Portrait of Emma and Federica Bankes of Soughton Hall at their dressing table signed and dated 'Henry T. Wells./1869.' (lower left) oil on canvas 145.5 x 122cm (57 5/16 x 48 1/16in).
PROVENANCE: Soughton Hall, by family descent, until 2010.
Emma and Federica Bankes were the granddaughters of Henry Bankes MP, of Kingston Lacy. Their father, Edward, was the youngest of four sons and as such would not have expected to inherit, however his elder brother, the eccentric traveller and antiquarian, William, died childless in Venice in 1855 and Edward inherited Soughton Hall. The hall had been extensively remodelled with the help of Sir Charles Barry with the addition of Islamic turrets that were designed to remind William of his travels.
Henry Tanworth Wells was born in December 1828. He trained as a lithographic draughtsman, but soon began work as a miniature painter. He was friends with many of the Pre-Raphaelites and met regularly with the likes of Rossetti, Frederick Smallfield and George Price Boyce, whose sister Joanna Mary he married in Rome in 1857. From 1861 Wells turned almost exclusively to full scale portraiture and exhibited at the Royal Academy every year bar one from then until his death in 1903. Among his notable sitters were Charles West Cope RA (1880), Frederic, Lord Leighton PRA (1882), James Sant RA (1893), and Sir Frank Dicksee RA (1895).
The Pre-Raphaelite influence is clear in the portrait of Emma and Federica Bankes. The young girls are portrayed at a pivotal point in their lives, on the verge of adulthood; the wider world outside suggested in the glance of one sister towards the window as she fits a carnation to her hair. This gentle narrative is combined with exquisite technique to produce a work of exceptional quality and illustrates clearly why Wells was so highly regarded in his own time.