Calliope Coronio belonged to the large Anglo-Greek family of Ionides which played such a crucial part in the history of later Victorian art and taste. Her mother, Aglaia Coronio, was the eldest daughter of Alexander Ionides, the wealthy head of a merchant house who had settled at Tulse Hill and was famous for his hospitality among the artistic, literary and diplomatic communities of London; while her uncles included Constantine Ionides, who formed the magnificent collection of paintings, drawings and prints now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Alexander ('Alecco') Ionides, who appears as 'the Greek, in Du Maurier's Trilby and created one of the great 'aesthetic' houses of the day at 1 Holland Park. Another uncle, Luke, who had belonged to the bohemian circle of Whistler and Du Maurier in Paris in the later 1850s, is generally remembered as the boon companion of Burne-Jones; while his sister Chariclia, the youngest of the siblings, married the musician Edward Dannreuther, who did so much to stimulate interest in Wagner in England. (For further information, see Julia Atkins, op.cit.).
Calliope's mother Aglaia was a woman of strong personality. An old friend of the family described her as having 'exceptional education, combined with a powerful intellect, sure judgement, and ... humour. The only fault one could have found with her was a certain eccentricity of thought and behaviour.' In 1855 she married Theodore Coronio (d.1903), and in 1869 they settled at 1A Holland Park, next door to her brother Alecco. The marriage was not a success; 'a good fellow and a wag, very handsome in his youth,' Coronio was unable to share his wife's intellectual interests, and she poured her formidable energy into friendships with the many artists in her family circle. She was particularly close to William Morris (her exact contemporary), with whom she conducted a long correspondence, but her advice was often sought by Rossetti and Burne-Jones over dresses and fabrics for their models, and she was a 'frequent visitor' of G.F. Watts, who (his wife recorded) 'appreciated her wit and the quiet discernment of her taste.'
Calliope, or 'Opie' as she was always known in the family, was her parents' eldest child, a brother, John, arriving a year later. At the age of about two she was painted by Watts, this portrait and one of the artist's paintings of her mother being offered in these Rooms, 25 October 1991, lots 12-13. The present portrait was drawn in 1869, when she was thirteen, and shows her wearing Greek national costume. 'I expect you and Mrs Coronio with the little gypsy on Thursday at 1 o'clock', Rossetti wrote to Charles Augustus Howell that summer (Troxell, loc.cit), perhaps an indication that the Egregious Howell was involved in the commission. As for Rossetti's reference to Calliope as a 'little gypsy', this seems to tie up with what is known of her character as a child. 'We all adored her when we were children,' wrote her cousin Euterpe Craies in her unpublished memoirs, 'she was jolly and full of fun ... and was a great organiser of expeditions. We used to spend happy days together at the Crystal Palace; Grandpapa was one of the Directors, so we had a free pass. We had 2/6 each and bought a 6d plate of chicken and ham and oh! it was fun ... the lovely gardens and ... the beautiful Courts .. [were] full of sculptures and ... thrilling relics, and there were concerts and sideshows of every kind.'
Calliope is next heard of in 1872, when she visited Athens with her mother to brush up her Greek, which was 'very poor'. In 1889, at what was considered the exceptionally late age of thirty-three, she married Parasqueva Sechiari, who must have been a good deal older than herself since his sister Isabella had married Calliope's uncle Alecco. A child, Mary, was born in 1892, but Calliope's later life does not seem to have been very happy. Although her husband, like so many men in the Anglo-Greek community, was probably 'something in the City' (stock or insurance broking, or commodities), money was short and the couple appear to have lived with Calliope's parents in Holland Park. Calliope herself once summed up her marriage in the words 'I'm not much, and Parasqueva's not much, but we get along.' She died in 1906 of angina complicated by another illness, and may well have been in poor health for some time. Certainly her mother seems to have anticipated her death, reportedly saying 'I shall die if Calliope dies'. Such was, unhappily, the case. Calliope's death occurred on Sunday, 19 August, and the following day Aglaia committed suicide by stabbing herself with scissors. Life had perhaps always been a disappointment to this ardent and clever woman, but her death was truly worthy of some heroine in Greek tragedy.
We are very grateful to Julia Ionides for her help in preparing this entry.