The Person Behind the Painting - Mary Bartley known as Long Mary

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Posted 17th November 2020

The Person Behind the Painting - Mary Bartley known as Long Mary

Ann Laver,
Patron and longtime supporter

This informal study is of Watts' favourite model Mary Bartley, whom he affectionately called 'Long Mary' due to her statuesque proportions. Watts kept this painting in his own studio collection and where it now hangs. Mary, the daughter of a gardener, worked at Little Holland House as a housemaid to the Prinsep family. Struck by her long limbs, Watts obtained Sara Prinsep's permission to ask her to model. Eventually he persuaded her to pose in the nude. He studied her in motion and in repose in quickly executed drawings made on charcoal brown paper for her 'flexibility of movement as well as in the magnificence of line', In this double study, it is her face and vibrant hair that Watts captures in colour.

I adopted this painting because there appears to be little known about Mary as a person. Mary Jane Bartley was born in 1849, in Poulshot, Wiltshire. She was baptized at Bishops Cannings on the 8 July 1949, and recorded as Mary Jane Bartlett. Her father was given as a labourer. Mary was the eldest daughter of Thomas Bartlett and his wife, Charlotte Watts, who married in March 1845 at Southbroom, chapelry of Bishops Canning, Wiltshire. Thomas was described as a labourer and Charlotte as a servant and both made their marks. Thomas and Charlotte had an older child, William, also christened as Bartlett in November 1845. However, when a daughter was baptized privately on the 7th May 1848 and buried at 6 weeks, the name was given as Bartley. The surname stayed as Bartley.

The 1851 census lists the family in Old Park, Devises when Mary Bartley was aged 1. The 1861 census lists Mary, aged 12, on the Green at Poulshot. Thomas and Charlotte now had three more children, all listed as agricultural labourers' children.

Mary's mother had been a servant and to follow her mother, Mary was sent to London. She became a housemaid in Little Holland House. The exact date is not known but the earliest would have been when she was aged 13 in 1862. It was here that she met George Frederic Watts. He was living with Henry Throby Prinsep and his wife, Sara, in what has been described as a bohemian household. In 1864 Watts married the actress, Ellen Terry, at St Barnabas Church, Kensington, seven days before her seventeenth birthday. They separated ten months later at the beginning of January 1865 when a deed of separation was drawn up. Mary may have joined the household then as a maid, when she was aged 16. She became Watts's model and muse (a source of artistic inspiration) known as 'Long Mary'.

The Watts Gallery Library Catalogue lists that Watts made a plaster head study of Mary Bartlett. (The record gives her name as Mary Bartlett not Bartley). On the reverse is a typewritten paper label, “Model of Head of Long Mary by G F Watts"

Her face was used on several subject oil paintings including A Fair Saxon c.1868-70 showing a female figure in historic costume and Rhodopis 1868 a mythological subject featuring a half-length female nude. Both modelled from Long Mary.

A Fair Saxon


Long Mary was said to have influenced the sculptures Aurora and Watts first large mythological sculpture Clytie (1867-1881).

Plaster study of head of Aurora

Watts' wife, Mary Seton Watts, wrote:

'When painting Signor [Watts] referred to the studies made in charcoal on brown paper from this most splendid model [Long Mary] - noble in form and in the simplicity and innocence of her nature - a model of whom he often said that, in the flexibility of movement as well as in the magnificence of line, in his experience she had no equal. …… Watts continued to refer to the drawings he had made of her throughout his career. They formed what he called 'the grammar of the higher language of art'. Although he made exhaustive studies of Long Mary and of other models, his general aim in painting was to portray universal figures rather than individuals and he therefore created composite poses from various different drawings and then painted from these and from memory."

In 1867 Little Holland House was described by the Illustrated London News as where the walls were covered in Watts's masterly portraits and poetic studies and sketches. In 1867 he was elected Associate Member of the Royal Academy (ARA) in January and Royal Academician (RA) in December. Watts, during the time of Mary, c.1865-1870, was completing an array of artistic works.

In 1868 Watts was to sketch nude studies of Long Mary. Two being studies for Eve Tempted. The second of his three paintings called the Eve trilogy.

It was in 1870 that Watts met Mary Seton Fraser-Tytler, who later became his wife.

And on the 6th January 1870 Mary Bartley married a commission agent, William Sidney Pitcher. They were married by banns at St Barnabas Church, Kensington, where Watts had married five years earlier, Ellen Terry. Mary, aged 22, and William, both signed the register. Mary who originally came from a labourer's household had learnt to write in a flowing hand. Her father, Thomas, came from Wiltshire for the marriage, and was noted as a gardener and made his mark on the certificate.

Another witness signed herself as 'Emma'. She was Emma Graver, baptised in 1847, daughter of Mark and Jane Graver. The 1871 census listed Emma as a cook, aged 24, at Little Holland House. Henry Prinsep was head of the family along with his wife, Sara, and a niece. They had seven servants and one was Emma Graver. Watts was listed at Little Holland House as a lodger living with a valet in a separate part of the house, his studio, which he had built in part of the garden. In 1891 Emma married George Thompson known as Watts' sculptural assistant. They moved with the Watts' to Limnerslease. George died in 1904 the same year as Watts.

Mary Pitcher, had four children. Their first child, Georgina Alice Pitcher, was born on the 30 October 1870 at Mary's family home in Poulshot, Wiltshire. It was Mary's father who made his mark as informant and occupier of residence. Georgiana Alice Mary Pitcher was baptised on the 20 November at Poulshot, but her place of abode was given as London. The 1871 census for Mary Bartley now Mrs Pitcher, has not been found. Laura Edith Annie Pitcher was born in 1872 and died in 1873, Winifred Mary Pitcher was born in 1873, and Eleanor Louise was born in 1879, all registered in the Kensington area but baptised at Poulshot.

In 1881 Mary and her family lived in Paddington. Mary died on the 3 April 1882 at 14, Westbourne Park Villas, aged 34 years. She died of an enlarged thyroid gland which she had had for eight years, bronchitis which she had had for two months, and exhaustion. Her husband, William Sidney Pitcher, was present at her death. Mary left a young family aged 11, 8, and 2.