Mrs Hollond (1822–1884), born Ellen Julia Teed, was the wife of the pioneering balloonist and MP Robert Hollond. She was a writer and philanthropist who lived for part of each year in Paris, where she held a salon that attracted intellectuals of a progressive cast of mind. Ary Scheffer was a painter who appealed to Mrs Hollond and her circle, and in 1851 he painted this carefully pared-down portrait of her. Mrs Hollond is presented with studied simplicity – colours, setting, distracting clothing and jewellery are kept to a minimum to stress the soulfulness of her expression. This gives the picture a timeless feel: Mrs Hollond may be a Victorian woman with liberal sympathies but she could also be a Roman matron or a figure from the Bible.
Ary Scheffer, born in Holland but trained and living in France, had a particular appeal to English visitors to the French capital. They were attracted to his lively studio, which was known for its gossip and music as well as his paintings, and they admired both his support of liberal, constitutional monarchy and his high moral tone. Lady Eastlake, wife of the Director of the National Gallery Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, described Scheffer as a man ‘with whom no lady, however high in rank, could take a liberty, and in whose studio no man ventured to smoke’.
Scheffer’s list of English acquaintances, most of whom were progressive in their opinions, was impressive. Among those who called on him or sat for their portraits were the poets Robert and Elizabeth Browning, the novelists Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Elizabeth Gaskell, the political philosopher John Stuart Mill and the sociologist Harriet Martineau. Mrs Robert Hollond was part of this circle.
She was born Ellen Julia Teed in India in 1822, and in 1840 married Robert Hollond, a pioneering balloonist and MP for Hastings. After the marriage she spent part of each year in Paris where she established a regular salon; she was also a well-known traveller and philanthropist who founded the first crèche in London and English nurses’ homes in Paris and Nice. She died in 1884.
In 1851, when Scheffer painted this formidable woman’s portrait, he did not emphasise her status as a society figure – she could equally well be a Roman matron or a figure from the Bible. She is posed outdoors under a clear blue sky, wearing a classicising gown and robe, with no jewellery other than a gold-coin bracelet. She looks sideways out of the picture with a soulful and poetic expression. The colour scheme is restrained, dominated by blue, pink and white. Scheffer aimed for and achieved a composition of eloquent simplicity in which Mrs Holland is depicted as a woman of feeling. The intimacy of the portrait suggests that this was a private commission.
Three years later, Scheffer is said to have used Mrs Hollond as the model for Saint Monica in his painting of Saints Augustine and Monica. Perhaps, when he turned to this Biblical work, he remembered the spiritual expression of the woman he had painted earlier.
Mrs Hollond gave Boucher’s Pan and Syrinx to the National Gallery in 1880.
Ary Scheffer’s Paris studio is now the Musée de la Vie romantique
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