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Picturing a World

Ellen Clacy

Serendipity landed me on an unattributed posting of this image. I have a friend who has a specialist’s knowledge of blue-and-white china, so pictures of it always catch my eye. This painting, moreover, made me think of Jeanette at the Musée Cluny. Judging by the form-fitting front to the dress, I estimated the period to be around 1879 (again tying it to Jeanette). A little searching tracked the picture to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the date—ca. 1880. So satisfying to be proven right!

Little is known about Ellen Louise Clacy. Her mother (also Ellen Clacy) went out to Australia in 1852 and wrote about her experiences in A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53, Written on the Spot. On shipboard returning to England (without a husband), she gave birth to little Ellen. The elder Clacy published four more books but seems to have died poor, and the daughter is known by only a few pictures. But they include this very accomplished watercolor of a china closet at the Sackville family's 15th C castle, Knole, as well as two other interiors at Knole. Apparently, she had talent, training, and entrée.

Seems to me that the two women could inspire an historical novel. Rather than write about the famous, I prefer to that invent my main characters; but it remains important to base them on something real. This pair certainly points toward fascinating realms for research and imagination.

For three paintings including two more of Knole, click here

For three watercolors that imply a story, click here.

For the watercolor of a room in the Cluny by Ernest Guilliaud (1882) that inspired a paragraph or two in Where the Light Falls and reflects a similar sensibility to Clacy's, click here.
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