Monday, March 26, 2007

Out of the Shadows

One of the Victorian era's most intriguing "invisible women" has emerged from obscurity to the excitement of art historians, who are now combing the vast canvases of the painter William Powell Frith to find how often he used her as a model.

For the first time, photographs have come to light of Mary Alford, a young ward who became the artist's secret mistress and who almost certainly figures in his paintings of domestic life and social gatherings (see my post of March 14). The pictures were revealed by a descendant of one of seven children Frith fathered illegitimately with Mary. They were sent on condition of anonymity to Frith's biographer, Christopher Wood, whose book on the artist was published last autumn.

Frith lived a curious domestic life. He maintained Mary while married to Isabelle, with whom he had twelve children. When Isabelle died in 1880 (my guess: of equal parts exhaustion and disdain), Frith married Mary.

Read the full story in this fascinating Guardian article (26 March 2007).

Shown here: William Powell Frith, The Rejected Poet. Was Mary Alford the model for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in this picture? Art historians think so.


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