If One Could Have That Little Head of Hers…

If One Could Have That Little Head of Hers..., 1900–1909
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872–1945)
Watercolour, Bodycolour & Gold Ground on Paper
BORGM 00360

Pre-Raphaelite 

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The painting was used as an illustration in two volumes of Robert Browning’s poetry, Dramatis Personae and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.
It is a response to Browning’s poem ‘A Face’. The poem was inspired by the Renaissance paintings that Browning saw in Florence. The poem starts: If one could have that little head of hers, Painted upon a background of pale gold, Such as the Tuscan’s early art prefers! Recent research has revealed that the face resembles a well-known portrait of Beatrice d’Este by Leonardo’s assistant, Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis.

The profile portrait suited betrothal commissions, as the averted eye denoted modesty and chastity. The sumptuous dress indicated the sitter’s high status. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites is particularly clear in the use of a halo in a secular subject.

This painting was exhibited at a solo exhibition at the Dowdeswell Galleries in 1909. Merton bought this painting from the Dowdeswell sale at Christies in 1917.

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