New Pre-Raphaelite Acquisition

October 12, 2016

In 1856 the artist, then Barbara Leigh-Smith (later Barbara Bodichon), embarked on a painting expedition with her friend Anna Mary Howitt, also an artist, on the Isle of Wight. Barbara Leigh-Smith was the illegitimate daughter of the radical Whig politician Ben Leigh Smith and first cousin to nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.

Well educated, intelligent, and forceful, Bodichon became with Howitt one of “The Ladies of Langham Place,” a group who met regularly in London to discuss women’s rights. In 1854, she published her Brief Summary of the Laws of England Concerning Women, which was used to promote the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882. In 1858, she set up the English Women’s Journal, concerning employment and equality issues for women. In 1866, with Emily Davies, she came up with a scheme to extend university education to women.

TMG.05.16 002

Ventnor, Isle of Wight, 1856. Barbara Bodichon, nee Miss Barbara Leigh Smith (1827–1891). Watercolor and gouache on paper, 28 x 42 1/2 inches. Delaware Art Museum, F. V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 2016.

Bodichon was trained privately at first, but later attended art classes at the newly opened Bedford Ladies College. Through Howitt she was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Landscape was Bodichon’s preferred genre, and her style reflects Pre-Raphaelite principles of careful observation and detailed rendering. This view has been identified as near Luccombe, just to the east of Ventnor, looking northeast across Shanklin Bay in England. It has been suggested that the headland in the middle distance (which has been placed where it should not be) is Woody Point to the west of Ventnor, transposed for artistic effect. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 where William Michael Rossetti described it as a “capital coast scene… full of real Pre-Raphaelitism.”

The acquisition of the work of a female Pre-Raphaelite artist fulfills an important component of our collections development plan. We are currently planning a small focus exhibition of Bodichon’s work in fall 2018. Ventnor, Isle of Wight ranks among Bodichon’s best work. It is a large-scale watercolor painted specifically for submission and exhibition at the prestigious Royal Academy. The painting is housed in its original patterned frame.

We are thrilled to have had the rare opportunity to purchase a Pre-Raphaelite painting of the highest quality by an artist who is currently not represented in our collection. Look for this in the galleries in December!”

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

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