Tennyson in a large cape and broad hat
The Tennysons moved to Isle of Wight in 1853 and scouted around Freshwater Bay, on the far western tip of the island. The Georgian house they selected, Farringford, had great views of the chalk cliffs which spectacularly dropped into the rough surf below. Pacing the Down daily, and dressed rather romantically in a cape and wide brimmed hat, the poet used the dramatic scenery as an inspiration for years. During his time there he wrote many of his most famous works, including The Charge of the Light Brigade and Maud.
The Tennysons loved Farringford and bought the property in 1856 with money earned from the publication of Maud. And so began the happiest era in Tennyson's life. Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron moved to the Isle of Wight in 1860 when she bought Dimbola in Freshwater; she rapidly became a close colleague of Tennyson. Other visitors to the house included artists William Holman Hunt, George Frederick Watts, Sir John Everett Millais, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and John Waterhouse.
Since 2009 parts of the house have been opened as a museum. The library holds Tennyson’s writing desk, letters and photographs by his colleague Julia Margaret Cameron and portraits by his friend GF Watts. And although the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln holds the family archives, temporary loans to Farringford help the viewer slip back into mid Victorian days.
Now comes the part of Isle of Wight life that I knew nothing about. Richard Green discussed an atmospheric and moonlit painting of Bonchurch Village, Isle of Wight 1880 by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) . Clearly the village of Bonchurch was extremely popular during the C19th with artists, poets and writers. For example in 1849 Charles Dickens stayed at the Winterbourne Hotel at the end of Bonchurch Village Road and whilst there, wrote his drafts of David Copperfield.
But who took the young artist Grimshaw’s (1836–1893) breath away? Alfred, Lord Tennyson! Grimshaw loved Tennyson’s work and frequently tried to visualise not only his literary heroes and heroines, but also the evocation of nostalgic twilight in his poetry. A Moonlit Stroll in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight 1878 was very similar and had been clearly painted from the same vantage point as the Bonchurch Village painting. In addition, look for Figure on a Moonlit Lane, St John’s Road Ryde, Isle of Wight that Grimshaw painted in 1880 and The Gossips Bonchurch, Isle of Wight 1881.
Bonchurch, Isle of Wight 1880
31 x 46 cm
Richard Green London
Taken from Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott, (published in 1833 and again in 1842) the subject of the dead lady in a boat floating down the river inspired a number of artists, including John Atkinson Grimshaw. This theme interested him because of the sensuality suggested by dead lady's recumbent body; that she died for love of Sir Lancelot only increased the decadent attraction of the union of death and beauty. Grimshaw painted the dead Lady of Shalott floating down the river in her funeral barge after having done a similar painting, Elaine, in 1877. Both romantic paintings conveyed the atmospheric stillness of the dead lady as she floated through the night. Was it a surprise, then, that the romantic Grimshaw went on to name five of his children after characters in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: Gertrude, Enid, Arthur, Lancelot and Elaine?
122 x 83 cm
The technique and realism of Pre-Raphaelite style, as well as the intensity and role of colour, inevitably influenced Grimshaw's landscapes. And exactly as the Pre-Raphaelites drew on contemporary poetry and literature to inspire their art work, so Grimshaw was inspired by contemporary literature as well. I can easily trace Grimshaw's painting projects on the Isle of Wight. Yet my key question remains a mystery - did Tennyson and Grimshaw actually chat together at Tennyson's home? or anywhere else on the Isle of Wight?