Pre-Raphaelite Circles: Artistic Chelsea

Monkswell House, 7 Chelsea Embankment

Robert Collier, 1st Baron Monkswell

Mary Collier, Lady Monkswell 1849-1930

Hon. John Collier 1850-1934

Marion Huxley Collier 1859-87

My presentation on the De Morgans and Lovelaces, for the De Morgan Foundation, included the Lovelace’s neighbours on the Chelsea Embankment. The Lovelaces lived at No.12, Wentworth House, commissioned by Ralph King-Noel-Milbanke, Baron Wentworth, later 2nd Earl of Lovelace, Byron’s grandson. The area became a renowned artistic enclave best described as ‘haute-bohemian’, as residents along the Embankment included Sir Percy Florence Shelley, 3rd Baronet of Castle Goring, the son of the poet, and solicitor and art collector Wickham Flower.   At No.7, Monkswell House, commissioned by Sir Robert Porrett Collier, 1st Baron Monkswell, we find another artistic family. This magnificent town house, described as a ‘Victorian country house brought to town’, housed the entire Collier clan. It was a complicated household, with Sir Robert’s son, the artist the Hon. John Collier and his wife Marian ‘Mady’ Huxley, accommodated in a self-contained flat and studio with a separate entrance behind on Dilke Street. The premises comprised:

the big studio on the 1st floor & the billiard room on the ground floor. There was sufficient space in the billiard room for another if rather smaller studio. There were enough small rooms built off the big studio to make it a self-contained domicile…The connecting link between the studio (Dilke Street) portion of the house & the main building fronting the Chelsea Embankment was a large greenhouse. (Collier 29)

Monkswell House, 7 Chelsea Embankment, designed by R. Phené Spiers, architectural master at the Royal Academy.

Despite his aristocratic title, the Hon. John ‘Jack’ Maler Collier (1850-1934) was no amateur ‘Sunday afternoon painter’. His father, Sir Robert acted as Solicitor General and Attorney General before serving as a full-time judge of the Privy Council.

Sir Robert Collier, later 1st Lord Monkswell, 1817-1886

Sir Robert Collier, The Jossen Horn (Christie’s South Kensington, 2002)

A gifted amateur artist himself, Sir Robert encouraged his son’s artistic ambitions. Collier recalled, ‘I was a younger son and my father thought he might risk it’ (Obituary, Yorkshire Post) The Collier family appears to have been exceptionally talented; Sir Robert’s brother, Arthur Bevan Collier (1832-1908) was a professional artist best known for his Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish landscapes.  

Arthur Bevan Collier, Carthamartha (Plymouth City Council)

Hon. John Collier, Portrait of Robert Collier, 2nd Baron Monkswell (1845-1909), Secretary of State for War in 1895, Chairman of the Royal Commission on Health and Safety for Miners and author of the novel Kate Grenville (City of London Guildhall Art Gallery, formerly in the GLC Heritage Collection). After Sir Robert’s death in 1886, Robert succeeded his father as the 2nd Lord Monkswell.

John’s elder brother Robert (‘Bob’) and his wife Mary (nee Hardcastle, 1849-1930) were also content to live in this patriarchal fashion; no doubt they enjoyed being cared for by eighteen servants. As Mary Collier tells us in her journal, Monkswell House was a pleasant place to live: ‘A big red house, where we shall all live, with stables, billiard room & studio- a separate drawing room for me and a study for Bob…This will suit me down to the ground as we shall have country air & yet be in town’. (Collier 28) The neighbours were certainly of the right calibre: ‘To the East of us are three houses supposed to belong to Shelly, Lowndes [barrister and writer John James Lowndes, 1814-91]  & Dundas [Hon. John Charles Dundas, youngest son of Lawrence Dundas, 1st Earl of Zetland, 1845-92] (Collier 29). Able ‘to live in one of the nicest houses in London with that view of a mile of river, and right up to Sydenham; very often to use the family carriage; to be allowed to give 4 or 5 dinner parties of our own…’ the Colliers saw no reason to move out. (Gooch 97)

Mary, Lady Monkswell’s journals provide a rich source of information on the Collier/Hardcastle/Huxley families. As Mary was a fellow-student of John Collier at the Slade School of Art, they also provide insight into artistic life. However, the published journals, edited by her youngest son Eric Cecil Frederick Collier were expurgated. With access to the uncensored volumes in the Dorset History Centre, Simon Gooch was able to present a more accurate picture in his The Collier Family (2007), particularly Mady Huxley’s tragic descent into psychosis and John Collier’s subsequent marriage to her sister Ethel ‘Babs’ Huxley (1866-1941). Such a union was not possible in England before the passing of the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907. Lady Monkswell did not approve, cutting the Collier’s off.

A Liberal MP, Robert Collier’s politics were radical, which must have placed him at odds with his wife. While he endorsed Irish Home rule, she was a flag-waving jingoistic Unionist. Nevertheless, she supported his political career becoming a dutiful wife, making the social rounds and holding dinner parties. As to her brother-in-law, John Collier, she considered his ‘views most advanced’.(Collier 9)

As a young woman she took her time at the Slade seriously, even continuing to attend after her marriage: ‘I went to my Slade school and worked for 2 ¼ hours at the head of my Apollo Belvedere. My enthusiasm is somewhat cooled by hearing that it is only a Roman copy of the Greek original’. (Collier 9, 29 Jan 1874) Her son Eric claimed, ‘in drawing and painting she could be really good’ (Collier ix). Mary was present to see her brother-in-law John Collier  awarded 1st prize for the painting from life: ‘All the students were assembled in the life room in a great semi-circle some 200 or more & Poynter [Edward Poynter, first director) lectured upon the competition drawings and announced the prizes’. (Collier 13, June 1874)

Mary was keen gallery goer: ‘We went to the Academy & had a good look at all the pictures except the popular Roll-Call by Miss Thompson which was surrounded by a struggling multitude’ (Collier 13, May 1874). In June 1877, we find Mary visiting Mr Heathcote’s ‘amateur drawings’: ‘in nearly all the “amateur” was very strong’, and practice at drawing was sorely needed (Collier 24).  

In addition to her education at the Slade, Mary Collier had the benefit of tuition and criticism from her father-in-law and John Collier.  Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a close friend of Sir Robert, was a regular visitor to Monkswell House.  Mary recalled a visit to Alma-Tadema’s studio-house, Townshend House, Regent’s Park, in 1878:

I went to a party at Alma Tadema’s which suited me exactly. I sat on a comfortable sofa & heard Brühl (?), a new man, play a most wonderful what I took to be a fantasia of Liszt’s. Then dear Joachim [Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist) played a Bach suite and afterwards these two great swells played the 2nd part of the Kreutzer Sonata together. My eyes, it was nice!… Joachim’s sleepy eyes blazed open & his face quite changed while he played.

I afterwards examined Tadema’s picture for Sir H. [Henry] Thompson [the famous physician]- a Roman inner court planted quite full with great red poppies & sunflowers. The story of the picture seemed to be that the Roman father & mother have just come back home & are being welcomed by a charming little daughter aged about 12. The mother, a young woman with red hair, a glorified edition of Mrs Tadema, is embracing the daughter. Behind is a smaller daughter sitting on her heels & beckoning to a Skye terrier (I did not know they existed with the ancient Romans). The father is coming down some steps on the right with a grand toga. It looks so natural and life-like that I can hardly believe the originals are buried along the Appian way….

It was certainly a very distinguished party. Alma Tadema, one of the first of living painters. Sir Henry Thompson, the first of living surgeons. Thomas [Huxley], the first physiologist. [Robert] Browning, poet. (Collier 31)

A Corner of a Roman Garden or Hearty Welcome (1878, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) features Alma-Tadema’s family: his second wife, Laura Epps and his daughters by his first wife, Laurence and Anna. Much later John Collier would paint Laurence Alma-Tadema’s portrait; an accomplished novelist and poet, her artistic dress indicates that Laurence wished to be depicted as a successful New Woman.

Miss Laurence Alma-Tadema, 1864-1940 (exhibited at the RA 1900)

Alma-Tadema and his wife were invited to John Collier and Mady Huxley’s wedding on 30th June 1879. After the service, Mary was ‘very much pleased and amused by sitting in the little garden, talking and looking at Herbert Spencer [philosopher and biologist], Alma Tadema, Sir Joseph Hooker [botanist and explorer, Darwin’s closest friend] & Mrs Alma Tadema, who was enveloped in a most wonderful garment which looked like a cream coloured pillow case.’ (Collier 36)

Much later, in 1893, Lady Monkswell recorded a trip to Alma-Tadema’s studio in the company of Henrietta Vyne, Lady Ripon, her neighbour who lived at ‘Turners Reach House’, 9 Chelsea Embankment:

It was a delightful afternoon. I picked her up & she talked to me in her charming, brilliant emotional manner all the way up to St John’s Wood. Old Tadema was most attentive to us & showed her everything. I had seen before the studio with the apse lined with silver, & the upper gallery & the Pompeian Court where he writes his letters, & the recess looking into the greenhouse with the painted panels. But Tadema himself is as the hymn says, ‘new every morning’. I certainly had not seen the garden door; the upper half is very thick inlaid glass in a sort of Japanese design with a broad border of what might well be uncut jewels. It faces east & Tadema said in his wonderful enthusiastic, eloquent & also unintelligible manner (the manner of genius) ‘When the sun shines through it, it is like a hallelujah’. He said another pretty thing; we were remarking how forward the trees were in his garden & I was lamenting their infatuation at coming out & being frost-bitten year after year—He half whispered to me ‘It is because they are getting old—they forget’. (Collier 220-1)

‘I had seen before the studio with the apse lined with silver, & the upper gallery’

Alma-Tadema’s Studio-House, Grove End Road: Rudolph de Cordova, ‘Hall of Panels’, The Strand Magazine (December 1902). This numbered fort-five panels, a memorial to an entire circle of artist-friends. John Collier contributed Temple at Philae (The Windsor Magazine, Vol. XX, 1904, p. 255). 

As her family grew- her first son, Robert Alfred Hardcastle Collier, was born in December 1875- and her husband’s political career prospered, Mary evolved into a society grand dame. Her social circle was wide and varied judging by the dinner parties she attended.  In 1886 the Colliers died with the Stewart Hodgsons. James Stewart Hodgson, a partner in Barings bank, was a patron of Frederic Leighton, PRA. Mary Collier sat between her host and George du Maurier, the famous cartoonist, observing ‘he is quite absurdly like Alma Tadema.’ (Collier 125)  March 1889 saw them dining with their neighbours the Wentworths: Mary Collier was almost overwhelmed at meeting the ‘GOM’(Grand Old Man), William Ewart Gladstone, even though he was undermining the ‘foundations of the Empire’ with Irish Home Rule. On this occasion she sat between Mr Leveson Gower [Edward Frederick Leveson-Gower, Liberal MP for Bodmin] and the American author Henry James: ‘Every word he says is worth taking down’ (Collier 148).  At a ‘nice party at the George Trevelyans’, Mary attempted to converse with Trevelyan, ‘one of the most interesting men in London to talk to, tho’ he does not converse, he holds forth & you have to listen- but that suits me.’ (Collier 149) Apparently, it looked as if the curse of Cain were upon Trevelyan, as ‘his right eyelashes are white and his left black. Perhaps this is since he turned Home Ruler.’

Dinner Guests:

Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, 1836-1912

George du Maurier, 1834-96

Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, 1838-1928

Mary invited the ‘great and the good’ to her own dinner parties. In May 1889, the ‘pretty members of the party’ were Virginia, Lady Goldsmid (‘a fair Italian… with lovely blue eyes, a sweet smile & a sweet voice’) and Dorothy, Lady Grey, the wife of Sir Edward Grey, ‘a very young Gladstonian member’[later 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon]: ‘There was a perfect roar of conversation; I don’t think anyone was bored’. (Collier 149-50)

Dorothy, Lady Grey, the wife of Sir Edward Grey, by Cyril Flower, 1st Baron Battersea (NPG)

There were also plenty of house parties, such as the long weekend with the Goldsmids at their country estate Somerhill, near Tonbridge, Kent in November 1884.  Sir Julian Goldsmid, 3rd Baronet, lawyer, businessman and Liberal MP, expanded Somerhill, a Jacobean mansion, to accommodate his large family – he had eight daughters!  Mary Collier entered the mansion with some trepidation but as Count Münster and Mrs Childers treated her kindly she ‘felt in my proper place.’ (Collier 117) Georg Herbert Fürst zu Münster von Derneburg, German diplomat and politician, served as ambassador to London 1873–1885.  Hugh Culling Eardley Childers was appointed Secretary for War in the Liberal Government returned in 1880; by 1882 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.  It would have been his second wife, Katherine Anne Gilbert, who reassured Mary, who was suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’.

Mary’s accounts of dinner parties, musical soirees, and ‘weekends’ catalogue an incredible array of ‘swells’, with many celebrities drawn from the world of politics and diplomacy. The Huxley family introduced men of letters, scientists, and figures from the medical profession into the mix. John Everett Millias, Lawrence Alma Tadema, Frank Dicksee and George du Maurier added a touch of glamour; these successful artists enjoyed an unprecedented degree of social mobility.   

Sir Julian Goldsmid, 3rd Baronet, 1838-96

Unlike her sister-in-law Mady Collier, Mary Collier never professionally exhibited.  Like many lady artists, she painted for pleasure and used her artistic talents to support her philanthropic causes.  When the committee of the Amateur Art Society asked for a sketch for their annual exhibition, she never refused; ‘ her sketch- usually of flowers, but she was just as good at landscape—was invariably sold at once’ (Collier x).

Mary, Lady Collier, Walkham River, Devon (1898, Private Collection)

John Collier, portrait of Mary Collier (1874, private collection)

In July 1874 Mary sat to John Collier for her portrait: ‘I gave Jack a long sitting for my picture which is gradually getting a little more like. Artists conspire to make me the living image of despair when my disposition is rather cheerful otherwise.’ (Collier 14) When not able to sit, Jack had improvised a lay-figure; ‘It gives one a horrid shock to see your favourite gown suffered with cushions sitting on a raised chair in the most indifferent manner’.   Fortunately, Mary was pleased with the final outcome: ‘Jack has made the most flattering likeness of me: I look so mild, sensible and pleasant I really do not know myself; I could not wish of anything better to go down to posterity (Collier 14, July 1874)

The Hon. John Collier and his wife Mady Huxley Collier will be the subject of separate blogs.

You can also watch a short video on the Hon. John Collier’s portrait of Lewis Waller as Monsieur Beaucaire on my YouTube channel:

Anne Anderson Art and Design History Channel – YouTube › channel


My research on the Hon. John Collier and his family would not have been possible without the assistance of Simon Gooch who supplied me with a PDF copy of his book on the Collier Family.

The full, unexpurgated diaries of Lady Monkswell are held at the Dorset History Centre.


Collier, Hon. E.C.F. 1944.  A Victorian Diarist Extracts from the Journals of Mary, Lady Monkswell 1873-1895. London: John Murray.

Gooch, Simon. 2007. The Collier Family. Privately Printed.

Obituary, Yorkshire Post. ‘Hon John Collier, Artist Dies in his 85th Year’, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Thursday 12th April 1934, p.5.

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