1880. France, Italy, Switzerland, and Britain: c. 1880s-1920.
Large archive including portfolio containing 20 watercolor studies, several signed, usually c. 10” x 12” or less, and 15 pencil sketches, usually c. 6” x 8” and 4” x 6” often dated and with pencil notes for future color reference; 8 further sketchbooks with some 100 watercolor or pencil studies; 2 albums of newspaper exhibition reviews; file of testimonials, documents and letters concerning Russian purchases; printed invitation cards, gallery and price references; lists of important patrons; extensive collection of some 280 mostly silver gelatin prints by the artists (180 c. 10”x 8”, plus 100 c. 6”x 8” or less, several with pin holes to corners); plus 3 albumen photographs signed and captioned on the verso Frank Mason Good. The whole approximately 12” x 10” x 15” in current non-archival storage.
Condition generally very good, sketch books with ordinary wear, foxing to just some of the works on watercolor board, some photographs with edge wear, all deserving proper archival preservation.
§ Archive of the British watercolourists Albert and Mary Stevens. The couple were popular and prolific Victorian landscape painters who experienced commercial success with regular joint exhibitions of their studies of the French Riviera, Swiss Alps, Italian Lakes and romantic English scenery. Unknown as photographers, the couple also exhibit a pictorialist skill in taking images that they would later use as inspiration for their paintings. At their Cannes and London galleries their patrons included an impressive group of European royalty and aristocracy, notably Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and the Empress. The archive is informed by Russian correspondence that discusses the selection, delivery and purchase of works.
Albert Stevens (1823-1906), son of a London auctioneer, married Mary Jane Ellen Draper (1866-1947) of Liverpool in 1884. Albert taught Mary to paint but she was quick to exhibit a distinctive talent and aesthetic of her own. Both artists exhibited all over the Britain, including several times at the Royal Academy. The couple had one daughter Dorothy Mary Stevens, also an artist, who appears in several of the photographs.
The archive is interesting for documenting both the artists working methods with field sketches, watercolour studies, and photographs, and their commercial success with correspondence, exhibition announcements, and two albums of fastidiously compiled press clippings. Pictorially and historically, the photographs are perhaps the most interesting aspect of this archive. The majority of these images were taken by the artists but their collection is supplemented by purchases from various professional studio photographers, notably 'N.D. Photos. Environs de Nice' in the south of France, and Alinari's 'Lago d'Orta' from Italy. Several photographs of course record Stevens family members on picnics or other rural excursions. Signed albumen photographs by Frank Mason Good are also captioned by him on the verso: 'Shiplake. A Willow Walk', 'A Dorset Lane', and 'Ent To Stokesay Castle'. F.M. Good was a Victorian landscape photographer renowned for his English and Middle-Eastern work and the presence of these rare signed images in the Stevens collection demonstrates more than a casual interest in photography.
The Stevens' pencil captions are found on the verso of many of their photographs; these titles typically a mirror of those found describing their watercolour paintings: 'In a Garden at Cannes', 'Olive Trees' and 'Coastal Works. Antíbes', 'Etude Artistique' and The Mule Path Mentone', 'Near Costabelle', waves and breakers, 'Japanese Anemonies' and Iris, 'Gypsy Camp', a fishing boat at 'Port Aven Brittany', 'Washerwomen in Stream', 'Menaggio Lake Como', and 'Piano near Lugano'. One image shows Mary Stevens on a mule with a folding stool and paint box en route to some picturesque rocky location; another shows Albert rather precariously perched on a tabletop at work at his easel outdoors. 'D.S' (Miss Dorothy Stevens) sits in a boat at 'Shiplake on Thames'. Other studies include two girls 'Watching the Woodpecker', girl with a parasol, feeding the chickens, tree blossom, children in a country lane or at play, glacier views, and Swiss cows in a meadow. Flooded landscapes and rugged beach studies all contribute to the pictorial narrative.
Specifically British landscapes depict 'Doone Valley Devonshire', 'Arundel Castle', 'Porlock in Somerset', and two views of 'Warwick Castle'. The Earl of Warwick was one of the couples noted collectors and later their student. Included with the correspondence is a teaching testimonial from the Earl and a letter sadly informing them of the destruction of one of their 'beautiful drawings' in the great fire at the castle.
As a patron and as a student the Earl is in good company: Her Majesty Queen Mary, H.R.H Princess Beatrice, The Queen of Denmark, Princess Phillippe De Bourbon, Princess Christopher of Greece, Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Earl Howe, Countess of Lonsdale, Duchess of Roxburghe and Duchess of Westminster were all avid collectors. A 1904 letter from Princess Beatrice of Saxe Coburg also sought private lessons.
The Stevens were particularly favoured by the Russian royal family: they enjoyed royal patronage from The Empress Marie, The Grand Duchess Cyril, The Grand Duke Michael, The Grand Duke and Duchess George, and The Emperor and Empress.
‘The Czar of Russia has honoured Mr. Albert Stevens and Mrs. Mary Stevens by purchasing several of their water-colour drawings. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens are well known at Cannes, where they winter every year'.
- Evening Standard [29 September 1913).
Russian correspondence include 12 originals, several from Baron Stoeckl, Chamberlain to the Tsar, writing from the Russian Embassy in London, Paris, Crimea and St. Petersburg confirming the Emperors wishes; shipment, selection, returns, titles with prices, and payment for paintings destined for the Palace at Livadia. Three signed typed letters are sent from St. Petersburg, Palais d'Hiver, by Count Rostovtsof, Secrétaire des Commandments de Sa Majesté L'lmpératrice Alexandra Feodovora. A letter from Chancelleríe du Ministère de la Court Impéríale de Russie referencing payment is signed by Prince S. Gagarine (September 1913). Albert Stevens' copy letters circa 1913-14 are also preserved.
All in all a large and well-rounded archive, fully deserving of proper preservation and study, with much to say about the intersections of Victorian landscape art, early photography, and the working methods and commercial life of husband and wife professional artists. (110433)
Several signed watercolour paintings are found in the archive. A portofolio of larger works collects together a variety of subject matter with studies of ‘Water Meadows’, Flowers in a vase, in a wood, ‘Morning Lake Geneva”, ‘Como’, Alpine or costal views, gardens, and landscapes, and a girl with a dove in a meadow – the latter similar to a work documented by a photograph in one of the two albums of newspaper reviews. Pencil drawings depict Warwick Castle, 'Old Town San Remo', 'Bury' (1888), 'Loch Aire' (1884), 'Byfleet' (1871), near Lugano, and 'Chatillon' with extensive pencil instructions concerning colours. Sketch book studies in pencil or watercolour detail 'Sunset Mont Blanc' (1899), Lake views and figures, a girl with flowers or reading a book, 'Dolce Aqua' village, poppies, fir trees, flower-specked stone steps, 'Fishing Boat Marcoti Lugano (1885), Matterhorn (1896), San Dalmazzo Church tower, 'La Rosa’ (1898), meadows and valleys, landscapes, clouds, sunsets, and 'Cromford Bridge nr. Matlock'. One of the eight sketch books is inscribed 'Mary Stevens, Chalet Stevens, Mentone'. In later years the couple retired to the Malvern hills.
Well in excess of one hundred press reviews are collected into two albums that document the professional career of 'A Pair of Aquarelists'. Cuttings are from Pall Mall Gazette, Manchester Guardian, Brighton Gazette, Daily Telegraph, Daily News, Court Journal, Queen, West London Observer, Saturday Review, Morning Post, Country Life, Cannes Gazette, Kensington Society, Illustrated London News, Vanity Fair, Bazaar, The Artist, Sunday Times, Daily Graphic, Ladies Pictorial, The Anglo American, Globe, Daily Messanger - and more. The 'Aquarelists' jointly exhibited at Cannes, the Royal Academy and London's commercially successful venues: Agnews, Grosvenor, Leicester, Doré, Ryder and the Modern Gallery.
'An amusing bit of genre is Miss Mary Stevens How I Wonder What You Are, a brilliantly dressed little papier-máché Japanese doll gazing in amazement up at the skeleton of a great bird twice her height'.
- Saturday Review.
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890; documents and original photographs in the archive show that it was purchased by John Aird Esq., M.P.
'The 'one man' exhibition is likely to suffer from an unsuspected rival, if the art world can produce many couples displaying so much sympathy in their work as Mr. and Mrs. Albert Stevens. This may not be the first time on which a husband and wife have taken the burden of 'a show' upon their shoulders, but it is probably the first instance of a picture gallery being fully and satisfactorily furnished by the joint labours of a well-assorted couple. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens have wandered together over many parts of England and the Continent, taking notes with skillful hands of the scenes they have visited in sunshine and storm. Many will, perhaps think that Mr. Stevens is most successful in catching the atmosphere and effects of his own country, as shown in his pictures of the English lakes in the neighbourhood of Durham. Mrs. Stevens, on the other hand, is at her best when dealing with the flowery meadows of North Italy, before the scythe or the summer storm has laid low the masses of bright blossoms which crop up amid the tall grass. The neighbourhood o Le Presse - that charming little 'Bath' which travellers descending from the Bernina suddenly light upon has furnished Mrs. Stevens with some of her brightest and most successful inspirations, but both she and Mr. Stevens have found on Como and at Pontresina and among the olive-trees of Amalfi some delightful subjects, which pleasantly recall these favoured 'beauty spots' of Switzerland and Italy. The exhibition is held at the Dudley Gallery of the Egyptian Hall, where both artists have on various occasions been frequent exhibitors'. - Illustrated London News. Item #110433