Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 27 (1996) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Last summer, while compiling a checklist of art objects owned by the Clark Library, Renee Chin, a UCLA undergraduate and a Getty intern, discovered a portrait of George Eliot in the art storage room. Senior Library staff had not seen this portrait before and an internal inventory conducted in 1936 appears to have been the last documentation of its existence.
The painting was executed early in 1850 during Eliot's stay abroad. The previous summer, Eliot had travelled to the Continent with her friends Charles and Cara Bray. When the Brays returned to England, Eliot remained in Geneva and in October became a boarder at the home of a Swiss artist, Francois D' Albert Durade, and his family. In a letter to the Brays dated 15 February 1850, Eliot writes: 'You will be amused to hear that I am sitting for my portrait - at M.D' Albert's request - not mine. If it turns out well, I shall long to steal it to give to you - but M. D' Albert talks of painting a second and in that case I shall certainly beg one' (G. S. Haight, ed., The George Eliot Letters, Yale, 1954-78).
Although there is no evidence that the Brays ever received a copy, D' Albert did eventually paint several. Kathleen Adams (Those of Us Who Loved Her, George Eliot Fellowship, 1980) identifies three copies: 'One of them was purchased from the painter's son Alphonse in 1905 by the National Portrait Gallery .... A second copy was given to Mary Ann [George Eliot] and was sold with other relics of George Eliot by the executors of Gertrude Lewes ... in June 1923. Its present whereabouts are unknown. A third copy was painted for John Cross in 1881 and this now hangs in Coventry City Libraries.' Haight mentions a fourth, an enlarged version painted by D' Albert in 1885 and presented by his sons to the Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire in Geneva.