Lady Susan Harriet Holroyd (1829-1894)

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This collection of pictures by Lady Susan Harriet Holroyd (1829-1894) were executed in the 1840s, preceding her marriage to Naturalist Edward Vernon Harcourt. They show a rich imagination and skilled hand, and reflect the literary and artistic tastes of early Victorian high society.

Lady Susan was clearly both well read and well travelled. Many of the pictures depict characters from the works of Sir Walter Scott, such as Rokeby, Lay of the Last Minstrel, The Monastery and The Abbot, and, as such, they show contemporary popularity for the new ‘historical’ novel and subjects inspired by myth and legend, medievalism, Chaucer and Shakespeare. These influences Lady Susan shared with her artistic contemporaries of the newly founded Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848), who were equally inspired by Scott: looking to history in rejection of the brutal materialism of the industrial revolution.

This taste for history, and medievalism in particular, may have begun for Lady Susan at a young age at the family home, Sheffield Place, a neo-Gothic house at Sheffield Park in Sussex, designed by James Wyatt around 1779. Susan grew up in a privileged household, daughter of George Holroyd, 2nd Earl of Sheffield (1802-1876), and Lady Harriet (1802-1889), daughter of Henry Lascelles, 2nd Earl of Harewood. The pictures in this collection also show Lady Susan copying various Reynolds portraits, having seen originals at nearby local estates, Buckhurst and Petworth.

In 1849, Susan Holroyd married Edward Vernon Harcourt (1825-1891), Naturalist, editor, travel writer and Conservative politician. Harcourt was author of two travel books, ‘Sketch of Madeira’ (1851) and ‘Sporting in Algeria’ (1859), and through his commentary on Madeira’s ornithology he exchanged letters with Charles Darwin. Lady Susan travelled with her husband, including in the year before her marriage, and a number of European landscape subjects in this collection possibly date from this time - at Gibraltar, Athens, Constantinople and Algiers, to name a few. In 1851 Lady Susan produced a book of lithographs of her drawings of Madeira, published in London by Thomas McLean, which showcases the quality of her draughtsmanship and copies of which are now extremely scarce.