When I was invited to visit the Isle of Wight and give a talk, I thought of a new version of 'Not Just a Pretty Face', identifying those women in the Pre-Raphaelite circle who were artists instead of or as well as being models. Then I recalled that Anna Howitt and Barbara Leigh Smith had a sketching trip to the Island - curiously, in mid-winter - and that Barbara's parents were buried there. So by the time the venue for the event was fixed as Dimbola Lodge, home of Julia Margaret Cameron (whom Pamela Gerrish Nunn and I included in our Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists exhibition) it was clear there was more of specific interest to investigate. And I've found some new avenues to explore. Notably the artistic relationship between Cameron and Marie Spartali, who sat to Cameron for subject pictures [ Hypatia, Mnemosyne etc] as well as portrait photos. These, and the artists' relationship, deserve more attention than they've received, given their popularity in reproduction.
Why these subjects, and why Marie Spartali as model? Well, her family had a second home on the Island, where Marie spent a great deal of time; but how well did they know the Camerons? Some of Marie's first, and some of her last, exhibited works were of Isle of Wight landscapes, although this aspect of her extensive oeuvre has been relatively ignored in favour of the better-known (insofar as her work is known) Italianate and more obviously 'Pre-Raphaelite' figures and compositions. There is a task here, in locating and identifying these works and in establishing more about the Spartalis' long association with Rylstone. I hope the audience at Dimbola on Saturday will be able to assist!