August 2, 1788, Thomas Gainsborough, popular English portrait and landscape painter, died.
Frances Rolleston was only seven years old at the time, so it seems unlikely that she knew of the event. Her own portrait was never painted, later by her own choice, but also because the Rolleston fortune was diminished by her time.
There is one Gainsborough portrait of interest in connection with Frances Rolleston. That is the one below of the actress Sarah Siddons. Frances' good friends agreed that except for the hair and eye color, the portrait resembled her. (Frances' eyes were blue and her hair when young was brown.)
A few more Gainsborough portraits
In January 1864, Frances Rolleston was doubting if she would ever again be well enough to write, but by February 5th she was enjoying renewed health—although this was to be the last winter of her life. She wrote to a friend about her pleasure at finding herself again able to paint, and she told the story of how for years the money earned from her paintings paid her part in the use of a small pony who pulled her little cart around the Lake District.
Frances became quite fond of this "gentlest of ponies . . . who draws the fairy gig, and looks like a fairy steed in it.” Even with a group, Shelty was strong enough to go eighteen miles two days in a row. Before Frances gained the use of Shelty, the pony had already had a long life of hard work and hard living,
Readers will enjoy the chapter about Shelty in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
While in Malvern, just before her relocation to Keswick, FR made the acquaintance of two sisters, Bessie and Caroline Dent. They found their interests so similar and the sisters were so taken with FR's theory of the constellations, that they were instant close friends. These interests included poetry, painting, and the Scriptures.
Since FR was older than they, the sisters began to call her "Aunt," and she was delighted by this new relationship. So many of her friends had already died that at times she felt bereft.
The women sent their sketches, paintings and poetry to one another, sometimes just to share it and sometimes seeking advice. This excerpt from a letter demonstrates their mutual affection.
To the Misses Dent. Keswick, January 17th, 1849.
I think I ought to write an epitaph "on two fair sisters smothered in sonnets," by a cruel aunt, as bad as an uncle, vide Babes in the Wood—for lo! here are more that would be written, it's no use resisting, when the thought has rolled in my brain the destined time, out it will come. And of most of these the first idea was spoken to you, on the scenery viewed together.
June 5, 1847
FR arrived in the English Lakes District for the first time. At last she laid eyes on real mountains. She had admired them in paintings and copied paintings of them, but had never seen them.
"The vision of my youth is before me, at length I have seen the mountains, and the reality is even far beyond the pictures I have often copied and oftener admired. The forms, the colour, are equally beyond the reach of art; poetry and imagination had gone nearer, in Wordsworth's Excursion I had seen them far better."
On this first visit, FR stayed at Bowness. The next spring she moved to Keswick, where she remained for the last 15 years of her life.
The photo above is of Derwent Water next to Keswick taken on my trip this past April.
FR writes in expectation of her friend Cary Dent's coming visit for the month of June. FR now lives in Keswick, in the Lake District of England, a favorite haunt of painters and poets. An important activity during the visit will be painting together. FR urges Cary to "Bring all your apparatus for water-colours" because although fine weather will allow them to spend time in the mountains and on the lake, "on rainy days we paint."
The watercolor box above resides in the Victoria & Albert museum. It is probably very like the one FR used as a young woman.