Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis (1830-1916), I quote from the Wikipedia entry:.
Wallis is best remembered for his first great success, The Death of Chatterton, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856. The painting depicted the impoverished late 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton, who poisoned himself in despair at the age of seventeen, and was considered a Romantic hero for many young and struggling artists in Wallis's day. .... He (Wallis) used a bold colour scheme with a contrasting palette and he exploited the fall of the natural light through the window of the garret to implement his much loved style at the time, chiaroscuro.So the painting captures the idea of the romantic but unrecognised artistic hero dying alone in his garret. In one of his comments, 2tanners took a very modern and prosaic view of the artist in the garret.
The artist in the garret implies mediocre commercial success (and therefore critical acclaim). Sometimes this can make you hungry in ways that don't involve food, and keep you there. Success can make you more casual about what you do. This isn't restricted to art, the saying "Stay hungry, or success will kill you" is a business mantra.
*Starving* in a garret is a different thing, IMHO. To any self respecting artist, you do need to stay alive and feed your family (or contribute). I have two writer friends who thank their lucky stars for retail stores like JB Hi-Fi. They can work there to get through the lean times and are valued by their employers for their stability, lack of retail ambition (they don't want to join the managerial ranks) and knowledge of the product range. But they are writers, first and foremost.
Oh dear.It quite takes the romance out of it all. But where did the garret phrase come from. According to Victoria S Dennis, an English writer called Samuel Foote (1720-1777) summarised the life of an author as "Born in a cellar.and living in a garret".Foote was talking about writers, not painters.
In the 18th century the figure of the literary man living in poverty because his ideas were too unfashionable or politically unsafe to sell well was, according to Victoria, a familiar cliché. By contrast, during the same period the painter was seen as a craftsman who by definition worked for the rich, and therefore should make a comfortable living if he were any good. "The idea of the painter as a rebel genius who is poor because he only paints what inspires him and refuses to prostitute his gift by painting pictures people want to buy" is, Victoria says. "a creation of 19th-century Romanticism."
Victoria did not know at what date the cliché came to be "starving" rather than just "living" in the garret. Her guess was in the second half of the 19th century. In the 18th century everyone knew that people only lived in garrets if they were too poor to afford anything better. "After the Romantics had made the idea of a delightfully bohemian life in a garret fashionable (in theory and in novels, at any rate), it became necessary to stress the idea of poverty."
This is the painting of the English writer George Meredith painted in 1893 by George Frederic Watts. In 1856 Meredith posed as model for The Death of Chatterton.
In 1849, Meredith had married Mary, a widow with one child. In 1853, a son (Arthur) was born to the couple.
Mary has been described as beautiful, intelligent, outspoken and ambitious. The marriage was apparently troubled. .Around the time that The Death of Chatterton was painted, Mary began an affair with Henry Wallis. In 1858, pregnant, she ran off with Wallis shortly before giving birth, leaving Arthur behind. It was a short relationship, with Mary dying in 1861.
Like many writers, Meredith seems to have drawn from his experiences in his writing. The collection of "sonnets" entitled Modern Love(1862) emerged, as did The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, his first "major novel". I haven't read the book nor indeed any of Meredith's writing, yet another gap in my knowledge! However, the novel's opening has been described in this way: "Sir Austin Feverel's wife deserts him to run away with a poet, leaving her husband to bring up their boy Richard. Believing schools to be corrupt, Sir Austin, a scientific humanist, educates the boy at home with a plan of his own devising known as "the System". This involves strict authoritarian supervision of every aspect of the boy's life, and in particular the prevention of any meeting between Richard and girls of his own age."
I don't think that Meredith believed in the principles involved, the book is in part a conflict between harsh principles and reality leading to apparently to an ultimate happy ending, but I was left with a strong impression of possible conflict between the serious self-focused Meredith and Mary's own strong personality.
In all this, after researching this post I was left dissatisfied. What happened to Mary's first child? What happened to the child born after Mary left to join Henry Wallis? How did Mary die? I would like to know more.
Thanks to leads supplied by kvd, we have more information on Mary Ellen Meredith. This is a pencil drawing of Mary made by Henry Wallis around 1856.She was clearly an attractive woman.
A piece by Elvira Casal in The Victorian Web provides more information on Mary and the various relationships, with a little more added in the text attached to the pencil drawing..
Continued deterioration in the Meredith marriage culminated in Mary's 1858 elopement Wallis. While Meredith never forgave Mary, his books suggest that he seems to have understood what drove her to elopement. In 1861, Mary died from what was probably a form of Bright's disease. Despite his resentment over the desertion, George had grudgingly allowed Arthur to visit his mother, especially during her last days.