Marie Spartali Stillman’s beauty is apparent in works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, but her talent shines in the exquisite Pre-Raphaelite paintings she herself created.
Marie was the daughter of a wealthy Greek cotton merchant; both artistic talent and beauty were family traits. Artists Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Ionides were her cousins. The trio were referred to as “The Three Graces” by their contemporaries.
Marie studied under Ford Madox Brown, developing her skills as a Pre-Raphaelite artist. While honing her craft, she also modeled for several exquisite works.
In 1871, Marie married William J.Stillman, an American journalist and photographer. Stillman was a widower with three children at the time of their marriage; the couple went on to have three more children together, although, unfortunately, one died at less than a year old.
The Stillmans spent much of their life traveling due to William’s role as a foreign correspondent. Marie continued to paint and exhibit her work throughout, simultaneously traveling and maintaining a family. Dante Gabriel Rossetti once said that he suspected that her painting “must go on over her baby’s head,” as he didn’t think she would stop painting for motherly duties, so deep was her passion.
Marie’s works largely draw upon literature and Arthurian legend, as well as a heavy dose of Italian and Dantean subjects. She also painted incredibly beautiful and detailed landscapes while traveling in Rome.
In a time when women were not encouraged to pursue careers, Marie Spartali Stillman doubled down by devoting herself to her work while supporting her family. With a career that spanned four decades, Marie Spartali Stillman, as both painter and subject, is a worthy example of Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.