One of Shannon's most haunting works, dating from about 1899, the picture shows two girls masquerading in Van Dyck costume; the one on the right actually holds a mask. The picture has also been called Les Marmitons (The Scullions) because of the 'chef's hat' worn by the seated figure. It was developed from another work entitled Souvenir of Van Dyck (Miss Kate Hargood), dated 1897 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; illustrated in E.B.G., Charles Shannon, London, 1924, pl. 1). Souvenir of Van Dyck shows only the standing figure, but she wears the 'chef's hat' worn by the seated figure in Rose and Blanche. The table-cloth, vase of flowers and lemons on a dish are also anticipated.
Van Dyck was a lasting influence on Shannon as a painter, and the enthusiasm was also reflected in the collection, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, that he formed with his lifelong friend, Charles Ricketts. They owned a number of the master's drawings as well as the original version of his portrait of Archbishop Laud, one of their greatest treasures.
Another strong influence on the picture is that of Whistler. This is mainly evident in the subdued and tonal colour scheme, but there is perhaps a faint echo of the famous Miss Cicely Alexander (Tate Gallery) in the pose of the standing figure. Ricketts and Shannon not only lived in Whistler's old house in The Vale, Chelsea, in the 1890s, but knew the artist himself and admired his work. Whistler returned the compliment, being fascinated by Shannon's painting technique. In fact this very picture was the one that arrested his attention. 'Standing before one of Shannon's paintings, Les Marmitons', Paul Delaney writes in his biography of Ricketts, 'he is reported to have exclaimed repeatedly "How is it done? How is it done?"'
Whistler probably saw the picture at the International Society, where it was exhibited in 1901. The Society had been established in 1898. Whistler was its first president, and Ricketts and Shannon were on the original committee, together with John Lavery, William Rothenstein and others. When Whistler tried to co-opt his protégés Albert Ludovici and Joseph Pennell, there was a general falling out and Ricketts and Shannon resigned, although they later rejoined the Society and became two of its most active members. Whistler remained president until his death in 1903, when he was succeeded by Rodin.
The picture was not for sale when it appeared at the International, but by 1920, when it was listed in Herbert Furst's monograph, it belonged to Sir Edmund Davis. Australian by birth, Davis had made a fortune out of mining in South Africa before settling in London. His wife Mary had been taught painting by Shannon in the 1890s, and Ricketts and Shannon advised the couple on forming a magnificent collection of old master and modern paintings. The Davises had a London house in Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill, and a country retreat, Chilham Castle, in Kent. The bond with Ricketts and Shannon was further strengthened when the artists took an apartment in Lansdowne House, a block of studios which Davis built further up Lansdowne Road in 1902 (James Pryde and Cayley Robinson were also tenants), and subsequently occupied the keep at Chilham for country weekends. Examples of their work were not only in Davis's own collection but in the groups of paintings by British artists which in gave to the Luxembourg in Paris in 1915 and to the South African National Gallery, Capetown, 1935-80.
From the Davises the picture passed to another great admirer of Shannon's work, Francis Howard. Howard was the American stepson of an Irish newspaper proprietor and politician. Trained as an artist, he not only conceived the idea of the International Society but served as its secretary. Some of the finest works by Ricketts and Shannon in the Tate Gallery, including Ricketts's bronze Orpheus and Eurydice and Shannon's portrait of Mrs Patrick Campbell, were presented by Francis Howard.
There is an oil study for the picture, dated 1897, in the Tate Gallery (illustrated in Darracott, op. cit., p. 69).
We are grateful to Dr Michael Barclay for his help in preparing this entry.