Lot 103: Henry Wallis R.W.S. (British, 1830-1916)
Fine British and Continental Watercolours and Drawings
March 8, 2005
London, United Kingdom
Portrait of Mary Ellen Meredith
18 x 15 cm. (7 x 6 in.)
The present work depicts Mary Ellen Meredith (1821-61), the daughter of the poet and novelist Thomas Love Peacock and the lover of Henry Wallis for several years. Mary Ellen was an adept writer; she was witty, intellectual and free-spirited. She married the writer George Meredith in 1849 and together they had a son Arthur. Among the Merediths' many literary friends was Henry Wallis. Wallis asked George to model for his most famous picture Chatterton in 1855. The same year Mary Ellen posed for Wallis's 'Fireside Reverie' and soon they embarked on an affair. In the summer of 1857, Mary Ellen broke all Victorian conventions and left her husband. During the late summer she and Wallis holidayed in Wales and the following April their son Harold, affectionately known as 'Felix' meaning 'love child' was born. It is probable that this drawing dates from 1857.
Mary Ellen had a weak constitution and during the winter of 1858 Wallis took her to Capri in the hope that she would regain her failing health. On her return from Capri, she discovered that Meredith had seized Arthur from her parents-in-law and from then on she was rarely allowed to see him. She lived in recluse with Felix near to her father at Oatlands Park, Weybridge and died in 1861 aged only forty of kidney failure. None of the main men in her life was among the three mourners at her funeral. Her father was broken-hearted and lost his desire to write. As testament of his love, Wallis kept certain of her possessions such as her green gown, matching parasols and some of her writings and drawings.