Marie Spartali Stillman
Muse of Marie in ‘A Lady in the Garden, Kelmscott Manor, painted by Marie Spartali Stillman..
Marie Spartali Stillman was perhaps one of the most talented and without question the most prolific of the female Pre-Raphaelite artists. She painted over one hundred and fifty works in a career that spanned sixty years, from 1867 – 1919. She was a mother of two children and a stepmother to her widowed husband’s three children, so had a full family life to manage as well as her artistic vocation.
When I initially came across images of work by Marie Spartali Stillman thirty-six years ago, I could easily have mistaken them for works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These gently engaging, poetic Pre-Raphaelite paintings were intriguing and I was delighted to discover that they were by a female artist, then unknown to me. Subsequently Marie Spartali Stillman became one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite painters and an inspiration to my own work.
‘The childhood of Saint Cecily’, 1883 watercolour and graphite, enhanced with gouache, by Marie Spartali stillman. Beatrice, by Marie Spartali Stillman, 1898, watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper. ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni’, 1884 watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
Charcoal drawing inspired by Marie Spartali Stillman’s ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovegni’, by Marina Elphick. Detail of ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni’, 1884 watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
My three dimensional muse of Marie was inspired by her painting, ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovegni’, 1884 (My Lady in Stone), based on a medieval Italian poem, of a beautiful woman set in a frosty, winter landscape, whose emotions are equally frozen.
Marie Spartali Stillman Muse as Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni 1884. My Muse is set in to the original painting by Marie Spartali Stillman.
I have also depicted my muse of Marie as, ‘Mnemosyne’, or Memory, ‘Mother of the Muses’ by Julia Margaret Cameron 1868, where Marie’s classical beauty was to resemble a Greek goddess.
Marie Spartali as Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory, ‘Mother of the Muses’ albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868, Private collection. My muse of Marie Spartali Stillman as ‘Memory’, inspired by Julia Margaret Cameron.
Muse of Marie Spartali Stillman set in a Victorian glass house. Muse of Marie Spartali imagined modelling at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith.
Charcoal drawing of Marie Spartali by Marina Elphick 2022
The Spartali Family
Born in 1844, Marie Spartali was the eldest daughter of Michael Spartali and Euphrosyne Valsami. Michael Spartali was a successful Greek merchant and banker, who would later become Greek Consul General in London, 1866 to 1882.
The Spartali family originated in Smyrna (now Izmir) in Turkey, which had a very large and prosperous Greek population. Due to religious persecution the family moved to England in 1832, along with many other Greeks. By the 1840’s the Spartalis were senior partners in the respected London firm, ‘Spartali & Laskarides, bankers and grain shipping merchants with branches in Marseilles and Alexandria.
Marie Spartali lived her early years in Hornsey, a leafy suburb of North London, then in 1864 the family moved to Clapham Common in South London, to a large Georgian country house known as ‘The Shrubbery’.
The house had a huge garden and wide views over the Thames and Chelsea. Michael Spartali was fond of lavish garden parties and he invited young artists and writers of the day to regular Sunday gatherings at his home, where art, literature and music would be discussed and enjoyed.
Portrait of Christina Spartali by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868. Marie Spartali, albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868. Private collection.
Marie and her younger sister Christina grew up in this artistic environment and had many opportunities to meet famous artists of the day, including painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, a controversial painter at the time.
Whistler would paint Christina Spartali as his “La Princesse du pays de la porcelain” 1863, as pictured on the right.
Other artists and writers included Alphonse Legros, Punch cartoonist, George du Maurier and English poet and playwright, Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Swinburne was so overwhelmed with his emotions upon meeting Marie Spartali, that he said of her,
“She is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry.”
La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine, by James McNeill Whistler, 1864, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington. Christina Spartali modelled for Whistler with Marie as her chaperon.
It was traditional in the nineteenth century for girls of wealthy families to be taught at home, either by a governess or visiting tutors. Marie Spartali and her sister were liberally educated to unusually high standards in philosophy, history, music and languages. Marie Spartali’s English was perfect and as well as speaking Greek with her parents, Marie was fluent in French, German and Italian.
The family divided their time between their home in Clapham Common, London, and Rylstone Manor, their country home on the Isle of Wight.
Marie Spartali, watercolour by Marina Elphick 2022.
The London Greek community was an intellectual gathering place for young artists and writers of the day. Michael Spartali’s cousin, Alexander Constantine Ionides was a cultured and gregarious man, head of a large family and a generous patron of the arts. He lived in Holland Park along with his widowed sister Euphrosyne Cassavetti and her daughter Maria Zambaco.
It was through Alexander Constantine Ionides that Marie came into contact with contemporary artists and writers, notably George Frederic Watts, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alfred Tennyson, and Julia Margaret Cameron. These artists, who formed the ‘Little Holland House circle’ would be a strong artistic influence on Marie.
Marie Spartali as’ Imperial Eleanore’ 1868, albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron. Private collection.
They gathered regularly at Little Holland House, the home of Julia Margaret Cameron’s sister, Sara Prinsep and husband Thoby Prinsep, who were neighbours to the Ionides family. The Prinseps were both keen collectors of contemporary art and valued patrons.
Aglaia Ionides Coronio, Maria Cassavetti Zambaco and Marie Spartali Stillman, Known as “The Three Graces” by the Pre-Raphaelites, family and friends. Drawings in chalk by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1870.
Marie Spartali and her cousins Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Coronio, were known unitedly as ‘the Three Graces,’ and were much admired for their alluring beauty. They modelled for the Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Coley Burne Jones and Ford Madox Brown as well as Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and Symbolist, George Frederic Watts.
The Mill, 1870-72, by Edward Burne-Jones, including the ‘three Graces’, modelled by Aglaia Coronio, Maria Zambaco and Marie Spartali. Ionides Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum.
Marie possessed a unique kind of beauty and a stature that of a Grecian goddess, tall with graceful gestures, long hair and a gaze that was candid and reflective at the same time. She embodied the beauty of the Pre-Raphaelite ideal, as did Jane Morris before her and she was sought after for her skill and patience as a sitter.
Her modelling was invariably a favour to artists, not an occupation; she became involved in the work and recognised and appreciated the artist’s methods and progress. Her aspiration was to become a painter herself, rather than to be a model.
Marie Spartali as Hypatia, 5th century mathematician, astronomer and feminist,
albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868,
As a daughter of a wealthy family Marie was approaching the age when she would have been expected to be matched up with a suitable husband. Her father was not so much opposed to Marie’s wish to paint, as to any interruption it might cause to the conventional transition from girlhood to married woman. He was also aware of the lifestyles in artistic circles, of which he disapproved, having had insight through his friendships with Whistler, Rossetti and other artists.
Regardless Marie Spartali was determined in her ambition, she wanted to be a professional artist and to be taken seriously, so eventually Michael Spartali conceded to her tuition.
Stages of charcoal drawing of Marie Spartali, by Marina Elphick, 2022.
Marie Spartali’s training
& early career
The choices for artistic training available for women in the 1860s would have been limited. The study of anatomy was considered indecent and ladies art classes were given meagre civic support, including the Royal Female School of Art in Queens Square. Therefore, for her father’s peace of mind, Marie Spartali chose to study privately with the elder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Ford Madox Brown. Her first choice was to have been Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but he was busy with commissions and uncertain of his capacity to teach.
In April 1864 Marie Spartali, aged twenty started her formal training with Ford Madox Brown at 14 Grove Terrace, Kentish Town and later at his studio in Fitzroy Square.
Marie was tutored alongside Georgiana Burne-Jones and Brown’s daughter Lucy Madox Brown, both of whom would grow up to be painters in their own right.
Watercolour painting was a popular hobby amongst well off women in Victorian Britain, but they were restricted to amateur status.
Portrait of Marie Spartali 1869, Chalk on paper by Ford Madox Brown. Private collection.
Marie Spartali was intent on being a professional and making painting her career. Her first exhibited work was a self-portrait, ‘The Lady Prays-Desire’, in watercolour and gold paint on paper, shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1867. The Dudley Gallery was a progressive alternative to the Royal Academy, less formal and more liberal in its admissions policies. The Gallery was open to artists who were not yet established, alongside the professionals and was opposed to the membership only watercolour societies favoured at the time.
It was a venue for works on paper in watercolour, gouache, tempera and drawings in all media, making it an accessible gallery to an emerging artist like Marie Spartali.
In the first five years of her career Marie exhibited thirteen works at the Dudley Gallery, it provided a perfect showcase for her talents.
The Lady Prays-Desire, Marie Spartali, 1867. Private collection.
Marie’s exhibits included watercolour paintings of various sizes and intricacy, from portrait length, half lengths and as her skill and as confidence grew, groups of two figures or more.
In true Pre-Raphaelite mode, Marie designed an artistic monogram for her work, consisting of an interlocking S and M.
Marie’s models were her family and friends, as was acceptable for a young female artist working from home.
The titles of her paintings indicated an artistic ambition and a scholarly mind, her imagination was inspired by ancient Greek mythology and classical poetry.
Portrait of Christina Spartali, c.1867, Pencil and watercolour, with white gouache, by Marie Spartali. Private collection.
Antigone Giving the Burial Rites to Her Brother’s Body, 1871, oil on canvas by Marie Spartali Stillman. Location unknown.
Marie Spartali at Her Easel 1869, by Ford Madox Brown. Private collection. Study for the Head of Ismene, red chalk on paper, by Marie Spartali c. 1868. Location unknown.
William James Stillman 1828-1901
In September 1869 at the ‘Shrubbery’ in Clapham, Marie Spartali first met William James Stillman, a recently widowed father of three and founder of the American art magazine, The Crayon. The American journalist and painter was a friend of William Rossetti and was in London on a personal mission to secure funds for the safety of the Greek inhabitants of Crete, during the Cretan revolt (1866-1869). William J. Stillman was soon introduced to Michael Spartali, the then Greek Consul General in London.
In his presence Marie Spartali was moved and stirred by this tragic, gaunt figure, with his tales of the suffering Greek communities and personal loss of his wife to suicide. Her flood of sympathy for his three motherless children, their shared interests and intellectual compatibility turned swiftly to love.
Marie muse in a detail of Dante’s Vision of Leah and Rachel 1887. Mariana, by Marie Spartali, watercolour and gouache on paper, 1867. Private collection.
Marie’s parents gradually became aware that she was meeting William Stillman without a chaperon, they were appalled and attempted to prevent the affair developing further. Their fierce opposition to her liaison only strengthened Marie’s resoluteness, she was twenty four, in love and eager to spread her wings.
Artistically Marie triumphed in 1870 by having her painting of Saint Barbara selected by the panel of the Royal Academy, which seldom exhibited watercolours at that time.
She would have appreciated this boost to her confidence during a time of emotional antipathy at home.
‘Saint Barbara’ ,watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper, 1870 by Marie Spartali. Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Marie Spartali and William Stillman became engaged in January 1870 after only five months, two of which William had been away in America. Michael Spartali had endeavoured to recruit Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti in his anguished attempt to break the engagement, but to no avail.
In Spartali’s opinion William Stillman was conspicuously unsuitable for his beautiful young daughter; he was a widower in poor health, with three children and no income or prospects, he was fifteen years older and a religious sceptic.
Pharmakeutria (Brewing The Love Philtre) by Marie Spartali Stillman, Watercolour, 1870.
Michael Spartali’s ardent intent to divert or delay the inevitable matrimony was not successful. Marie Spartali married William James Stillman at Chelsea Register Office in London on 10 April 1871. William came from a strict Baptist family and Marie was Greek Orthodox, so it was decided upon a civil ceremony. The witnesses were Ford Madox Brown, who ‘gave her away’, his daughter Lucy, Marie’s close friend and Spartali family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Merrington.
Marie’s parents did not attend, nor were there any family or friends of the groom present. The marriage caused a rift in her family that would never fully heal. Nevertheless Marie Spartali Stillman believed she had married for love and turned her back on her wealth to make her way as a professional artist.
Marie Spartali Stillman, coloured pencil drawing by Marina Elphick
Marie Spartali Stillman
The couple spent their three week honeymoon on the Isle of Wight in one of the Spartali properties.
William Stillman, 1870 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Self-portrait, charcoal and white chalk on paper. Marie Spartali Stillman, 1871. Delaware Art Museum.
A Farm on Isle of Wight, possibly Apse Farm, watercolour and gouache on paper by Marie Spartali Stillman 1868. Private collection.
In June 1871 the couple set off for America to visit the Stillman family and friends in New York and Boston. Marie’s first impression of the United States was good, she made friends with people who would prove helpful later in establishing her career over there.
They returned to Britain in August 1871, bringing William’s thee children back with them; Russie, after John Ruskin, Eliza known as Lisa and Bella Helena. Russie had a debilitating tubercular bone disease which added to the care needed to raise their family.
In January 1872 Marie gave birth to their first child, Euphrosyne or Effie as she became known.
The baby had the resolving effect of re-establishing Marie’s relationship with her parents and the new family moved into the cottage in Altenburg Gardens next to the ‘Shrubbery’ in Clapham Common.
Consider The Lilies, portrait of Effie Stillman, by Marie Spartali Stillman 1876. Private collection.
The first year of Marie Spartali Stillman’s marriage was inevitably a demanding and testing time. In addition to her new responsibilities as a mother and stepmother, her sister Christina became very ill, so Marie travelled to Paris to bring Christina home to London to nurse her.
Marie wrote to Ford Madox Brown explaining that she was preoccupied with her baby and sister’s health and felt, ‘too weak to paint.’ At William’s request, she took some time off painting to rest, however Ford Madox-Brown speculated that she stopped painting due to her husband’s jealousy over her successful career and her continued alliance with himself as her mentor.
William Stillman worked as a freelance journalist but found difficulty attaining permanent employment. His opinionated stance and lack of diplomacy lead to controversy and disputes with publishers Smith & Elder and several newspapers, including The Daily News, Pall Mall Gazette and The New York Tribune.
Kelmscott and new friends
Muse of Marie in the garden at Kelmscott Manor. The Long Walk 1904, by Marie Spartali Stillman.
In 1872 Marie Spartali Stillman visited Kelmscott Manor, the Gloucestershire summer home leased in partnership by William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. William and his wife Jane Morris were at the helm of the Arts and Crafts movement and second wave of Pre-Raphaelitism, it was a fertile, aesthetic artistic phase for Burne Jones, Rossetti and other artists, makers and designers.
Marie would become good friends with them, particularly Jane Morris and would find long-lasting inspiration at their beautiful country home.
Marie with Jane Morris, imagined together at Kelmscott in Kelmscott Manor, a painting by Marie Spartali Stillman.
Marie Spartali Stillman
in the United States
Muse of Marie Spartali Stillman imagined in New York City 1898.
In 1873 Marie Spartali Stillman first exhibited two paintings in Boston, United States. The Gallery was known for featuring work by William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer and the French Barbizon school. For Marie this would be the start of a career long presence in America, having attained citizenship through her marriage to William.
The following year the same paintings were shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, strategically exposing her work to a wide and diverse pool of potential patrons, without the extra shipping tariffs. Marie Spartali Stillman achieved critical approval between 1873 – 1875 which would see her American career running successfully alongside her British professional practice.
Self-portrait, on a balcony, watercolour and gouache on paper.
Marie Spartali Stillman, 1874. Delaware Art Museum.
Tragically in March 1875 Marie’s stepson Russie died, much to the sadness of both the Stillman and Spartali families. William Stillman was crushed by his son’s death, another blow and distraction to his success in finding a secure employment.
Frustrated at William’s aimlessness, Michael Spartali arranged an interview for him with the then editor of The Times, John Delane who was in urgent need of a reliable war correspondent in the Balkans.
William was offered and accepted an open-ended freelance assignment to report on the 1875-77 Balkans war (The Great Eastern Crisis ) from Herzegovina. He left London in August 1875 and would spend almost three years away from his family. It would be the first in a series of long absences that Marie had not counted on when she first envisaged a life long joyful partnership.
Marie had no regular income of her own, sales of her paintings were intermittent so she depended on the financial support of her father to manage her family, living in the home he had provided for them at Altenburg Gardens. Despite her difficulties, often alone, Marie remained a loving mother to her daughter and stepdaughters, winning a long-lasting affection from them.
Marie muse photographed in my garden 2022.
In letters to Ford Madox Brown from Marie, there were no hints of any disillusion in her marriage. It is testimony to Marie’s strength of character that she continued to paint and pursue her undeviating ambition to be a professional artist, initiated ten years earlier. Her dedication to her painting was her refuge and lifeline.
With her responsibilities lightened marginally, Marie was able to concentrate more on her painting. In 1876 she completed ‘The Last Sight of Fiammetta’, inspired by Rossetti’s translations from ‘The early Italian Poets’.
Left: Last Sight of Fiammetta, watercolour and gouache on paper 1876, Marie Spartali Stillman’.
Right: A Vision of Fiammetta’, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1878. Courtesy of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation.
This pictorial homage to the poem prompted Rossetti to ask Marie to model for his own ‘A Vision of Fiammetta’. His painting was completed later in 1878 and was a very different interpretation of the subject to Marie’s.
In March 1877 William Stillman made only a brief visit back to London. He was now The Times’ Special correspondent and dangerously close to the action of the war in Montenegro. It was another lonely summer for Marie and her girls but by the autumn her husband was making plans for the family to be together at Christmas.
The following year in April 1878 Marie, William and their three girls moved to Florence, where they would settle for five years. It was a more central position for William’s work and provided Marie with a stimulating new environment to paint. Initially travel and pregnancy inhibited Marie’s ability to complete work in time for exhibitions in Britain, however her painting, ‘The Last Sight of Fiammetta’ was exhibited in Paris at Exposition Universelle 1878, representing Britain alongside Burne-Jones and other British artists.
In October 1878 baby Michael Spartali Stillman was born in Italy, he became known as ‘Mico’ to family and friends.
The years Marie Spartali Stillman spent in Florence were perhaps the most fulfilling of her artistic life. She was captivated by the art and culture of Italy and soon made friends with other expatriate painters, scholars and writers among them, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Charles Fairfax Murray, poet and writers Robert Browning, John Addington Symonds, Henry James and Vernon Lee.
A Crown of Wild Flowers, 1882, watercolour and gouache on paper, Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection. Cloister Lilies Marie Spartali Stillman, 1891, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Marie invited a steady flow of guests from Britain, including Jane Morris to whom she became very close and introduced to her Florentine circle of friends.
During her time in Florence Marie became familiar with the Northern Italian Schools and the art of the city. She developed her own intrinsic style and aesthetic harmony in her painting, which was often inspired by the work of Italian Poets, a favourite being Dante Aligheiri’s Divine Comedy. Marie depicted numerous scenes from this narrative poem, focusing in particular on the romance between Dante and Beatrice.
Dante at Verona, 1888, M.Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
Dante’s Vision of Leah and Rachel 1887, watercolour by Marie Spartali Stillman. ‘Gelsomina’, (Jasmine) watercolour with gouache and pastel by Marie Spartali Stillman. 1888
Marie travelled home to her parents in August 1881 to give birth to her second son, James William ‘Giacomo’ Stillman. Her husband was still in Greece while she had been alone, fending for her children during her nine months of pregnancy. In his absence Marie had suffered the anxiety of being short of money due to the uncertainty of William’s income.
Sadly baby Giacomo died the following year in Florence in May 1882, he was only nine months old. Dante Gabriel Rossetti had died two weeks earlier, adding to Marie and William’s sorrow. The Stillman and Spartali families spent June on The Isle of Wight to find consolation from their grief.
A Wreath of Roses, or Crown, 1880, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Lisa and Bella, fifteen and twelve, thought to be at Rylstone Manor, Shanklin on Isle of Wight. Private collection.
Marie and her family would spend another year in Florence, where she would flourish intellectually, culturally and artistically. There were no regrets of the comfortable lifestyle she left behind, Marie was surrounded by kindred spirits and infused with inspiration and determination. Florence marked the start of a new chapter in her creative life.
In the Autumn of 1883 however Marie Spartali Stillman’s Florentine idyll came to a reluctant end. There was no work for William in Italy and The Times had no need for his freelance work in the Balkans as there was now relative stability in the area.
London 1884 -85
The family moved back to London and Marie resumed her artistic routine in her London studio. Marie was painting what would be one of her most discernible Pre-Raphaelite contributions, ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni (My Lady Stone).
‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni’, 1884 watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
The painting in watercolour and gouache drew inspiration from the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, his verses translated by Gabriel Rossetti in which a beautiful lady, inspiring great desire is, ‘utterly frozen and no more moved than stone’.
It was painted in the year after Rossetti died and maybe the Lady’s solemn expression reflects some of Marie’s own sorrows.
The wintry landscape painted with blackthorn and hellebore in the foreground, fades back in a ‘sfumato’ effect, paying tribute to Leonardo da Vinci’s landscape behind his Mona Lisa; the ‘Mona Lisa’ itself surged in popularity in the 1870s.
Detail of ‘Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni’, 1884 by Marie Spartali Stillman. Original Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, painted between 1503-06 on poplar wood panel. The Louvre, Paris.
Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood, watercolour and Gouache on paper By M. Spartali Stillman c. 1908. Private collection.
Death and Bankruptcy
Multiple difficulties faced the Spartali family in the Autumn of 1884. In September Marie’s sister, Christina died aged thirty eight, from a drug overdose of chloral, leaving teenage sons from an unhappy marriage.
Despite having had a luxurious lifestyle, attention and a care, the depressed Christina, Countess de Cahen was unable to live with her addiction.
Soon after in January 1885, Michael Spartali was formally declared bankrupt and their South London home and contents had to be sold. Fortunately the house and property at Rylstone on the Isle of Wight were in Marie’s mother’s name and could not be touched by creditors. On hearing the news, William Stillman returned to England in July 1885, having lived for a year in New York working on the ‘Evening Post’.
Without a home or studio, Marie spent the summer at Kelmscott Manor. William and Jane Morris had kindly lent them their home for a time. Her husband joined her there for a holiday with little Michael, ‘Mico’.
Marie muse in Kelmscott Manor, ‘Front garden’, watercolour and gouache painting by Marie Spartali Stillman.
Portrait of Michael Stillman, (Mico) watercolour 1884, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection. Kelmscott Manor, From the Field, undated, in watercolour and gouache, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Delaware Art Museum.
The girls, Bella sixteen and Effie age twelve remained at their boarding school. Lisa had enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art for the year, where she would receive thorough training, something Marie and her generation of female artists had been denied. All three girls had artistic ability, both Bella and Effie would train with the aim of a career in sculpture.
By September 1885 Marie and William Stillman had found a house in West Kensington, with a good studio for rent at £90 per annum.
In May 1886 William Stillman was appointed Rome correspondent of The Times, with a salary of £600 this was good news for him. At the age of fifty-eight this was the first permanent salaried post of his career and cushioned the loss of Marie’s allowance.
This marked the start of another long separation for Marie, as Bella and Lisa would accompany their father to Rome to continue their art studies and historical research.
Marie Spartali Stillman and young Michael Stillman, by Unknown photographer, c.1880 printed by Emery Walker Ltd. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, London.
It was important to Marie that she was near to her parents after their distress at the death of their daughter Christina and their financial troubles. Marie also wanted some stability for her two younger children Effie and Mico, who she decided, would continue their education in England.
Marie remained ambitious and resourceful, her painting style developed and her subject matter expanded. Despite the upheaval of moving, Marie maintained a regular program of exhibiting work in both in London and America.
Marie eventually joined her family in Rome in the autumn in 1889, regretfully leaving Mico, aged eleven to further his education in Hampstead. Initially Marie found the formality and etiquette in Rome less congenial than Florence, she was however pleased to be with her daughters, who were very excited by their life in the city.
Gradually Marie found artistic companions through her daughter Lisa and developed a contemporary circle of friends; including Giovanni Costa, a leading artist of the Etruscan school, whose artistic style embraced large open landscapes in cool evening light.
Portrait of Giorgia Costa, 1894, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Pastel and gouache on board. Private collection.
The group incorporated Italian and English painters who sought to paint pure and distinct representations of nature. Encouraged by Giovanni Costa, Marie enjoyed fresh inspiration from her landscape painting.
Pont Nomentano, 1895, watercolour, gouache, gum arabic over traces of graphite on paper. Marie spartali Stillman. The Morgan Library and Museum, New York.
Left: Monte Luce from Perugia at Sunset, 1893, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
Right: The Lake of Nemi, by Marie Spartali Stillman 1899. Watercolour and gouache on paper. Private collection.
Summers were spent away from the scorching heat of Rome, in the hills above Florence or Cortina and in England, where Marie would divide her time between Kelmscott, London and the Isle of Wight.
In the 1890s Marie’s artistic areas of study included themes chronicled in the gospels and the lives and legends of the saints. Her paintings, ‘How the Virgin Came to Brother Conrad of Offida and Laid Her Son in His Arms’ 1892 and ‘The Vision of the Good Monk of Soffiano,’ 1893 are examples of her work relating to the legends of Saint Francis of Assisi, including visions of the Virgin Mary.
How the Virgin Came to Brother Conrad in Offida and Laid her Son in his Arms, 1892, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Wightwick Manor, The Mander Collection, National Trust.
William Stillman retired from The Times in 1898 and the family moved back to Britain. They settled in Frimley Green at Deepdene, Surrey, surrounded by woodland, a feature that William had wished for in his retirement. As at many previous occasions, Marie now set up yet another home. She managed the day to day trials of builders, adapted to a new environment and dealt with the adjustments needed as a returning expatriate.
Now aged fifty-five the relentless uprooting left Marie worn out. The five roomed cottage had been commissioned by their daughter Bella in an architectural style that would appeal to her father, reminding him of the Catskill mountains of upstate New York. William was content, writing his autobiography in peace, enjoying the quiet shade and the squirrels.
Marie was not ready to retire, she rekindled past friendships and continued with her painting.
Her diligent exhibition schedule at the New Gallery, London throughout the 1890s hadn’t resulted in the sales Marie had hoped for.
Muse of Marie Spartali Stillman in bluebell garden, Sussex. May 2022.
Towards the end of 1900 Marie made a new acquaintance with the American art collector Samuel Bancroft, who had previously purchased her painting, ‘Love Sonnets’ in 1894.
His keen interest in the Pre-Raphaelites began when he was he was, “shocked with delight” at being shown Rossetti’s ‘A Vision of Fiammetta’, for which Marie was the model.
Marie was pleased to finally meet the man she had heard much about from her American friends; Samuel Bancroft would become her friend and confidante and a collector of her work.
‘Love Sonnets 1894’, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Delaware Art Museum.
A wealthy industrialist, Samuel Bancroft was putting together a collection of Pre-Raphaelite art unique to the United States. His eager passion for the work of the Pre-Raphaelites included a keen pursuit of those associated with the circle as well as the acquisition of, art, poems and memorabilia with Pre-Raphaelite connections.
The following year Bancroft purchased Marie’s painting, ‘Love’s Messenger’ 1885, which had been exhibited several times but had not sold.
Love’s Messenger, 1885, Marie Spartali Stillman, watercolour, tempera and gold paint on paper. Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary Bancroft Memorial.
In July 1901 William Stillman died from a long bronchial illness, he was seventy-three. After William’s death Marie went to live in Kensington with her daughter Bella Middleton, now also widowed.
Detail of ‘Beatrice’ showing fine brush strokes. ‘Beatrice’ 1896, watercolour and gouache mounted on board, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Delaware Art Museum.
The only capital in the family came from Bella’s marriage to John Henry Middleton, who died in 1896. Marie divided her time between Kensington, her home in Deepdene, Kelmscott with Jane Morris and the the Isle of Wight with her parents. She continued painting, mainly gardens scenes and landscapes.
Kelmscott Manor, ‘Feeding Doves in Kitchen Yard’, 1904. Society of Antiquaries of London, Kelmscott Manor. Cherry Orchard in Kent, 1915, both paintings in watercolour and gouache, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
In July 1903 Marie returned to the United States for the first time in thirty years, it prompted the resumption of her professional career. She visited Bancroft’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and saw her paintings hanging amid his growing collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. She was able to re- established relationships with Boston Art dealers and arrange exhibitions.
The trip was also busy with visits to Stillman family and friends and the most anticipated reunion with her son Michael ‘Mico’ Stillman, who she hadn’t seen for four years, who was now an architect working for McKim, Mead & White in New York.
Muse of Marie visualised in Madison Square New York, 1900.
In November Marie was able to arrange an exhibition of her work in Boston, where she sold ‘Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo’ and three other paintings in New York, ‘The Vision of the Good Monk of Soffiano,’ ‘Marriage scene from Dante’s Vita Nuova’ and ‘Kelmscott Manor’. New York proved a better market for Marie’s work than Rome or London in the new century.
The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman 1889. Pre-Raphaelite, Inc., courtesy of Julian Hartnoll.
Domestic and financial problems faced Marie on returning to England in early 1904. Her daughter Effie was ill with pleurisy, and was engaged to be married to William Ritchie in February. Marie now Sixty, having been widowed for over a decade was short of money and painting alone would not create the funds needed for her daughter’s wedding.
Marie decided to sell one of her few remaining treasures, her own wedding gift from Euphrosyne Cassavetti, ‘Epithalamia’ by Edward Burne-Jones.
Left: ‘Venus Epithalamia’ by Edward Burne-Jones 1871, modelled by Maria Zambaco, with whom Burne-Jones had an affair. It was a wedding gift to Marie and William Stillman from Euphrosyne Cassavetti.
Right: My muse figure of Marie Marie Spartali Stillman on patio, Stile garden.
Marie made another visit to the United States in 1908 to exhibit twenty-five pictures at Oehme Galleries in Fifth, Avenue New York. Her exhibition received favourable reviews and was covered in the New York Times.
Left: Lady Radnor’s Garden on the Giudecca, Italy, 1903 Marie Spartali Stillman. Exhibited at Oehme Gallery, New York 1908. Private collection.
Right: ‘A Florentine Lily’, 1894, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
The Oehme Galleries held a second exhibition in 1909, however the success would not continue, the owner Julius Oehme suffered illness and arranged a public sale of all his stock in 1911. Marie said to her friend Vernon Lee, “ I am poorer than ever”.
Back in England in August 1911 Marie suffered her greatest loss, her daughter Effie died of heart failure, resulting from tuberculosis.
Effie was thirty-nine and left her husband and a young family of three children. Marie missed her extremely.
Effie ( Euphrosene) Stillman 1895. Watercolour and gouache on paper,
by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
There was a solo exhibition of Marie’s work just after the war in in 1919 in America, held at The Willow Brook Company, New York. Although she continued to paint, Marie focused on small landscapes and flower paintings in her later years.
Marie made a final visit to America in 1923, accompanied by her eldest, Lisa. They met up with her son Michael and her granddaughter Frances Stillman.
Marie continued to paint right until the end. Her last order with Roberson’s, her paint supplier was placed on 23rd September 1926, six months before her death.
Marie Spartali Stillman died on the 6th March 1927 at her home in London. She was only days away from her eighty-fourth birthday, but had lived a full life and survived almost all the other artists of the Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Left: ‘A Rose in Armida’s Garden’, watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper. 1894, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
Right: Tulips in a Tall Vase, undated, watercolour and gouache on paper, by Marie Spartali Stillman. Private collection.
Marie started her life with privilege, however her spirit and determination to be a professional artist, meant the sacrifice a comfortable life. Marie was truly dedicated to her painting yet it was a challenge to join the male domain of exhibiting and selling her work. She demonstrated real tenacity in her perseverance and succeeded in becoming a respected and prolific artist at a difficult time for women, 1844-1927.
Marie Spartali Stillman’s resting place is at Brookwood cemetery, Surrey, alongside her husband William.
Marie muse in ‘Cherry Orchard in Kent’, a watercolour and gouache painting by Marie Spartali Stillman, 1915.
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Pre- Raphaelite Sisters by Jan Marsh. National Portrait Gallery 2019.
The Pre- Raphaelite Girl Gang by Kirsty Stonell Walker, Unicorn Publishing Group 2018.
Poetry in Beauty Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman, by Margaretta S. Frederick and Jan Marsh. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington 2015.
A Pre-Raphaelite Marriage The lives and Works of Marie Spartali Stillman and William James Stillman, by David B Elliott 2006.
The Pre- Raphaelites by Christopher Wood, Book Club Associates, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1981.
Marie Spartali Stillman
Muse figure of Marie Spartali Stillman in my garden, spring 2022.
One thought on “Marie Spartali Stillman ”
Fascinating, thank you for sending this.