CATHERINE MADOX BROWN HUEFFER (1850–1927), "At the Opera," 1869, watercolor and pencil, heightened with white, on paper, 22 2/3 x 20 1/8 in. (framed), private collection

Watts Gallery–Artists’ Village Compton
Surrey, England
through February 20, 2022

On view 35 miles southwest of London is the first exhibition dedicated to the lives, art, and legacies of two remarkable sisters, Lucy Rossetti (1843–1894) and Catherine Hueffer (1850–1927).

Both were daughters of the well-known British artist Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893), for whom they often posed. Soon they began training under him alongside their brother Oliver and the one-time model Marie Spartali. Brown himself “freely admitted” that his use of color “was greatly improved by the more opulent and refined color-sense of his daughters,” who began exhibiting while still in their 20s.

This retrospective’s title, “Uncommon Power,” is drawn from a flattering review of Lucy’s watercolor exhibited in 1871: the critic wrote that it showed “uncommon power and warrants high expectations of the young artist’s future.” Dressed in the latest fashions, the two sisters socialized and portrayed other creative women, including novelist Mary Shelley and radical poet Mathilde Blind. Lucy co-signed the 1889 Declaration in Favor of Women’s Suffrage.

The new exhibition contains rarely exhibited works from public and private collections, as well as a family photograph album, personal correspondence, and the artists’ palettes. It has been organized by Watts Gallery curator Abbie Latham and independent scholar Ruth Brimacombe, who have both contributed to the accompanying publication. Brimacombe adds, “One of the extraordinary things about Lucy and Catherine Madox Brown’s story is the way their families have safeguarded their works — handing them on from generation to generation until the time was right to bring them back to critical attention. This exhibition marks that moment.”

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