Although we would have been familiar with her profile through contemporary reproductions, du Maurier did not meet Lily Langtry until 2 November 1879, at the wedding of Effie Millais, Sir John Everett Millais's daughter, to Major William James. In a letter to his old friend, Thomas Armstrong, a fellow artist who is also depicted in this watercolour on the following day, du Maurier recalls 'I had a good study of Mrs Langtry, back, front & both profils [sic]- neither Poynter nor Millais have done her justice.'
Du Maurier's poem, Two Thrones, inscribed on the backboard, is one of several that he wrote which elevates the 'divine gift' of music, an activity central to his domestic and creative life. Gathered round the piano listening to his elder daughter Beatrice are her husband, Charles Hoyer Millar, whose adoring gaze she meets, and behind him with his white head bent, du Maurier's friend Canon Alfred Ainger, an eccentric canon of Saint Paul's and a fellow resident of Hampstead. Behind him, and directly behind Mrs Langtry is Henry James, the distinguished American novelist who was another close friend of the artist, whilst the figure to the extreme right of the watercolour is du Maurier's other son-in-law, Arthur Lewwllyn Davies, who with his wife died tragically young.
Du Maurier executed few watercolours, but after contributing illustrations to the Cornhill Magazine and Once a Week, secured his reputation as the social cartoonist for Punch, in succession to John Leech who died in 1864.
We are grateful to Professor Leoné Ormond for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.