forward reflects the influence of Michelangelo and the artists of the High Renaissance.

It is estimated that Burne-Jones created over 750 stained glass designs in his lifetime, the number all the more astounding if consideration is given to the many other media in which he was simultaneously working. His style was uniquely suited to stained glass work. He understood its strengths and weaknesses, writing, “…It is a very limited art and its limitations are its strength, and compel simplicity — but one needs to forget that there are such things as pictures in considering a coloured window—whose excellence is more of architecture, to which it must be faithfully subservient.”[5] His understanding of the media enabled him to exploit to capacity the potential of the lead work, giving a level of expression and character rarely achieved to the flattened surfaces of the glass.

The commission for the Cheadle Chapel came well after the death of both Morris and Burne-Jones, however, the Firm’s huge stock of stained-glass cartoons continued to be re-used in new commissions. Window designs were recorded and photographed so that prospective buyers could choose from a selection of images for their particular building. The window program at Cheadle was directed by John Henry Dearle, who served as Art Director for the Firm after Morris’s death in 1896. When the Chapel closed in 2001, the stained glass was removed and sold. Several of the windows are now in Museum collections including St Paul (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and six in the Stockport Story Museum.

Enoch and Noah, the earliest of the designs under discussion, were located in the south side of the Cheadle Chapel,[6] as were Daniel, Jeremiah in a stunning gold-hued robe, Isaiah, and Miriam. Attributes cue the viewer in the identification of each. For instance, the Delaware Art Museum’s recently acquired Noah, with a gloriously abundant and patriarchal beard, holds the ark in his left hand while the dove bearing the olive branch appears at upper right. Miriam, clothed in a cloak of red, holds a timbrel which she played and sang after the parting of the sea. St John, St. Elizabeth, and St. Mark were located across the Chapel on the north side of the building. St Elizabeth, wearing a multi-hued green gown over a patterned white tunic bows her head in modesty and reticence. Burne-Jones’s subtle manipulation of line conveys her character of gentleness and humility.

A drawing for this window design is included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The drawing would have been given to the glass painters in the Morris & Co. workshop to be translated to the stained-glass medium. The design would have been enlarged to the size of the window and used as a template for cutting the individual glass pieces. In some cases, Burne-Jones would include notes on the drawing to aid the craftsman in their work, although there are none on this sheet.

Burne-Jones kept an extensive record of his work for Morris & Co. in a series of account books, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. In addition to providing valuable information on date and cost, these books include a running commentary of humorous badinage, largely directed at Morris. Comments include lamentations over the poor remuneration received for work and apologetic criticisms for the quality of the work completed. In his typically self-deprecating manner, Burne-Jones described his designs for Isaiah and Jeremiah as two of “four major prophets on a minor scale designed I regret to say with the minimum of ability.”

This stunning group of windows is representative of the quality stained glass work produced by Morris & Co. a result of the deep friendship and collaborative creative partnership of Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

The Museum’s Noah will be featured in the reinstallation of the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite galleries, part of a larger project to reinterpret all of the ground floor galleries. Noah will be presented adjacent to the two chairs, jointly created by William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti created for living quarters at Red Lion Square in London in 1855-6. This grouping of works will illustrate the importance of mediaeval art in the early Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, as well as in the development of Morris’s arts and crafts practice.

Top, left to right: Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) for Morris & Company, Noah, 1909. Stained glass, 60 x 19 2/3 (with wooden frame). Delaware Art Museum, F. V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 2020. | Noah, 1874. Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898). Charcoal on paper, 45 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1948, (48.52).

[1] Chambers Encyclopedia, 1890.
[2] [Cited in Haslam and Whiteway (2008): 3]
[3] Miriam was taken from a figure of Deborah drawn in 1896 for the Albion Congregational Church, Ashton-under-Lyne.
[4] Memorials II: 26.
[5] Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials, II:109.
[6] Enoch and Noah can be seen in situ today at Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, part of a program which predated Cheadle.

Sometimes, despite the best efforts of art historians and even with the help of 21st-century technology and archival resources, as much as we dislike admitting it, there are questions that just can’t be answered definitively. The study of the work of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829-1862), Pre-Raphaelite model, muse, artist, and poet, poses more unanswered questions than most, and that applies specifically to the drawing (one of three works by the artist in the Museum’s collection) under review here.

Best known as the face of avant-garde feminine beauty in the work of many of the early Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings, Siddal’s own work has suffered the fate of many female artists of the past, having been cast aside as less important than those of her more successful male peers. In Siddal’s case, her artistic reputation was further expunged as she died at an early age, leaving little time for her mature style to develop. She died at age 33 of an overdose of the opiate, laudanum, potentially suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of a still-born child). She was daughter of a working-class cutler from Sheffield, employed as a dressmaker when she was first introduced to members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. While her family was not poor, economic survival would have precluded advancement of artistic endeavors, just as her female gender would have limited opportunities for training.

Siddal first became acquainted with members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood through their friend, the artist, Walter Deverell. The initial connection was probably through dressmaking engagements for the women of Deverell’s family. According to art historian Jan Marsh, Siddal somewhat boldly took advantage of the family’s artistic connections and showed examples of her own work to Deverell’s father, who was a principal of the Government School of Design. The important part of this particular biographical detail is that it shows Siddal’s had artistic intentions and acted on them prior to her relationship with the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

We do know that in 1849 she modeled for the character of Viola in Walter Deverell’s painting of Twelfth Night Act II, Scene IV (1850, oil on canvas, Private Collection). She continued to model for several artists of the group, most notoriously, as Ophelia in John Everett Millais’s famous painting (1851-2; oil on canvas, Tate Britain, London) of a scene from Hamlet. Around 1852 Siddal met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and shortly thereafter began modeling for him as well. Within the year she became his pupil and left off modeling to focus on her own work.

The details of her life including modeling and her on-again/off-again relationship with Rossetti are relatively well known, however, her creative output as artist and poet is less so. As Jan Marsh clarified in the recent exhibition and catalogue, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (National Portrait Gallery, London 2019), Siddal’s professional artistic aspirations appear to have been well in place prior to any association with the Brotherhood members and she may have viewed modeling as a way of breaking into the patriarchy of the artistic profession. This suggests a powerful and driving ambition given the hurdles of her working-class status and gender.

Rossetti’s training included the sharing of his enthusiasm for the work of William Blake and medieval manuscripts, as well as his dislike of current trends as practiced at the Royal Academy. Siddal’s early work often addresses subjects from the poetry of William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and their contemporaries, as well as the novels of Sir Walter Scott. While texts by these authors and others served as inspiration, much of her work seems to be strongly derived from her imagination.

“La Belle Dame sans Merci” is the title of a poem by John Keats and was a great favorite among the young Pre-Raphaelites. Three of the drawings show a female figure accompanied by a man who gently draws back the hair of his companion. In the Delaware Art Museum’s version, as in one of those illustrated in the portfolio, there is also a fountain and a third winged figure, almost assuredly an angel. But upon close inspection, this figure might actually be part of the stone fountain, from whose hands the water emits. In terms of identifying the subject, I would suggest the key elements are the male figure’s gesture of drawing back the female’s hair; the existence of the fountain; and the angel, whether human or stone. Unfortunately, none of these details seem to relate to Keats’s poem. The strongest association would be a more general one, related to the stanza in which a knight’s meeting a fairy woman in a meadow is described:

I met a lady in the meads,

Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

And her eyes were wild.

We do have confirmation that Siddal was working on a composition inspired by Keats’s poem from a letter Rossetti wrote to his friend, the Irish poet William Allingham early in 1855 (23 January):

“She is now doing two lovely water-colours (from “We Are Seven” and La Belle Dame sans Merci”) – having found herself always thrown back for lack of health and wealth in the attempts she had made to begin a picture. [Letters, II: 55.4]

(Just to add further confusion, it is worth noting that no known watercolor of this composition has as of yet been identified). Nonetheless, this mention is helpful both as it gives some explanation of William Michael’s suggested title but also in providing a possible date for her work on this subject. (Siddal’s work was rarely dated, further complicating the unraveling of her creative output.)

But we are still left with the visual elements of Siddal’s drawing which just don’t seem to match up with Keats’s narrative. The obvious question then becomes, if not “La Belle Dame” then what?! Even William Michael seems to have been unsure as the inscription bearing the title includes a question mark. What else do we know Siddal was working on? Again, the archival record is limited but there are a few possibilities. We know, for instance, that there was a projected book of Scottish ballads which Allingham was editing for publication in the mid-1850s. Siddal and Rossetti were to provide accompanying illustrations. In preparation Siddal was given a copy of Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, two volumes of which survive with her name inscribed inside. That she was actively pursuing the project is confirmed in a letter Rossetti wrote to the artist, Ford Madox Brown,

“I think I told you that she and I are going to illustrate the Old Scottish Ballads which Allingham is editing for Routledge…She has just done her first block (from Clerk Saunders) and it is lovely.” [Letters I: 54.49]

Could this (and the other similar compositions) relate to one of these ballads for which no known illustrations have yet been identified?

Another possibility is that the drawings illustrate one of Lizzie’s own verses of which approximately 16 poems and a few fragments have been identified. (These have recently been collected, edited and published by Serena Trowbridge in a volume titled, My Ladys Soul: The Poems of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, 2018). However, careful reading of these verses does not reveal any details which might lead to association with this particular composition.

And so, I end as I began, with a lovely example of Siddal’s drawing style but no further clarity on the subject as depicted. The search continues…

Margaretta S. Frederick
Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection

Image: Sketch for ‘La Belle Dame sans merci’, c. 1855. Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829–1862). Graphite on paper, 4 1/8 × 2 7/8 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquisition Fund, 2007.