Yes, we've had women reading letters, women writing letters, women dreaming happily or sadly over letters, but never before a woman tearing up a letter. I saw this rather amazing painting for the first time a few days ago on a blog I read regularly called Cosy Books. Darlene, who writes the blog, lives in Canada but is a great lover of London, where this was painted, though she saw it in the National Gallery in Ottowa, where it lives.
The painting, just called 'The Letter', is by the great French artist James (originally Jacques Joseph) Tissot (1836-1902), who spent most of his working life in London. It apparently depicts 'Lady Holland vigorously tearing up a letter from her adopted daughter, Marie Liechtenstein'. Well! Being a bit of a terrier when it comes to interesting facts, I was keen to know more. Marie, it turns out, was a foundling, adopted at three months old by Henry Fox, 4th Baron Holland, and his wife, the former Lady Augusta Coventry. It was rumoured that she was in fact Henry's daughter, and as I know quite a bit about Henry, who was a bit of a lad to say the least, I think this is pretty likely. Anyway, be that as it may, she was brought up in London, turned out vey pretty, and made a fine match to Prince Louis of Liechtenstein, quite an achievement considering the mystery of her origins. She had four daughters, wrote a celebrated history of Holland House where she was brought up, translated books from German into English, all before her tragically early death in 1878 at the age of just 26.
But what of the letter, you may be asking? Well, she is said to have become estranged from her mother (all this is thanks to Wikipedia) but I must say I find it hard to believe that Tissot would have painted a society woman tearing up a letter from her daughter in a rage even if they were estranged. As the painting is dated 1878, the year of Marie's death, I wonder if the letter is carrying that sad news, and the mother is experiencing a mixture of guilt and grief?