EDWARD HENRY WEHNERT NWS (1813-1868)
The Gardener's Daughter (England, 1860)
Watercolour on paper
Signed and dated lower right 1860
London, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, 1860
Description / Expertise
Edward Wehnert trained in Paris and returning home in 1833, he stopped off in Jersey, where he taught the young four-year-old prodigy, John Everett Millais. Wehnert lived and worked in London throughout his life and kept in touch with the young Pre-Raphaelite’s rapid rise to fame and with the themes he favoured. As so often with the Pre-Raphaelites, it became the case of a teacher being influenced by a former pupil. The Pre-Raphaelites drew heavily from literary sources; Shakespeare, Dante and contemporary poets such as Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose reworking of the Arthurian legends captured their imagination. Tennyson’s unrequited heroine inspired one of Millais’ most important early works, Mariana (1851).
Wehrnert’s glowing Pre-Raphaelite watercolour was inspired by Tennyson’s romantic verses, The Gardener’s Daughter, written in 1842. The poet described the elegy as an ‘English Idyl’, a love poem addressed to Rose, a young girl with soft brown hair and violet eyes. Tennyson describes the gardener’s daughter as she tenderly replaces the branch of a rose, blown across a path during a storm. Surrounded by the pure white blooms, she overshadows the rose’s beauty, a sight to make an old man young.
… For up the porch there grew an Eastern rose,
That, flowering high, the last night’s gale had caught,
And blown across the walk. One arm aloft—
Gown’d in pure white, that fitted to the shape—
Holding the bush, to fix it back, she stood,
A single stream of all her soft brown hair
Pour’d on one side: the shadow of the flowers
Stole all the golden gloss, and, wavering
Lovingly lower, trembled on her waist—
Ah, happy shade-and still went wavering down,
But, ere it touch’d a foot, that might have danced
The greensward into greener circles, dipt,
And mix’d with shadows of the common ground!
But the full day dwelt on her brows, and sunn’d
Her violet eyes, and all her Hebe bloom,
And doubled his own warmth against her lips,
And on the bounteous wave of such a breast
As never pencil drew. Half light, half shade,
She stood, a sight to make an old man young.