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Sotheby's London to sell Portrait of Kate Perugini, Daughter of Charles Dickens, by Sir John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Portrait of Kate Perugini, Daughter of Charles Dickens. Estimate: £150,000-200,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Portrait of Kate Perugini, Daughter of Charles Dickens by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) is to be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in the bicentennial year of the author’s death. The famous and innovative portrait will headline the Victorian works in the company’s auction of British & Irish Art in London on Tuesday, 13 November, 2012. Estimated at £150,000-200,000*, the painting comes to the market from the Estate of Katherine Mellon, and following its inclusion in the touring V&A exhibition ‘The Cult of Beauty’ in San Francisco. The painting has been widely exhibited in major exhibitions over the previous twenty years and was prominent in the Millais retrospective at Tate Britain.

Kate Dickens is now recognised as a significant figure in her own right, and Charles’ great great great granddaughter Lucinda Hawksley published a book about her in 2006, entitled ‘Katey, The Life and Loves of Dicken’s Artist Daughter’. As the youngest surviving daughter of the most famous writer of his age, Kate Dickens (1839-1929) enjoyed a high profile in society and moved in artistic circles. Millais encouraged Kate’s painting and she became a successful portrait painter, also modelling for the artist’s The Black Brunswicker of 1859-60, in which he depicts her as the beautiful woman sadly parting from her lover on the eve of Waterloo. Her family life had been mostly very happy up to the point of her father’s well-known unconventional extra-marital affair with the actress Ellen Ternan – which led to his separating from Kate’s mother, Catherine in 1858. Kate was nineteen-years-old when the heartbreak began.

Kate’s first husband was Charles Collins, brother of the author Wilkie Collins. His chronic illness left her a widow in 1873. It was probably through her friend Lord Leighton that she met Carlo Eduardo ‘Charles Edward’ Perugini, a man with whom she fell passionately and blissfully in love. They officially married on 4 June 1874 at St Paul’s Church in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge but had also married in secret on 11 September 1873, only five months after Kate had been widowed. Lucinda Hawksley has suggested that Kate may have thought she was pregnant. The September marriage was never mentioned within the Perugini or Dickens families.

Millais’ painting depicts the pivotal point in Kate’s life when the occasion of her second marriage brought her much happiness. The artist was one of only five guests at the 1874 wedding and the only non-family member; the portrait was begun as a wedding gift but was not completed until 1880. Capturing the intelligence and elegance of the sitter, the work is painted in Millais’ sophisticated later style. It has an informal intimacy and charm uncluttered by peripheral, unnecessary fashionable accessories and in this respect bears comparison with the artist’s portraits of his wife and daughter. It is said that Kate decided upon the pose she would adopt for the picture when she walked into the studio. Turning her back to the artist and looking over her left shoulder, Kate told Millais that this was the way she wished to be depicted. No objection to this would appear to have been forthcoming and as a result, the pose is both original and powerful. Kate probably chose the black costume for the sitting; though officially in mourning, she preferred to dress in black. Black also dominated Millais’ later portraits, from the grave seriousness of those of Gladstone and Carlyle to the glamour of Lillie Langtry. The portrait of Kate has been compared to John Singer Sargent’s infamous portrait of Madame X of 1884; the suggestiveness of the American artist’s picture created a scandal, Millais’ eroticism, however, was more subtle, with the gossamer black organdie of the sleeves and back revealing the golden skin beneath.

*Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

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