Princess Louise: The career of a royal artist, part 6
In the final instalment of Ann Galliard’s series on the career of Princess Louise, she looks at the models used in her work, exploring how Louise found these models – and who she could and couldn’t use.
In artistic circles it was quite normal to share models, and for a princess it was important that not only did they have the right appearance for her style of work, but that it would be considered suitable for her to spend time in their company. Artists’ models of the day were often from the working class, and some were not considered ‘respectable’ company – certainly not for a royal lady.
The artists in Louise’s circle ensured that she was introduced to the ‘right people’. Some private correspondence points to the models used by Louise for the memorial to the Colonial soldiers who died during the Boer War, which was to be erected in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Louise asked Edwin Abbey to recommend a model and his choice was Arthur Dickinson. He wrote -
“I have the address of a tall, thin model – a restless person to whom repose, unfortunately, means sleep. In the pose you require, however, Madame, this failing may not be a drawback. His hand is rather good, too. His name is Arthur Dickinson, Wenlock, Thornhill Road, Thames Ditton,
Edwin A. Abbey.”
Louise, in the end, chose another model, probably introduced to her by her friend John Everett Millais and known as the supermodel of his time. The female model was also sought after by the famous artists of Louise’s circle and she appears in many well-known works of art.
Antonio Corsi would become the most celebrated male model of his day, in demand by a host of famous artists and the most famous model of his time. He was recommended to Louise by Mr Seymour Lucas, and the transcripts of interviews with him reveal many interesting details of Louise and her artistic work.
Antonio Corsi: the prince of models
Antonio Corsi was born in Atina in central Italy, his father was retired from working as a servant of Garibaldi during the civil war. It was hoped by his family that Antonio would become a priest. The family fell on hard times, and the plan for priesthood was abandoned as Antonio with his father and siblings had to earn a living as street singers.
They eventually moved to Dover in search of a better living. The family were very popular among the tourists who enjoyed their music, but one day their lives were changed by a visiting artist, Felix Moscheles. An approach to Antonio’s father resulted in an agreement for the young and very striking Antonio to sit as a model for Moscheles, who paid well enough for the whole family to move to London where they took lodgings in Clerkenwell.
Antonio, however was absorbed into Moscheles own household. Moscheles and his German wife were both artists and had no children of their own. This was the start of what became an illustrious career for Antonio who became known as ‘The Prince of Models’. His first adult years were spent in Paris and with the experience he gained, Antonio went on to work in the studios of art schools in Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London.
While in London, the young man had two brushes with the law. The first was when he lived in Arthur Street in Chelsea. In the Royal Oak in Westminster, after too much drink, he pointed a loaded pistol at an artist named Alfred Simpson. He was bound over to be of good behaviour and keep the peace. The second incident saw him appearing in court – this time it was Antonio and a friend who were attacked, and Antonio received gunshot wounds and had to be hospitalised for two weeks. The Italians who attacked the two friends were found guilty of attempted murder and sent to prison.
One of the earliest paintings he modelled for when he was barely in his teens was by the artist Pierre Augustus Cot and entitled “Stormy Weather”, a pretty, innocent scene which was greatly admired by the Victorians.
Not only did he have all the physical attributes so loved by the artists of the time, but Antonio developed a devotion to his work which involved training himself to remain immobile in difficult poses for extraordinary periods.
One of his most uncomfortable jobs was posing as the Angel Gabriel in the studio of Sir William Richmond, when he was suspended by straps held by two assistants perched at the top of a 25-foot high scaffold. The artist stood below and painted. On another occasion, modelling for Edward Burne-Jones, he was tied to a huge wheel which was rotated to enable the artist to study his face at different angles. This was too physically demanding to repeat and was for the celebrated painting The Wheel of Fortune. The nudes in this painting are inspired by Michelangelo's figures for the Sistine Chapel, and Antonio appears as all the male figures. It was displayed in the Grosvenor Gallery and created a sensation.
One of the most famous of the paintings was the re-working (fifty years after the original was painted) of a life size version of “Light of the World”. Holman Hunt’s painting now hangs in St. Paul’s Cathedral. After a world tour, this popular idealised religious image was reproduced as a print which sold in huge numbers and could be seen in many Victorian homes. The public certainly knew his face, if not his name.
It was while modelling as the Hebrew prophet Hosea, for John Singer Sargent and wearing white flowing robes, that Antonio stood immobile for three and a half hours. He became so stiff that it took some time before his limbs were able to move again. When asked if he was not exhausted his relpy was
“Ah, yes, I was tired, but you should have seen Sargent!”
He continued to work for the great artist, posing for many of the other figures in the frieze. Their friendship and his reputation grew.
Antonio made extensive studies of the subjects of the paintings or sculptures for which he was commissioned to model. He not only knew the story being depicted in depth, but could assume suitable facial expressions. He certainly took his work very seriously and was scathing about other models who knew nothing of their subjects and were not interested in the authenticity of the costumes they wore.
The model collected his own wide selection of authentic costumes, gathering some fine examples when he travelled abroad with the Moscheles and the other artists who took him to work on location. His collection was enhanced by the addition of the armour used in the painting Departure of Galahad, (Boston Museum), presented to him by the artist Edwin A. Abbey. Antonio modelled for all of the figures in the painting.
In 1901 Antonio went to live in America, staying in Boston, Los Angeles and New York, but he also travelled to study the Native American Indians in their own surroundings. His strong features enabled him to pose as Indian, Eskimo and Arab as well as Arthurian and biblical characters.
Eventually Corsi had his own studio in New York, which was a museum of treasures. There were his valuable costumes, trophies and gifts from the artists he sat for. He amassed over a hundred complete outfits with shoes and boots, head gear, armour and arms from China, Persia, Italy, Spain, Mexico and other countries.
This was the era of silent films, and it was inevitable that a man with Antonio Corsi’s looks would be drawn to the new medium. He appeared in several films including Bella Donna and False Women. After his death in December 1924, the name of Antonio Corsi fell into obscurity, although his image appears in much admired paintings and statues scattered throughout the world.
“The actor dies and is forgotten. I live for hundreds of years – maybe thousands – in the famous paintings in which I appear."
Antonio Corsi – 1912
His connection with Princess Louise was one of the high points of his life, and the experience was proudly described in an interview. The poor Italian street-singer became a regular visitor to the Royal Palaces for over two years.
Call to the palace
Louise had conceived a plan for a memorial, and thought that she would use as a model the embalmed man kept by the Royal Academy for the use of its members and students. This could of course not be moved from the premises, so the Princess had a plaster cast made of the body and taken to her studio at Kensington Palace. She discussed her project with Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Seymour Lucas and Alfred Gilbert, who advised a live model. Lucas gave her the address of the model they all recommended, and Antonio duly received a summons to the Palace.
“The first thing I noticed in her studio was a large wooden cross. Including the pedestal it stood about nine feet from the floor. There were no pillows or silken draperies about. It was a clay-begrimed, workman-like place. The Princess said
“Take off your clothes Corsi and get up on that cross and let me see your figure.”
And I did. I was soon upon the big cross. The crucified One had been a frequent pose for me. I felt quite at home on the cross.
“On posing days at the Palace, my meals were always served to me either in the studio or in a room by myself. When tea time came, Princess Louise would always have me take tea with her in the studio. When I was tired hanging on the cross she would light a cigarette for me and put it into my mouth. This kept me from disturbing the pose. I liked this very well, but I’m afraid it developed the tired microbe in me prodigiously.”
The two hit it off and were to enjoy two years of working together while the sculpture took shape. Normally when they were working, there was a 1.00am start, and a break for lunch between 1.30pm and 3.00pm continuing again until 6.00 when they had tea and cigarettes, (Louise herself smoked – quite daring for the time) and after that the work continued until the evening when Louise became tired.
On one occasion, a telegram called Antonio to Windsor Castle to have lunch. On arrival at the outer gates he was halted by the security guard and police and eventually was roughly escorted to the palace itself. Fortunately Louise was at a window and called down “You are late!” Needless to say the escort had a quick change in attitude.
Antonio had married a lady of his own age named Catherine in 1890. The following year they lived at 21 Sidney Street, in Islington and the census of 1891 shows Antonio gave his occupation as an artist’s model and Catherine as being employed as a chainmaker. Neighbours were employed in the jewellery business and Catherine probably made fine gold or silver chains.
They had two children, Rosina and Alfred Antonio. By the time Antonio was working with Louise, it appears that Catherine had died, and Albert was at boarding school with his sister living in a Roman Catholic Home. The Princess took a particular interest in the welfare of children, and in their education, so it is no surprise that she showed an interest in these two young people. She presented them with a doll’s cradle and a child sized horse and cart.
“It is hand made and must have cost the Princess a guinea”
Reported the proud father with delight:
“You see she was very fond of children and was so nice to my Rosina and her brother the little Albert. She once took them to her country place for six weeks. The little ones were delighted - had the time of their lives as you say”.
“It was at a bazaar given there that she bought the cradle and cart. I used to take them up to the palace in an omnibus to see her. They called her their fairy princess”.
Antonio went on to describe the consideration given to him while he posed. He was a proud man would not have asked for a rest period - many of the artists were inconsiderate of their models and did not offer any breaks, but Louise always did.
Members of the Royal Family often came to watch Louise at work in her studio. Bertie, (who would become King Edward VII) watched the work in progress and joked about Antonio’s bushy hair. Antonio was also brought into contact with Queen Victoria herself.
“Once when I was just new in the studio at the palace where Her Royal Highness worked at her sculpting, the Queen Victoria came in as I was leaving. She looked at me and asked Princess Louise.
“Who is that man with the hair?”
The Princess laughed and called me back, and the Queen talked to me. She asked how I liked her daughter’s work. I said very much.
“But I daresay you have seen better?”
And then she smiled at the Princess her daughter. I was so embarrassed, I said right out, Yes your Majesty. She smiled more. Then I said, very quickly, But her Royal Highness is a very clever woman!”
This insight into the way the Princess worked showed that she had consideration for her model and that she worked very hard on this artwork, and for a long period. Her family were interested in the piece and showed an interest in what she was doing. It also demonstrates that Queen Victoria on occasion was most definitely amused.
The Model for the Angel - Mary Lloyd
The female model used for the Angel sculpture by Princess Louise was Mary Lloyd, a recommendation of Sir William Blake Richmond.
“She has a splendid head, beautiful arms and is quite nice. No H’s, but really refined”
Mary Lloyd, although usually referred to as ‘Mrs Lloyd’, was an unmarried middle-class woman who had fallen on hard times: not a typical model. Brought up in luxury, she was the daughter of a Shropshire gentleman who unfortunately became bankrupt. Mary could no longer expect a ‘good’ marriage, so she went to London in the hope of finding work.
She chose modelling and was soon employed by the leading artists of the day. Among some of the well-known paintings in which she is seen are Frederic Lord Leighton’s Lachrymae, and Sir Frank Dicksee’s The Magic Crystal. As well as for other paintings by these artists, Mary Lloyd also sat for Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Ford Maddox Brown, and William Holman Hunt.
Mary Lloyd sat as the model for John Everett Millais for the work he executed while staying with his father-in-law George Gray in Bowerswell House in Perth. As he always did, Millais took great pains to get the details of his painting perfect. The room was the turret room at Murthly Castle, the bed ordered especially from Perth, and the atmospheric light came from a lantern made by a local blacksmith and based on one in the museum at Kensington.
The artist used local women (Miss Hope Anderson and Miss Buchannan White) as models while he painted the body of the subject, but used the beautiful face of Mary Lloyd to complete the work. The young man in the painting was sketched in at Perth, and painted when Millais returned to London. The artist was the good-looking Italian by the name of Antonio Corsi.
It has been recently established that Frederick Lord Leighton used Mary Lloyd as his model for the iconic painting “Flaming June”. For some years the model was unnamed; this was not unusual as while the paintings were well known most of the models used by even very famous artists were never named. Mary was used as the model for the memorial to Lord Leighton in the north aisle of the nave of St.Paul’s cathedral. It is a fitting tribute to their close working relationship.
Mary would only pose draped, or for head studies, in order to retain her respectability, so sometimes the artists used other models for her body and then painted in her face. By the time the Pre Raphaelite and other artists had discovered Mary they were aging and their work eventually dried up. The artistic style which suited her looks changed, but by 1909 she was regularly employed by the Royal Academy Schools as a life model for their students. Her era as a popular muse had passed, and at the beginning of the Great War she developed a debilitating and serious illness which was to last almost 20 years.
With no income, she spent all her savings and was eventually reduced to taking in ironing and living in rented attic rooms. In 1933 a reporter found her, aged 70, living in a tiny room in Kensington and doing sewing or small household jobs to earn a living. An article was written based on the interview
“The Story of Mary Lloyd, who had the face of an angel but outlived her luck”.
As an elderly lady, Mary was still beautiful and even in impoverished circumstances she knew that her image was loved and admired in some of the most famous galleries, museums and churches in the world.
Mary’s image appears in several places in St. Paul’s – Leighton’s memorial, Louise’s statue and in the mosaics around the great dome.
Explore the whole series from the hub page.
About the author
With a background in NHS Personnel Management, Ann Galliard enjoys reading and writing about local history and World War I. She has had several articles and two books published (including Sandbank: War and Peace, a Scottish Village), researched & recorded the history of the Argyll Mausoleum (the burial place of the Dukes of Argyll) and is currently writing a history of Ardkinglas. Recently a Committee Member of the WW1 Commemoration Steering Group for Argyll & Bute, and Organiser for the WW1 events in Cowal, she is a member of the Management Committee of the Friends of the Argyll Papers and volunteers in the Archive at Inveraray.
The Argyll Papers at Inveraray Castle are the family and estate archive of the Campbell family, dukes of Argyll, and provide an unbroken record of nearly eight hundred years of the family’s fortunes from the 13th to the 21st century. The archive reflects the historically important role of the Campbell family in Scottish, British and international affairs, as well as documenting the history of the landscape of Argyll and its people. The archive is open to the public by appointment. Please contact the archivist, email or tel: 07943 667673. Visit Inveraray Castle's Facebook page.