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Kate Perugini Dickens (British painter) 1839 - 1929

Kate Perugini was a fascinating woman, not least because she was the younger daughter of the great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, whose rich and perceptive vision of personality is reflected in her charming genre paintings and portraiture. She was born on the 29 October 1839, at 18 Doughty Street (now the Dickens Museum) at the time her father was completing Nicholas Nickleby. She was christened Katherine Elizabeth Macready Dickens, her third name after that of the famous actor William Charles Macready, who was her father's friend and her godfather. Disliking any of her first names, she adopted the name Kate early in her childhood and was also known as Kitty by family members. Her father preferred to call her by her nickname 'Lucifer Box', given because of her fiery personality and strong will. Kate was her father's favourite child and adored by the many members of his wide literary circle. She was confident and precocious and was often the most vigorous and enthusiastic of actors and singers at musical evenings held by her parents. As a young woman, Kate was famed for her intelligence, talent and charm and was widely regarded as a beauty throughout her life. She was the subject of several portraits, including a drawing by Daniel Maclise of 1842 aged three, by Marcus Stone in her teens and by Millais as a more mature woman. She also posed for the figure of the woman in Millais' The Black Brunswicker, dressed in ravishing ivory silk. In 1860, shortly after her appearance in Millais' picture, Kate married Charles Allston Collins, the Pre-Raphaelite associate and brother of Wilkie Collins. Kate and Charles Collins had met through his association with Dicken's periodical Household Words, which Collins regularly illustrated. Kate's marriage to Collins was a happy one and widened her already extensive social circle. Unfortunately the happiness was relatively short-lived as Charles died in 1873 aged only forty-five. In 1875 Kate married for a second time, Carlo (Charles Edward) Perugini, who had been born in Naples but moved to England in his infancy. Perugini was apprenticed to the aged painter Ary Scheffer in Paris in the early 1860s and it was in Scheffer's studio that Kate and Charles Perugini's paths first crossed when she accompanied her father who was posing for a portrait. However the couple were not formally introduced at this time and met in London years later when Perugini was established as a notable artist. Both Kate and Carlo were much encouraged by Leighton who instilled in them a love of high finish and of elegant subjects and Venetian colour. Although she had painted and drawn since her days at Bedford College as a child, it was not until she married Perugini that she was nurtured as an artist and began to exhibit. She made her artistic debut at the Dudley Gallery with a picture entitled Song Without Words and began to exhibit at the Royal Academy and elsewhere from 1877. Her subjects were often of female figures sumptuously dressed, or pretty children playing in idyllic gardens. She was well regarded as an artist, adored as a wife and daughter and greatly respected by a large circle of friends, which included the artists Fred Walker, Marcus Stone and Val Prinsep. After her death aged ninety, her obituarist wrote ' She was a lady of rare charm and humour, who if she had not been a painter would assuredly have made a name as a writer. From her early childhood she won the hearts of all who knew her, beginning with her father’s literary and artistic circle, to the youngest generations in her long life... She was a lovable woman most fascinating in manner, with a sense of humour that she must have inherited from her father, an artist to the tips of her fingers, ever loyal to her friends and with a wonderful patience in the physical discomforts of her later years. It is given to few people to make as many loyal and loving friends as she did, and to leave such kindly memories behind her as she will to those who survive her.' (The Times, 10 May 1929) * * * Charles Edward Perugini (British painter) 1839 - 1918 Perugini was born in Naples, but lived with his family in England from the ages of six to seventeen. He trained in Italy under Giuseppe Bonolis and Giuseppe Mancinelli, and in Paris under Ary Scheffer. He became a protégé of Lord Leighton, who brought him back to England in 1863. Perugini may at first have worked as Leighton's studio assistant. Under Leighton's influence, he began as a painter of classical scenes; then "he turned to the more profitable pastures of portrait painting, and genre pictures of pretty women and children." In 1874, he married the youngest daughter of novelist Charles Dickens; as Kate Perugini she pursued her own artistic career, sometimes collaborating with her husband. Perugini's 1878 picture A Girl Reading, perhaps his best-known single work, is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery. It was bequeathed by James Thomas Blair in 1917. Perugini's portrait of Sophy Gray, the sister-in-law of Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais, was for many years mistaken for a work by Millais himself. Perugini and his wife maintained an active social life in artistic circles of their era.


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