This appears to be the painting shown by Watts at the Dudley Gallery Winter Exhibition of 1880 as Rehearsing the Tableau (Art Journal, XIX, 1880, p.46). The painting was later retitled Joan of Arc. Depictions of women in armour were a recurring theme amongst Watts’ contemporaries. Millais painted a notable Joan of Arc, and Rossetti treated the subject numerous times. If Watts had a British heroine in mind, he might have thought of Britomart, celebrated in Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the virgin knight of Chastity, preserver of English virtue.
The sitter has been identified as Violet Lindsay (later the Duchess of Rutland), whom Watts portrayed in several other pictures of the same period. Lindsay was an artist herself, and renowned for portraits of other members of her circle, known as 'The Souls', finely executed in pencil or silver-point. Lindsay was one of the first exhibitors at the Grosvenor Gallery upon its opening in 1877, and she exhibited widely in Britain, France and the United States until her death in 1937. The Grosvenor Gallery was owned by her great-uncle Sir Coutts Lindsay. Mrs Watts' manuscript record of her husband's work notes that the suit of armour worn by Violet belonged to Sir Coutts.
The first owner of this picture was Alexander 'Alecco' Ionides (1840-1898), who with his father Alexander and his four siblings, was a leading patron and intimate friend of many in the Pre-Raphaelite circle. An Anglo Greek family who had originally settled in Manchester with the intention of exporting cotton to Greece and Turkey, the Ionides were significant patrons of Watts, especially after their move to Holland Park where they were neighbours. Alexander’s first commission went to Watts and the artist was to paint five generations of the family. Alecco was a notable collector of Tanagra figurines and Greek vases. The figurative subject of this picture would have appealed to him. His brother Constantine’s collection of over 1,000 works was bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum after his death in 1900.
We are grateful to Nicholas Tromans for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.