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Dilke, Emilia Francis Strong, Lady, née Emily Francis Strong [also published as "Mrs Mark Pattison"]

Date born: 1840

Place Born: Ilfracombe, Devon, United Kingdom

Date died: 1904

Place died: Pyrford Rough [Woking], Surrey, United Kingdom

British amateur author and art historian, popular writer on art, particularly French. Emilia Strong was the daughter of Henry Strong, a bank manager and amateur painter and Emily Weedon (Strong). Her father knew the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (1829-1896). Strong grew up in affluence and religious devotion; throughout her life she experienced religious hallucinations. Until she was forty-five, she used her middle and gender-ambiguous name "Francis." Educated by a capable governess, Strong moved to London at eighteen to study painting at the South Kensington School of Art. There she met the man who would become her second husband, Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911), three years her junior, also an art student. In London she met the writer George Eliot, and another Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). In 1861 she married Mark Pattison, twenty-seven years older than she and a Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Dour but with a predilection for German intellectualism, he introduced his wife to the work of the cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt and the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte (1798-1857). Among her friends at Oxford was Walter Pater. Her exposure to this more rigorous brand of scholarship perhaps accounts for her distance from the typical British sentimental art writing of, for example, John Ruskin. Her husband treated marriage as little more than one more student to train, and Pattison-Strong rebelled by publishing thinly disguised Arthurian-style legends of her unhappiness with Oxford and Pattison. Pattison-Strong embraced social concerns, as did many artists and art-writers of her time. She supported women's suffrage from the 1870s, and along with the artist William Morris (1834-1896) and Ruskin, espousing technical education for women. In 1875 Pattison-Strong renewed her acquaintance with Charles Dilke, and possibly may have had an affair with the notorious philandering Dilke (Eisler). She took up writing art criticism for The Portfolio and The Academy in 1870, becoming the latter's art editor in 1873. She reviewed the Paris Salons, positively remarking on the included paintings of Manet and Courbet. Casting about for assistance in publishing a book on the drawings of Etienne Delaune (1518-1583), she made the acquaintance of the art historian Eugène Müntz, director of the Bibliothèque de l'École des Beaux-Arts. Müntz was enthusiastic about her capabilities and the two remained friends their whole lives, though the work was never completed. In 1879 she published her first work of art history, The Renaissance of Art in France. Its numerous foreign quotations and reliance on the reader's knowledge of art history did not make it a popular success. Her next publication, a French-language monograph on Claude Lorrain, was part of the prestigious Bibliothèque Internationale de l'Art series. The Claude book included documents discovered by Pattison-Strong and the style, perhaps because it was not her first language, was spare and readable. Her marriage to Pattison ever in decline, she devoted her efforts on her most original work, Art in the Modern State. Although not published until 1888, the work examined the patronage of all the arts in seventeenth-century France. Anticipating later twentieth-century studies of guild and academy competitions, her work made heavy use of archival material. The book’s few illustrations and her unmasked dislike for the art that period covered probably factored in its meager sales. Mark Pattison died in 1884, but not before causing his wife’s mental collapse for which she took ample injections of morphine. Now a financially independent widow, Pattison-Strong was free to marry Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911), whose first wife had died in childbirth. Charles Dilke had switched careers from art to politics and was a leader in the radical wing of the Liberal party. They married in 1885; Strong changing her first name to “Emilia.” As Lady Dilke, she continued to champion Labour politics along with her husband. Political disappointment erupted for Charles, who was poised for election to Prime Minister, when politically-motivated trials exposed his numerous liaisons. Lady Dilke received the acknowledgement for her art history late in her life. In 1897 she was asked to write the preface to the Wallace Collection catalog, perhaps the finest private donation of French art to Britain. In 1899 she began to publish her comprehensive series on the art of the eighteenth century, French Painters, as the first title. Architects and Sculptors appeared in 1900, French Furniture and Decoration in 1901, and French Engravers and Draughtsmen in 1902. In Paris, she assisted in 1902 organizing an important 1904 exhibition of French art. After her death, her personal art library went to the British Museum (then known as the South Kensington Museum) library. Dilke's personal papers were donated to the Bibliothèque de l'École des Beaux-Arts in honor of her friendship with Müntz.

As an art historian, Dilke is remarkable for her even treatment of the arts in her scholarship. She approaches the decorative arts and sculpture equally with painting, something her contemporaries, even the Goncourts did not. Her writing, Colin Eisler observed, focuses on the facts of the object and not her emotional appreciation of it. Dilke was preceded in her gender by women like Anna Jameson but remains among the first women art historians and the very earliest to be concerned with primary source material as a component of art history.

Home Country:  United Kingdom

Sources:  Dilke, Charles W. "Emilia Dilke." introduction to, Dilke, Emilia Strong. The Book of Spiritual Life. London: J. Murray, 1905; Askwith, Betty. Lady Dilke: a Biography. London, Chatto & Windus, 1969; Eisler, Colin. "Lady Dilke (1840-1904): The Six Lives of an Art Historian." in Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Sherman, Claire Richter and Holcomb, Adele M., eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981, pp. 147-180; Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement 1901-1911, pp. 507-8; Dictionary of Art 8: 895-6; Israel, Kali. Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Bibliography: The Renaissance of Art in France. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1879; Claude Lorrain: sa vie et ses œuvres. Paris, J. Rouam, 1884. preface by. Bulley, A. Amy, and Whitley, Margaret. Women's Work. Social Questions of To-day 13. London: Methuen, 1894; French Painters of the XVIIIth Century. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1899; French Architects and Sculptors of the XVIIIth Century. London, G. Bell and Sons, 1900; French Furniture and Decoration in the XVIIIth Century. London, G. Bell and sons, 1901; French Engravers and Draughtsmen of the XVIIIth Century. G. Bell and Sons, 1902.

Subject's name: Lady Dilke; Emilia Francis Strong; Emily Francis Strong; Mrs Mark Pattison