Edward Robert Hughes painted this touching portrait of the sisters Bell and Dorothy Freeman in 1889, when the two girls were about 14 and eight years old.

The setting is a room furnished in the Aesthetic style popularised by William Morris and his followers. Hughes may have received his earliest instruction from his uncle, the artist Arthur Hughes. He later modelled for Dante Gabriel Rossetti and worked as a studio assistant to William Holman Hunt, experiences which instilled in him the teachings of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He also studied at the Royal Academy Schools and first exhibited at the RA in 1870 and soon became known for his work in watercolours, building up a practice as a portrait artist specialising in depictions of children. Bell and Dorothy Freeman were the daughters of George and Annie Freeman, who are shown in relief in the picture’s frame. George was a barrister (he acted for Whistler in the famous Whistler vs Ruskin libel case of 1878) who clearly had an interest in art, and his younger daughter Gwendolen later married Hilary Holman Hunt, son of the Pre-Raphaelite artist. The Aesthetic decorative scheme depicted in the painting is of particular interest for the Geffrye Museum, which specialises in the history of the home. Behind the sofa can be seen a window with round leaded lights, a feature of William Morris’s own interiors. The wallpaper is a pattern called Sunflower, designed by Morris in 1879. The curtains and rug are harmonious additions and the sofa is a Regency revival piece of the type that could be purchased at Liberty. The glass vase, possibly made by Whitefriars, is the perfect finishing touch. The interior may have been in the Freemans’ own home, and the picture may have been intended to hang in the room it shows.

Provenance

Sold Phillips London, 1987; Walker-Bagshawe, London; current vendor. An Art Loss Register search has been carried out.


The Geffrye Museum of the Home

136 Kingsland Road, Hoxton, London, Greater London, E2 8EA
020 7739 9893
Website

Opening times

The museum is now closed to undergo a major, transformational development project. It will reopen in spring 2020.

Throughout closure, the Geffrye's restored almshouse will remain open for tours and a full programme of events will be run in the front gardens.

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