Here she is on our fridge…sitting on the world.
Agnes Kirby nee Mac Kenney
Our father died young so we lost the little contact we had with one of his sisters. She had close contact with this G Grandma.
My dad as a child and his dad on the right…look at G Grandma`s face shape and long, elegant fingers.
When we did finally meet there were intriguing conversations about G Grandma being an artists` model for some Pre-Raphaelite artists. She was a friend of one of their daughters and she lived in the same part of London- Chelsea- which wasn’t so posh then and lots of artists lived in the area. Her family were from the Scottish Isles ( possibly pushed out by the Highland clearances ) and her father was a brewer. She said being a model wasn`t spoken about much as it really wasn`t the thing a young lady should do. She apparently had beautiful long hands and feet and the classic PR long auburn wavy hair. She looks amazing as an older lady.
Close up of G Grandma
There was talk of a famous painting …she was sitting on the world…hope…
I immediately did loads of research..
At first I thought it was Edward Burne -Jones but couldn’t find a painting that linked ( she did however sit for sketches with him )
Just a stained glass window called Hope.
Tate Britain- Hope
But when I saw this painting by George Frederick Watts it all fell into place. You could see the likeness and her beautiful long fingers and feet.
Aunty confirmed it was the one.
We have since read up on it`s story and it is such a significant and important painting. GFW wasn`t a PR but was in the circle of artists around them.
Many years later during the First World War crowds would flock to gaze at the painting for comfort. It was printed and became familiar in many homes.
Recently we found out more …
A quote or two from The Telegraph online….
`Watts’s melancholy painting of a hunched and blindfolded girl who sits atop a globe and tentatively plucks at a single string on her crude wooden lyre.`
`It is Barack Obama’s favourite painting: this famous canvas by the visionary Victorian artist George Frederic Watts arguably set the President-Elect on his long path to the White House.`
`But the painting’s message of faith in the face of adversity fascinated Wright. (rev Wright- Obama heard a sermon by him about this painting ) “The harpist is sitting there in rags,” he preached. “Her clothes are tattered as though she had been a victim of Hiroshima… [yet] the woman had the audacity to hope.”`
`Obama is not the only black leader to have been inspired by Hope: Nelson Mandela kept a reproduction on his wall while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.`
Read the whole article here.
Wow! what a powerful painting !
We have tried to verify this…books we have read allude to other possible models and indeed apparently GFW used to sketch parts of different models to make a whole figure. No one actually knows for sure.
Watts gallery, Compton
Sadly our Aunt is no longer with us and we just don`t see why anyone should make this up … it is such a random and unique claim to fame. G Grandma seemed in later life a well to do victorian lady who had no reason to even admit to being a model. I have written to the Watts gallery and the Tate but not had a reply. When I have more time I will push this further. Not only did GFW bequeath his art to the Tate but his diaries. Maybe there will be a clue there to this proud and intriguing family legend.
Back to glass soon …