As we re-emerge post-COVID, I like many have been wistfully thinking about travel. This painting by Royal Academician George Frederic Watts was begun while on holiday in the late summer of 1876 on the Isle of Wight. Watts began two portraits of Eveleen Tennant (1856-1937), or Evy as she was known throughout her life, and a third of her sister Dorothy (or Dolly). The Isle of Wight was a popular destination for members of the Holland Park Circle, an informal group of aesthetic-minded artists and collectors centered around Watts. Members included many of the Pre-Raphaelite coterie.
In celebration of this painting, a new publication, Evy: George Frederic Watts’s Portrait of Eveleen Tennant written by scholar Kedrun Laurie is now available in the Museum store. This extended essay is being published as one in a continuing (if sporadic) series called an “Occasional Paper,” a tradition initiated to highlight particular aspects of the Museum’s collection and archives. We are particularly grateful for the assistance of the Clark Family Foundation in support of this volume.
Eveleen, or “Evy” as she was known all her life, and her sister Dorothy (“Dolly”) were great beauties, a bit eccentric and “not the least conventional” as described by Dr. Laurie and as is evident in the portrait. The work was left unfinished when the Tennant family left the Isle of Wight to return to London in October and was not taken up again until the fall of 1879. Watts kept the finished portrait until 1900 when he decided to sell it through the London dealer Agnews. It was at this time that the portrait came to the attention of Samuel Bancroft who purchased it for his collection which came to the museum by bequest in 1935.
Eveleen Tennant married Frederick William Henry Meyers in 1880 after which she took up photography. Her portraits of many well-known contemporaries can be found in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Dr. Laurie’s book is available in the Museum Store and online. It is full of new information and intriguing details about the sitter, the artist, and the portrait’s passage over time into the collection of the Delaware Art Museum.
Margaretta S. Frederick
Annette Woolard-Provine Curator of the Bancroft Collection
Portrait of Eveleen Tennant (later Mrs. F.W.H. Myers), 1876-1879. George Frederick Watts (1817–1904). Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 × 20 1/4 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935.