Portrait of Charles Edward Perugini (1839-1918) signed with monogram (middle right) oil on canvas 35.5 x 30 cm. (14 x 11 3/4 in.)
Provenance: A gift to Perugini from the artist; By descent to Eduardo Carlos Perugini, the artist's brother; thence through the Perugini family to the present owners.
Leightons portrait of his friend and protégé Carlo (Charles Edward) Perugini (1839-1918) is one of those exciting discoveries of a lost painting, having remained within the sitters family until the present day. Painted in Paris during September or October 1855, its reappearance is of particular importance, especially as Leighton executed it as a personal memento and described it in such glowing terms. Shortly after arriving in Paris in September 1855 and having eventually found a studio at 21 Rue Pigalle, Leighton wrote to his father: I have nothing what ever to tell you, except that I have just finished a head of Carlo Perugini (for myself), which is the best thing of the kind I ever did. It has not interfered with my picture1, but has stopped up unavoidable gaps .2 The following month he once more mentioned Perugini in a letter written from Paris to his mother; dated October 26 it noted Carlo Perugini, whom I saw to-day, sends tante cose to his cousin. He is a charming boy, most gentlemanlike, and has that peculiar childlike simplicity which belongs to none but Italians.3 That view was later confirmed when Perugini was described as a man of great charm .a man of peculiar fascination, with a quiet, refined manner which friends found most attractive.4
According to family repute, Perugini is shown dressed up for a fancy-dress party; he appears to have had a penchant for such costume since a slightly later photograph of him dating from the 1860s5 shows him in a different fancy-dress guise. While a less flamboyant photograph of him in a suit6 shows him as here, facing slightly to the left to reveal the same handsome Italianate features, with his magnificent beard and moustache and mass of dark wavy hair with its distinctive central parting. Perugini most probably served as a model for Leighton on other occasions, as he did for William Blake Richmond.
By 1855 Leighton had already showed a prowess for portraiture as witnessed by such works as Ida, Adrian and Frederick Marryat, 1851-2 (formerly in the Forbes Magazine Collection) or Isabel Laing (Lady Nias) of 1853 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). His ability in capturing a likeness was profound, whether when painting a commissioned work or a more personal piece such as his own self-portrait of 1852 (Städelsches Kunstintitut, Frankfurt am Main) or indeed one of his friend Perugini.
Born on 1st September 1839 in Naples to Italian parents, Carlo spent his childhood in England and later became a British citizen. It is noted that when Perugini was about eleven his drawings were shown to Horace Vernet. Impressed by these early works, Vernet recommended that he should study in Rome where it is said he trained under Giuseppe Bonelis and Giuseppe Mancinelli.7 It was also in Rome that he first met Leighton. The two were then reunited in Paris, where Perugini worked under Ary Scheffer, who even in maturity was one of the leading lights of the Paris Salon. Interestingly he was working in Scheffers studio at about the time or certainly soon after Leighton painted this portrait for we know that Perugini was there during late 1855 when Charles Dickens visited Sheffers studio for several portrait sittings (1855; National Portrait Gallery). Coincidentally Dickens was accompanied by his daughter Kate (1839-1929), later to become Peruginis wife. However they did not meet then but were introduced many years later at Leightons London home.
The second and much loved daughter of the great British novelist, Kate firstly married the Pre-Raphaelite painter Charles Allston Collins (1828-73), son of William Collins R.A. and brother of Wilkie Collins, the novelist. Though her marriage to Collins had been content it lacked the passion and true love she experienced with Perugini. A recent biography of Kate, or Katey as she was also known, has revealed that she and Perugini broke protocol by marrying barely five months after Collinss death. Their first secret marriage performed at a registry office, September 1873 was followed by a more public ceremony at St. Pauls Church, Knightsbridge in June the following year.8 Early in their marriage, the Peruginis lived in Warwick Street, after 1891 they moved to Victoria Road but also spent time at Sevenoaks in Kent.
It was Leighton who had encouraged Perugini to settle in London, where he, like John Hanson Walker, became one of a number of young aspiring artists whom Leighton took under his wing, helping him both financially and by giving encouragement. In particular Leighton suggested to Henry Cole that Perugini could be useful doing decorative projects at South Kensington. As far as finances were concerned, Leighton paid him between £100-200 each year during the 1870s.9 This may have been because Perugini was working as Leightons studio assistant; alternatively Perugini may have had difficulty in selling his paintings. He worked as a portraitist but tended to specialise in genre scenes, especially of elegant ladies in a romantic setting, whilst his interest in antiquity and allusions to the classical world reflected the style and subjects of his mentor. Elegance, purity, and correctness of draughtsmanship, perfect refinement and dignity, grace and charm, delicacy in colour, and tenderness of harmonious line these are the qualities of his academic art so wrote the biographer of his obituary.10
Perugini began to make a name for himself at the annual exhibitions. From 1863 up until 1914 he showed some fifty works at the Royal Academy; others were exhibited at the New and Grosvenor Galleries, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and other London venues. Perugini also exhibited in provinces, notably at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and to a lesser extent in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. The Walker Gallery still owns his painting Fidelity while Sunderland Art Gallery houses another of a similar nature entitled The Course of Love as well as several studies of Kate. Like so many of his contemporaries, Perugini also executed a number of portraits, including that of John Forster, Charles Dickenss biographer and one of Miss Helen Lindsay (1891), daughter of Sir Coutts Lindsay founder of the Grosvenor Gallery.
In 1860 Perugini joined the Artists Rifle Corps, where he served for twelve years. Other members included Leighton, Val Prinsep (whom Kate had once been in love with), J. E. Millais, Fred Walker and G.F. Watts (honorary member only), who in addition to their duties enjoyed a fine social life. He and Kates circle of friends embraced many other leading artists including Alma-Tadema and literary figures but Millais, who often advised both Kate and Carlo on their art and also loved playing cards with the latter, appears to have been Peruginis closest friend.
Like her husband, Kate also made her name as a painter; her subjects tended toward women and children and were sometimes taken from her fathers novels. Though she had trained at Bedford College it was not until after her marriage to Carlo that her style blossomed and she began to exhibit. Kate, who was nicknamed by her father Lucifer Box due to her fiery nature, was born a few months after Perugini on 29th October 1839 at Doughty Street (now the Dickens Museum) whilst her father was completing Nicholas Nickleby. Charming, intelligent and good looking she was portrayed by some of the great artists of her day including Daniel Maclise, then Marcus Stone and later by Millais, who also used her as a model in The Black Brunswicker (R.A. 1860). Their marriage was happy though Kate suffered bouts of depression especially following the deaths of her father in 1870 and then hers and Peruginis only son Dickie (1875-6). The death of her beloved husband was also a severe loss. Carlo Perugini died on 22nd December 1918 and was buried at St. Nicholass Church, Sevenoaks, Kent, next to his son Dickie and was later joined by his wife, Kate.
Notes: 1 Almost certainly The Triumph of Music, exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1856. 2 Mrs Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, 1906, vol. I, p. 237. 3 Ibid. p. 241. 4 The Times, May 10th 1929, p. 18. Kate Perugini obituary. 5 Lucinda Hawksley, Katey, 2006, p. 299. Photograph by David Wilkie Wynfield; Royal Academy of Arts. 6 Ibid. p. 299. Photographed in the studios of John and Charles Watkins; Royal Academy of Arts. 7The Times, 23rd December 1918, p. 6. Carlo Perugini obituary. 8 Hawksley, op. cit., pp. 254-5. 9 Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton, 1975, p. 75. 10The Times, op. cit.