Pre-Raphaelite Stunner, Muse, and Painter. Maria Spartali was born into the wealthy, cultured, and sophisticated Greek community of London. As a young women she was trained by Maddox Brown, and modeled for Rossetti, whose influence was apparent in her own pictures, though it was later superseded by that of Burne-Jones.
Maria Stillman was widely known as the 'other' great Pre-Raphaelite beauty, the comparison being with Jane Morris. W Graham Robertson in his wonderful book, 'Time Was,' wittily described her as 'Mrs Morris for beginners!' Maria Spartali married the American journalist William J Stillman in 1871. Stillman was, incidentally, the model for Merlin in the famous Burne-Jones painting ' The Beguiling of Merlin.' After their marriage the Stillmans lived in Florence, and then Rome. These absences abroad did not prevent Maria Stillman from exhibiting regularly at the Grosvenor Gallery.
She often painted in watercolour, and her pictures are detailed, highly accomplished, and jewel-like, with a naive flat perspective. Many of her paintings are just quite simply beautiful. A remarkable woman.Obituary - The Times March 8th 1927.
The death of Mrs Stillman occurred on Tuesday, within a few days of the completion of her 84th year removes from amongst us the last of a generation. She was the single survivor since the death of Lady Burne-Jones seven years ago of a group of women remarkable alike for beauty and ability, for gifts and character. They belonged to that circle of artists in which Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Morris were the most distinguished names, and had no little share in creating the influence which, half a century ago, the circle exercised over the whole art and life of the age. With the great triad of those early and now remote days, Mrs Rossetti, Lady Burne-Jones, and Mrs Morris, she was almost a fourth, and of the two latter was a lifelong friend. Her father Michael Spartali was a wealthy merchant, one of the naturalized Anglo-Greek colony who counted among them some of the earliest admirers and most enthusiastic supporters of the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was for many years the Greek Consul-General in London. In the country house at Clapham to which they removed not long after Marieï¿½s birth, he and his wife (born Euphrosyne Varsami), gathered round them a large and varied cosmopolitan group of artists, musicians, and exiled Cretan and Italian nationalists. Here Marie Spartali, a lovely and high-spirited girl, grew up in an atmosphere of international culture. She early showed artistic promise; she worked at drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown, and became intimate with the other painters of that school.
In 1871 she married William James Stillman (well known afterwards for his long connection with The Times), then a widower with three young children. Mr and Mrs Stillman lived in England for the next six years, and thereafter for 11 years more divided their life between England and Italy, where Mr Stillman was correspondent for The Times at Rome. When he retired from the post in 1898, they settled down in Surrey, and since her husbandï¿½s death in 1902 Mrs Stillman had lived in London with her step-daughter, Mrs J H Middleton.
In such leisure as was afforded to her by a strenuous and arduous life, she went on painting steadily, and pictures of hers, showing the strong influence of Burne-Jones were exhibited for a good many years at the Grosvenor and New Galleries. As an artist she had taste, industry, and considerable imagination; it can hardly be said that she had high creative power, and her mastery over the technique of art was never very complete. Nor did her circumstances with household exigencies of a family of small means and the care of her stepdaughters and her own children, allow of her the pursuit of art wholeheartedly. But in that circle of artist she was not only loved as a friend but accepted as a colleague; and the close intimacy between her and the households of Burne-Jones, Morris, and W B Richmond was thus doubled. At one or other of those houses she was a guest no less frequent than welcome; welcome as an appreciator of their art and an artist herself, but even more, and pre-eminently for herself.
It would be difficult to convey to anyone who did not know her, the charm of her person and character. Of her incomparable and faultless beauty, which she retained in an extraordinary degree to the end of her long life, no adequate record exists; for she did not photograph well, and though she sat much both to Rossetti and to Burne-Jones, this was not so much for express portraits as for idealised figures inspired by and more or less resembling her. Perhaps the Danae of Burne-Jonesï¿½s ï¿½Brazen Tower,ï¿½ now in the Municipal Art Gallery at Glasgow, is what gives the nearest impression of her form and features-not of her colouring for she was dark-haired, and with it may be coupled-though here the mannerism of the artist detracts from the fidelity of the portraiture-the figure standing at the head of Beatrice in Rossettiï¿½s ï¿½Danteï¿½s Dream.ï¿½ Her wonderful beauty was enhanced by a wonderful lack of self-consciousness; it was combined with an indomitable spirit. Affectionate, and yet subtly malicious, and radiating rather than exerting an indefinable though insuperable charm, she retained throughout her life a delightful girlishness. Not only her children, and her grandchildren, but those of her friends found her almost a contemporary of their own, and one whom they could be and were immediately and spontaneously intimate.
Of her own three children, one did not survive infancy; a daughter Mrs Ritchie died leaving a young family in 1911, the only survivor is her son Michael who has lived in the United States for many years. Her two stepdaughters Miss Lisa Stillman and Mrs Middleton were all but blood true daughters to her, and were with her to the last.
Source: Victorian Art in Britain