From the Archive: Royal Correspondence

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Posted 17th June 2020

From the Archive:
Royal Correspondence

Dr. Eva-Charlotta Mebius
Collection Online Early Career Research Fellow (Historical & Biblical)

Arriving in England at the end of April 1896, Prince Eugen wrote to his mother, Queen Sophia of Sweden, 'There is so much to do and there is so much that I would like to see'.

Having spent his first day in London, the Prince travelled to Newport, Essex and then on to the village of Widdington, where he visited the artists Sir George Clausen RA and his wife Agnes Mary Webster. While the Prince's companions remained in Newport, Eugen stayed overnight at the Clausens' country cottage.[1] In his letter to Queen Sophia, he admitted that he was nervous about staying, because he felt his English may not be good enough. Despite his initial worries, he wrote that Clausen turned out to be 'one of the kindest people' he had ever met, and that they talked about 'everything', including 'art, and philosophy of art'.

Prince Eugen was struck by the beauty of the English countryside. He wrote 'England in the spring is glorious, fruits, flowers, lawns, and flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere. The little white houses with their gardens are as pretty in the sunshine as in the moonlight'. Despite wishing to extend his stay with the Clausens, the Prince continued on to Cambridge, where he spent the 'loveliest quiet Sunday that you could ever imagine' marvelling at the 'beautiful' colleges and attending church.

Visiting Cambridge provided a leisurely interlude, before his return to London, upon which he began his 'campaign' to convince British artists to contribute works to the 1897 Stockholm Exhibition. 'Most of the artists are in London', Eugen explained to Queen Sophia, 'so it should not take too long'. On his first day, however, the Prince of Wales requested to see him. Following the postponement of several studio visits, and in order to see the Royal Academy exhibition, he extended his trip into the beginning May (after which he would continue his 'campaign' in Paris).

Returning to his correspondence at the end of the day, the Prince added a few lines in which he described his encounters with both Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. He found Millais and his 'lovely' wife Effie Gray to be quite 'frail', but 'most gracious', and was thrilled that they agreed to send works to Stockholm. Burne-Jones on the other hand was described as a 'lovable gentleman, with the most beautiful voice'. He too agreed to contribute to the exhibition, and the Prince delighted in listening to Burne-Jones talking about his art.[2]

His next letter to his mother, dated 29 April 1896, began: 'I am still content and even more pleased with my stay in England…It is a delightful country, pure and simple.' On the Sunday, with no visits to artist studios on his agenda, the Prince and his companions travelled by mail coach to Hampton Court. Among his companions that day was the architect of Prince Eugen's Waldemarsudde, Ferdinand Boberg, and his wife, the artist Anna Boberg. From the Palace the group rowed to Richmond, where they dined by the light of the 'dying sun', overlooking the 'beautiful contours of the poplars, leafy trees, balustrades, and sculptures'. Comparing the scene to Italy, Eugen vividly described how the lights of London began to 'twinkle in the distance like a world of stars', whilst the boats below 'glided like fireflies over the river'.

In his correspondence, Prince Eugen was particularly delighted to share an account of his first visit to G F Watts's studio at 6 Melbury Road, London. He 'is the most interesting personality I have met so far, and even outdid Burne-Jones' he wrote. According to the Prince, the 'grand' Watts 'had more depth' and was so 'lovable that you cannot help being captivated by the Old Man'. By this time, the artist was nearing 80, but Eugen found him to be as strong in body and youthful in his mind as himself. The Prince went on to describe how Watts had been forthcoming in their conversation about his art and philosophy 'but in such a humble and natural way that one was quite moved and felt as if one was becoming a better person'.

From this correspondence, I have been able to uncover that Sir George Clausen played an important part in introducing Prince Eugen to Watts. Clausen wrote to Watts before his visit, explaining that the Prince was also a serious artist in his own right. Prince Eugen believed that this introduction had 'done much good' in establishing the warm and lasting friendship with Watts that followed.

I do hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour from London to Widdington, Cambridge, and back again. Next time, we will join Prince Eugen at Limnerslease (the Wattses' studio-home), London's Royal Academy, and on a rather comical visit to the studio of James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

[1] The Prince was accompanied by Baron Rolf Cederström and C. A. Ossbahr of the Royal Armoury

[2] Sadly, it was only Burne-Jones's painting The Fall of Lucifer (1894) that would be shown in Stockholm. The 'frail' Millais passed away shortly after Eugen's visit. For more on Burne-Jones and Watts at the General Art and Industrial Exposition in Stockholm see Karin Sidén, 'Prince Eugen, Pre-Raphaelite Art, and Arts and Crafts: A Swedish Context' in Edward Burne-Jones: The Pre-Raphaelites and the North Ed. by Alison Smith, Knut Ljøgodt, Karin Sidén and Line Daatland (Stockholm: Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, 2019), pp. 203-209

Image: G F and Mary Watts in Little Holland House