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Joanna, George, and Henry

Joanna, George, and Henry: A Pre-Raphaelite Tale of Art, Love and Friendship

Sue Bradbury
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 341
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  • Book Info
    Joanna, George, and Henry
    Book Description:

    ‘Joanna, George and Henry’ tells the story of the intertwined lives of three young artists in the 1850s. When the transcript of the material on which this group portrait is based came to light ten years ago, no one could have imagined the drama within. They were family letters: letters from a young woman to her brother and later to her suitor - of interest chiefly because all three were painters, and all were active participants in the youthful Pre-Raphaelite revolution that swept England in the 1850s. They turned out to be a revelation - giving not only a comprehensive picture of what it was like to be an artist in the mid-19th century, but containing within them a powerful family drama and a most unusual love story. It is a love story, moreover, told largely from a woman's point of view. Between them, Joanna Boyce, of the most distinguished female painters of the time; her brother George and her suitor Henry Wells, knew all the artistic luminaries of the day, among them Ruskin, Millais and Rossetti (with whom George shared a great deal, including mistresses). They wrote to each other not just about art, but about their friends, their favourite books, their travels, their illnesses, their passions and their quarrels. In this book, they tell their story in their own vivid words - a story which portrays the age in which they lived and the powerful drama of their emotional and professional lives. Sue Bradbury taught in Spain for three years before joining The Folio Society in 1973. She became Editorial Director in 1984, a post she held for twenty-five years. She was awarded the OBE in 2010.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-936-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Plates and Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Black and White Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-18)

    This story begins during the Second World War. In 1942 Hitler ordered his infamous Baedeker raids on England, which were aimed, not at strategic industrial targets, but at cities famous for their beauty and architecture. Bath was among them and suffered terrible damage. The artist John Piper was sent to record the aftermath of the bombings, and one of his most dramatic images shows the jagged scar in an elegant Georgian terrace where a house had been comprehensively destroyed by an incendiary bomb. (Plate II)

    The house belonged to Alice Street. She was then eighty-two years old, and widowed. The...

    (pp. 19-46)

    Joanna was very lucky in her brothers. The earliest surviving family letter was written to her from Brighton, where he was staying with family friends, by Matthias on 30 October 1844: ‘The Ioway Indians have been exhibited at B[…]s19 Cricket Ground and in the evenings at the Town Hall. I was much amused and particularly with their ball play, in which it was their aim to throw it on the target out of very strange sort of sticks – all others hindering them by pushing the ball out of their sticks and standing before the target and stopping it, as it...

    (pp. 47-73)

    After their father’s death, Joanna took on the task of arranging a change of air for the family at Torquay. This was essential – her own health was giving cause for concern – but it was not easy. She wrote to George, already staying at the Roughwood Inn, on 18 October, asking him to reserve lodgings from ‘Tuesday next’:

    I should have preferred starting some days sooner, but I saw it was best to consult Mammy’s fancies entirely, or I should never get her away at all. I begin to doubt whether change of scene can do much for the spirits, though...

    (pp. 74-100)

    On 9 May 1855, according to his daughter Alice, Henry begged a private interview with Joanna at which he declared his love for her. He took a calculated risk. The Boyces had prospered in a way his own family had not, and they moved in more exalted social circles. Yet, as Alice’s account makes clear, Henry had become a welcome visitor in the Boyce household on his own merits. He was commercially successful and, as a sought-after miniaturist, mixed with people of ‘position and culture’. His friendship with George was of long-standing, and Mrs Boyce, flattered by the esteem in...

    (pp. 101-120)

    Joanna went to Paris at a turning point in French art. Although the École des Beaux-Arts (like the Royal Academy) championed the academic tradition in its teaching, there were already a significant number of artists – Jean-François Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, Gustave Courbet and Paul Delaroche among them – who were developing new forms of realism. Barbizon, a village near Fontainebleau, became an artistic centre where Corot and Millet went to paint, and students went to learn. They were encouraged to work en plein-air and to make labour a subject worthy of art.

    Thomas Couture represented the juste milieu – in which...

    (pp. 121-143)

    On New Year’s Day, 1856, Spencer Hall wrote Joanna a letter of congratulation from the Athenaeum in London’s Waterloo Place:

    First let me wish you very many Happy New Years, secondly let me congratulate you on your first appearance in the Saturday Review. I read your paper with sincere pleasure. I like it for its freshness, for its breadth of thought, and its somewhat solemn utterance, the intonation of which recalls to my ear, or mind, some notes of yours when singing …

    Let me then discourse with you kindly, if not well, upon certain minor matters. There is no...

    (pp. 144-159)

    ‘Madame Héreau’ was accepted for the Royal Academy Exhibition. Joanna observed to Henry: ‘I am delighted with the position of my picture – 1st advantage – it can’t be seen – 2nd – I’m somewhat of a martyr. I am very sorry some of yours are not well placed, and very pleased about Bertha’s. I am to go with her and the Foleys on Friday to the Private View.’

    This she did, writing to him afterwards: ‘I have just returned from the Academy. Your little Corbould is in, but too high to be well seen. I like your portrait of Mrs Oliver immensely – all...

  13. 7 LIMBO
    (pp. 160-186)

    On Thursday 14 August, Joanna wrote to Henry from Corinth Villa, Anne and Mordan’s house. The family was away in Buxton but had, as promised, made their home available to her:

    Yesterday afternoon I left Park Place and came here. At length the step is taken. I believe I have done the right thing, but at present I am wretched – it really is a terrible thing for a girl to leave her home in such a way and to leave Bob too. I am too miserable to write about it, but I must tell you how it came about. On...

    (pp. 187-215)

    The engagement was to be kept secret (apart from George, the Mordans and Mat and Lilly) until after Joanna departed for Italy. Whatever had changed between her and Henry, their misunderstandings persisted. She was in Bertha’s bad books for her treatment of him, and was sufficiently unnerved to accuse her fiancé of ignoring her while he was playing billiards – a rare case of the boot being on the other foot.

    Henry was triumphant again, writing to George, now installed at Lindfield, on 24 April – during painting hours too – to say that ‘Joanna since Monday last holds herself engaged to me’....

  15. 9 MAN AND WIFE
    (pp. 216-241)

    The deed was done at last. On 9 December Henry wrote exultantly to Matthias: ‘We are really married and are off to Naples.’ He asked his brother-in-law to advertise the marriage in The Times thus: ‘At the British Consulate, Rome, and at the Protestant Church, by the Revd F. B. Woodward, Henry Tanworth Wells Esq, 17 Stratford Place, London, to Joanna M. B., second daughter of the late G. J. B. of London.’ Anne, meanwhile, had received a letter from Margaret Piotti saying that Mr Freeborn, the Consul, was an ill-bred and distasteful man, but that the Revd Woodward had...

    (pp. 242-272)

    Towards the end of August 1859, Joanna and Henry set off for a ‘flying trip to the Lakes’, leaving Sidney behind. Henry’s notes and journal, with added jottings from his wife, give an idea of the industrious nature of such holidays. Even though Joanna was not well for at least part of the trip, a great deal of sight-seeing was packed in – the waterfall at Rydal where Henry sketched a hut built against a huge piece of rock and Joanna sketched the old man who owned it, the Eagle Crag of Helvellyn, Patterdale church, Ullswater and Keswick where they joined...

    (pp. 273-292)

    The day after Joanna’s death the sculptor John Foley200 arrived to make a death mask. George wrote: ‘Foley came with his man Lacchese and took with much difficulty, as the head had to be raised up, a cast of her entire head in 3 pieces. All the hair thickly oiled first, then the lower front of the head dropped in plaster of Paris up to the ears; when that was set another piece was laid on in spoonsful up to the crown and starting from the back of the ears. The last covered the face and ears and part of...

  18. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 293-294)
  19. Index
    (pp. 295-320)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-321)