Choosing, by G. F. Watts, depicting dame Ellen Terry.
Ellen Terry was G. F. Watts’ wife for ten months. They met at Sara Prinsep’s house upon the intellectual circles of victorian society. Watts fell in love with Ellen when she was 16, but the young woman had long iniciated a career in theater.
Watts had hopes of “saving” Ellen from the vicissitudes of theater life and turn her into a lady by marrying her. He did, but the marriage lasted merely 10 months and was described as being turbulent. Eventually, Watts remaried and Ellen Terry became one of the most successfull actresses of victorian society, being depicted in paintings and photographs of famous artists, such as John Singer Sargent.
Watts, being part of the symbolist movement, depicted Ellen Terry in the above painting in the moment she is about to make a decision. This was painted on their honeymoon when she was just 17.
She leans over a camellia and sniffs it. On her other hand, she holds some violets. Camellias, although beautiful flowers, have no scent. Violets, however, stand for faithfullness and modesty.
Watts depicted in this painting the inner turmoil of their marriage. Ellen seems inclined towards the Camellias, as if having already made her decision. And the Violets lay on her hand, as if forgotten.
There is a certain melancholy to it that Julia Margaret Cameron will capture in Ellen’s famous portrait, curiously titled Sadness. Meanwhile, Watts becomes Cameron’s most proeminent aesthetic advisor. Ten years later, Cameron photographs Maud, from Tennyson’s famous poem. Even then, there is a certain melancholy and sadness that doesn’t just remind us of it literary source. The pose of Maus leaning against the dead roses are somwhat reminiscent of Ellen Terry’s decision and her iconic Sadness.