Marie Spartali Stillman was a Pre-Raphaelite painter, notably the most well known of the women painters among that group, as well as a model for several of the other painters in the Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Stillman studied with the renowned Victorian painter Ford Madox Brown, who was not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but was influential within their sphere.
She worked in an interesting mixed-media approach combining gouache and watercolor along with pastel and chalk suspended in gum arabic, the binder in gouache and watercolor.
The result is paintings with a richly but subtly textural surface. Combined with Stillman’s muted value relationships and her fascination with Renaissance painting and Italian literary themes, her technique gives her work a kind of dreamily wistful vision of an idealized Renaissance world.
There is currently a show of her work, featuring over 50 works: “Poetry in Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartalli Stillman” at the Delaware Art Museum. It will be on display until January 31, 2016.
An abbreviated version will then travel to the Watts Gallery, Compton, Guildford, England, where it will be on view from 1 March to 5 June 2016.
I had the pleasure of visiting the show yesterday. Stillman’s most famous painting, Love’s Messenger (above, top) has always been a favorite of mine in the Museum’s permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelite art (the largest outside of the UK), and it is unsurprisingly the highlight of the show. It is in good company with the wonderful examples of Stillman’s work that make up the exhibition.
Many of her themes are repeated — young women posed at decorative leaded glass windows holding flowers or precious objects, and tableaux of idealized Renaissance-style gardens populated with literary figures. I was particularly taken, however, with her landscapes and straightforward garden views, directly observed but painted with the Pre-Raphaelite attention to fidelity to nature, and a sense of contemplative quiet.
Unfortunately, the availability and quality of Stillman’s images on the web is still quite limited. The most reliable in terms of color are those in the Delaware Art Museum’s preview for the show. There is also a selection on their site devoted to their Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art, though that site is experiencing problems at the moment.
There is a catalog from the exhibition, and another collection of works by Stillman and her husband, who was an American Journalist and amateur painter: A Pre-Raphaelite Marriage: The Lives and Works of Marie Spartali Stillman & William James Stillman.
For more, see my previous Lines and Colors post on Marie Spartalli Stillman (2006).
[Addendum: There is a short BBC video about Stillman and the exhibit.]