Lady Tomlinson Takes up Art: 1893

A Lady at her Easel, French School, mid-19th century. The Bowes Museum

A Lady at her Easel, French School, mid-19th century. The Bowes Museum


How Lady Tomlinson Developed her Individuality.

When I first knew Gwendoline Gilbert I very nearly fell in love with her. At that time I had a penchant for healthy – looking girls; and, being young, I was an ardent admirer of the British blonde. Gwendoline Gilbert was Hygeia herself; Emma, Lady Hamilton, when she was in the service of Dr. Graham, the quack, could not have looked the part more thoroughly than did Gwendoline.

How I adored that girl! At that time, you know, Mr. Burne-Jones hadn’t invented the young lady with the tously hair, the ungainly altitudes, the green complexion, and the prehensile toes; so it was quite permissible to admire a girl who looked like the Goddess of Health. She was a parson’s daughter ; she hadn’t a penny in the world, Sir John Tomlinson was the member for Ratcliff Highway, and had made pots of money by the adulteration of the poor man’s beer — I beg his pardon, I take that back — I mean by his improvements in the art of producing malt liquor of a superior description. He came, he saw, he conquered; of course he did. They were married, they started on their honeymoon ; and I went to Heme Bay for a fort-night in a huff, and wrote my celebrated monograph on “Sour Grapes.”

Lady Tomlinson was nice, beautiful, and, as we all know, as good as gold. She was by no means inclined to encourage society philanderers; and from what those gentlemen called her “stand-off” way, and from a certain disinclination toward gossip and scandal and small talk, and private theatricals and music-halls, she got the reputation of being rather stupid. At any rate, in spite of her beauty and her husband’s millions, Gwendoline was not altogether a social success. Now, husbands, as we all know, are brutal persons ; they have a nasty trick of not mincing matters with their wives, and of calling a spade a spade.

“Look here. Lady Tomlinson,” said Sir John (he always called her Lady Tomlinson), “you don’t shine in society ; you’re not a dancing woman, nor a talking woman, nor a political woman, and you ain’t littery. I wish to heaven you’d develop some sort of individuality of your own, Lady Tomlinson.”

Lady Tomlinson retired instantly to her boudoir and had a good cry. For three whole days did Lady Tomlinson brood and meditate, and then she sent for Mr. Pargiter, the painter.

Mr. Pargiter hastened to present himself at Palatial Crescent, W.

“Mr. Pargiter,” said Lady Tomlinson, “I want to paint — I want to paint in oils.”

“Oh, certainly, Lady Tomlinson,” said Mr. Pargiter; and he smiled, and rolled his eyes, and rubbed his hands, and bowed. Mr. Pargiter was too much of a gentleman ever to contradict a lady, besides being a popular art teacher, with a highly-aristocratic connection. Therefore, he would have said “Oh, certainly,” if Lady Tomlinson had wanted to learn to dance on the slack wire.

“I want you to give me lessons, Mr. Pargiter,” said Lady Tomlinson. “I mean to exhibit at the Royal Academy,” said Lady Tomlinson ; “I mean to be a distinguished amateur, and I want you to show me how, and give me lessons, Mr. Pargiter.”

“Oh, certainly,” said Mr. Pargiter.

“Pray name your own terms,” said Lady Tomlinson ; “expense is no object, but I want the whole thing to be a secret from my husband and my friends. Can we begin to-morrow?”

“Oh, certainly,” said Mr. Pargiter once more.

And then Lady Tomlinson handed Mr. Pargiter a check for a substantial sum, and requested him to attend at ten o’clock the next morning with what she called the necessary outfit.

Next day, at ten precisely, a four-wheeled cab containing Mr. Pargiter, a large easel, several canvases, numerous brown-paper parcels, and a lay figure, drew up at the Tomlinsons’ house in Palatial Crescent. Mr. Pargiter was shown at once into her ladyship’s boudoir.

“Now, Mr. Pargiter,” said Lady Tomlinson, when she had welcomed the artist, “I should like you to paint me an ideal head.”

Mr. Pargiter stared at Lady Tomlinson and suggested that the usual way was to begin by drawing from what he called “the round ” in charcoal.

“Mr. Pargiter,” said Lady Tomlinson, “you wouldn’t refuse to oblige a lady. I’m sure I shall learn much more easily by seeing you work. My idea, you know, was that you should paint and I should look on— just at first, you know, till I get my hand in.”

So Mr. Pargiter began to paint the head of what he called a two-guinea rustic. Mr. Pargiter was accustomed to dispose of heads of this description to Wuggles, the frame-maker and picture-dealer, for forty-two shillings. It would be labeled: Original Oil-painting, by Pargiter . £4, 4s.

“I want you to leave the background till the very last,” said Lady Tomlinson.

“Oh, certainly,” replied the artist.

“I believe you artists,” said Lady Tomlinson, “often smoke while you paint. Are you a smoker, Mr. Pargiter?”

“I work twice as well when I smoke,” said that gentleman ; and there was a knowing twinkle in his eye as he said the words.

Lady Tomlinson left the room ; she returned with a box of Cabinet Partagas.

“These are what Sir John smokes,” she said; “pray make yourself at home, Mr. Pargiter.”

That gentleman took her at her word; he worked away for four hours at his rustic head, and he smoked no less than seven choice cigars. Then he received permission to depart ; and as he walked home he wondered considerably, for Lady Tomlinson had been engaged upon a three-volume novel from Mudie’s during the whole of the — well, lesson.

“However, it’s none of my business,” thought Mr. Pargiter, who was a philosopher; “and besides she makes it worth my while.”

It took Mr. Pargiter four “sittings” to finish that rustic head. When it was quite done, he remarked to Lady Tomlinson that there was nothing more to do than to smudge in a background of burnt sienna.

“That’s where I come in,” said Lady Tomlinson. “If you’ll do the edge of the background in all the little in-and-out places round the head, I’ll finish it.”

They carried out that simple programme.

“Now there’s nothing left but to sign it, I suppose?” said her ladyship.

“Exactly so,” said Mr. Pargiter; and he took a little squeeze of ivory black on the point of a small brush and was about to affix the magic name of Pargiter.

“Let me try.” said her ladyship. She took the brush from Mr. Pargiter’s hand, and in great sprawling letters she wrote in the right-hand corner of the picture, “Gwen. Tomlinson.”

“Madam,” said Mr. Pargiter, with a low bow, when she had finished, “you’re a genius.”

And then she placed an envelope in the artist’s hand. “I can trust you, Mr. Pargiter?” she said, in those soft, purring tones of hers.

Mr. Pargiter laid his hand upon his heart, gave Lady Tomlinson what looked very like a wink, and assured her, in solemn accents, that she could.

Two days afterward Lady Tomlinson was “At Home.” I was there; I am an art-critic by profession, you know. On a green plush easel, draped by a heavy curtain of green plush, stood the rustic head in an eight-inch gilt frame. I don’t know what the head was worth, but the frame was cheap at a five-pound note.

“What do you think of it, Mr. Scorcher ? ” bleated that innocent lamb, Lady Tomlinson, to me; “I’ve just got it home from my frame-maker’s, and it’s the first of my efforts that I’ve had the hardihood to show to my friends.”

I compared it to Greuze. I said it reminded me of Mme. Vigée le Brun, and various other artists.

Next spring they hung it at Burlington House; they hung that two-guinea Pargiter, and we all went into ecstasies at the private view.

But the measure of Lady Tomlinson’s iniquity was not yet full. She pulled down the wall-papers from her boudoir, and she decorated the walls of that apartment with an extraordinary composition of trees, flowers, sunsets, wheat-sheaves, and good-looking children and girls, under the superintendence of the villain Pargiter. Half London went to see it.

Sir John Tomlinson is justly proud of his wife. She is an artistic light now. She has only got to take a young artist by the hand and his fortune’s made.

“I’m very fond of Lady Tomlinson,” said Mr. Pargiter to me, the other day; “she throws a good deal of work in my way. C. J. WlLLS.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 14 August 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One does so like a happy ending and it is pleasant to hear of the rich taking an interest in the arts. Mrs Daffodil hopes that Lady Tomlinson’s brute of a husband either gradually succumbed to lead poisoning from the white-lead added to his thin bread-and-butter or turned a blind eye when Lady Tomlinson took by the hand that promising young sculptor who stripped so very nicely for the live modelling sessions. Good as gold only lasts as long as it is not tested by the acid of marital assay.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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