This week I spoke to Lucinda Hawksley about the relationship between Kate and Carlo Perugini – a marriage surrounded by the fame of her father, Charles Dickens, and rooted in their artistic lives at the time of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Holly Smith: Hello, and welcome to the next episode of Past loves the new weekly history podcast that looks at the lighter side of history collecting love stories from the past. Welcome back. Today is the third episode. This is actually the first interview that I did, so it’s really exciting to be sharing it. I hope that you are doing well. It’s been a pretty quiet week here, but I have got lots of exciting things booked in for the next couple of weeks. Castle Howard is doing a seminar about Brideshead Revisited, which you can find out more about on their Instagram page. York Festival of Ideas has gone online for this year, which is great, and I’ll be listening to a few Hay Festival lectures as well – so I’m keeping myself very busy, including with Past Loves.
This week we are speaking to the very lovely Lucinda Hawksley. Lucinda is an author, art historian, a public speaker and broadcaster and she’ll be joining me today to talk about her great, great, great aunt Kate Dickens relation to, daughter of Charles Dickens, which makes Lucinda the great great, great granddaughter of Charles and Catherine Dickens. So she’s the perfect person to talk about Katey and her second husband Carlo. Now I first came across Lucinda’s work last year when I read her book about Lizzie Siddal. It’s called Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel, and I loved this book. It was so interesting. I’d come into contact with the Pre-Raphaelites when I was at university, and it was obviously quite significantly through the lens of their work, rather than looking at the people behind the images, and so I really enjoyed learning about Lizzie Siddal. So when I think about creating this podcast, Lucinda was somebody that I really wanted to talk to because I thought she would be so well pleased to discuss a Victorian love story that is not Victoria and Albert. I thought it was very interesting to follow last week’s episode about Victoria and Albert with this one because we’re now looking deeper into society at another angle, and this angle is really within the Pre-Raphaelite sphere. You’ll hear references to Millais and Dante’s throughout.
Today we are discussing her other book Dickens’s artistic daughter Katey: Her Life, Loves and Impact and this is really significant because I think Katey Perugini is a woman who has been overlooked by history. But her relationship with Carlo is extremely beautiful. I absolutely adored learning about these two. We start by discussing her first marriage to a man called Charles Allston Collins, which sits in direct contrast to her second marriage to Carlo. And so I really thought it was important to set the scene, explain what their relationship was like and how this prompted Katie to find a different love. Now, there is also a little mystery that we try to solve. Can we work out why this couple, so Katey and Carlo, have two wedding dates just nine months apart? It’s a really fascinating story. I hope you thoroughly enjoy this look into a different love story from the Victorian era and a love story that has been sidelined in history that Lucinda, as a relative and historian, is bringing back into the light. Now just a quick note before we do start, we do speak a bit about their reaction as a couple to the loss of a child so do skip through if you’d find that a bit upsetting.
Welcome, Lucinda. And thank you so much for joining me.
Lucinda Hawksley: Hello. Thank you for inviting me.
Holly: So we’re here today to talk about is your great, great, great aunt?
Lucinda: Yes, that’s right.
Holly: Yes, Katey Dickens which is quite incredible.
Lucinda: She was a really fascinating person and I think if she painted under the name Katey Dickens far more people would know about her today. But, because she painted under her married name that the name of her second husband, Katey Purgini, most people don’t realize she has any connection to Dickens.
Holly: If we kind of start off with her early life, what was the family life like living with practically one of the most famous men in Britain?
Lucinda: And to be honest, one of the most famous men in the world, particularly by the time Katey became an adult, her father was just an international celebrity. So Katey was born in 1839, which is the year that Charles Dickens finished writing Nicholas Nickleby and it was the year that he really became a kind of international celebrity. He’d been fairly well known through Pickwick papers and Oliver Twist, but Nicholas Nickleby was the one that just really seemed to get even more people knowing about him. And it was a quite extraordinary year for him and Katey was the third of their children. So Charles and his wife, Catherine had 10 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood.
Holly: That’s incredible.
Lucinda: I know, quite incredible. Yeah, seven sons and three daughters, and the baby daughter, Dora was the only one who died in infancy but actually, that was incredible because at the time, one in five children in Britain died before their fifth birthday. But they lived in London and the big cities like London and Glasgow and Manchester, it was one in three children that died before their fifth birthday. And most of these deaths were completely needless, it was due to poor hygiene, poor sanitation, lack of medical understanding, and obviously for many malnourishment and poverty, which wasn’t the case in the Dickens household. So to have nine surviving children out of 10 was really good testament to their parenting.
Holly: And so was it quite a privileged household that she grew up in?
Lucinda: It was a privileged household. They weren’t super rich. I think people think that Dickens must have been as rich as someone like JK Rowling, but that wasn’t the case because so much of a kind of the way that a lot of authors today make their money is actually through merchandising and things like film rights. He was very comfortably off. When Katey was first growing up, he was making his way. There was never a huge amount of money when she was a young child, but there was enough definitely, unfortunately because her father had had such a difficult childhood – which he never really revealed to his children at all the extent of the poverty in his own childhood – he was always terrified of his own children’s suffering what he and his siblings did. But they had a really lovely life. Charles and Catherine were very forward-thinking parents, and they want to educate their daughters to the same kind of extent as their sons, which was really unusual and very forward thinking. It was in many ways a really free and liberated and loving household. It could also be quite difficult because both Charles and Catherine suffered from depression, there would be times when their household would be the happiest house in London and times when it was really difficult. And of course, the children didn’t really understand as very few people that at the time felt their parent’s mood swings and why sometimes their mother was crying and sometimes their father was miserable. But compared to many Victorian children, they had a really, really happy childhood and lots of privilege in terms of travel, spending their summers either in places like Broadstairs or Brighton in the UK, but also going overseas. So when Katie was a young teenager, they started going regularly to France every summer. And when she was a little girl, they went off to live in Italy for a year. So she was five when they went out there. And I do think that it really affected her art actually, because she always loved Italianate colours, style, Italianate art. And to be honest, Italian art was very trendy in the art world in which she was studying and later working, but I think it was probably really fed by this amazing year, and she was very little living for a year in Italy and just absorbing Italian life.
Holly: And did they really cultivate her enjoyment of art?
Lucinda: Yes, very much so. In fact, Katey actually was one of the few girls of her generation who went to school she actually was taught at home with her sister Mamie by a governess but when Charles and Catherine realized what a good artist she was, they sent her to a place called Bedford College. And this was a fascinating place. It was set up by a woman who was a friend of theirs. A woman called Elizabeth Jesser Reid and she was an educational pioneer. She had also been an anti slavery campaigner. So she was just this very forward-thinking woman and Bedford College, which was in Bedford square in the center of London very close to where the Dickens family lived, it was the first college in Britain to provide university education for women. And when I say that you couldn’t yet get a degree as a woman but it gave you this same education as if you had been a man studying at university which was phenomenal. And it was also the first place to offer art students the opportunity to do life drawing because as female art students, you were forbidden to paint from the naked model. You had to pay for a model yourself and you know, do it privately but to actually offer live classes for female art students. That was a huge step forward. So this really forward thinking quite wonderful place that she went to – what an incredible place for a Victorian girl to be sent to and she went at the age of 12, so really young.
Holly: So that must have set her off on quite the trajectory in the world of living as an artist in London at the time.
Lucinda: It really did. And she made lots of friends in that world but also her parents had a lot of friends in that way as well. Dickens was a huge lover of art. And he collected art by friends of his he obviously worked with a lot of artists who were his illustrators. So Katey and her siblings had grown up with all sorts of famous people, not just artists, actors, thinkers, writers, philanthropists, politicians, all sorts of celebrated people were hanging around their house all the time. And amongst those were various members have really important artistic groups such as the clique, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, all of these have really interesting artistic worlds as well as her father’s illustrators such as Clarkson Stanfield, who was a royal academicians, Frank stone and his son Marcus Stone, who was the same age as Katey and they grew up next door to each other working on their art together. So she did really move in a very interesting artistic world, even from a very young age.
Holly: And was it in this world that she met her first husband?
Lucinda: Actually through her father but her first husband was an artist, but he was the younger brother of Wilkie Collins, the novelist and Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens were really great friends and Wilkie;s younger brother was a man called Charles Allston Collins. So anybody who’s into Pre-Raphaelite art will recognize that name. Charlie Collins was a very good artist, but his friends were people like John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, the three founders of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and Charlie Collins just found the competition perhaps too much. He gave up art quite young in his 30s when he was first married to Katey, which I think must have been quite frustrating for her to marry an artist who almost instantly gave up art. But he was present to a lot of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood meetings, although he was never a member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, but he painted in a Pre-Raphaelite style. Probably his most famous painting is at the Ashmolean in Oxford, and that’s called Convent Thoughts.
Holly: It’s the one of nun – a beautiful image.
Lucinda: Yes a novice nun. And apparently he was just painting a woman in a garden and he was entertaining ideas of a relationship with Maria Rossetti – the sister of Dante Rossetti and Christina Rossetti and she turned him down. So apparently he turned the woman in the garden into a novice nun. And it is a really beautiful image. There’s another one at the V&A in London called The Good Harvest about a young girl holding a sheaf of wheat. And his work was very good. But his career never really took off financially. And he just decided it was too hard really.
Holly: So am I right in thinking that their marriage was plagued quite significantly by a lack of money and was never consummated as well?
Lucinda: Absolutely. It seems to have been very much a marriage of convenience on both side. Katey’s parents had recently separated, they were never divorced, but they had a legal separation. And this was a huge scandal in Victorian Britain because Charles Dickens was so famous and he wrote so many books about family values, all these kind of wonderful love affairs and for him to have a legal separation from his wife was awful on many levels.
And for Katie, one of the saddest things was that it devastated her mother. And it also made people because they were such fans of Charles Dickens start to say that Catherine must have been the problem. Now what, of course, was that the problem was that Charles Dickens had fallen in love with somebody else, a young woman who was actually the same age as Katey. So, as you can imagine, Katey was not best pleased. Katey would try and visit her mother and end up having huge rows with her father, although she later admitted that she hadn’t visited her nearly as much as she should have done because she found it very depressing and very sad. And she just wanted to have her own home. She wanted to be able to live in her own home and see both parents and not have all this stress. Now Charlie was 11 years older than she was, he was in his early 30s. She was 21 when they married just before her 21st birthday. And his older brother said at one point that Charlie had decided it was time that he married. So there was not really a belief that he was actually in love with Katey. I think they loved each other as friends. But it definitely wasn’t this kind of great romantic love match. And Charles Dickens was very angry about it. He didn’t want his daughter to marry Charlie Collins. He liked Charlie, but he didn’t think he was gonna be good husband material. And he was quite right in many ways, the most apparent thing seeming to be that they never had sex that the marriage was unconsummated. My personal belief, and this is purely my personal belief, is that Charlie Collins was actually gay. I think that he was possibly in love with Millais. He was never particularly interested in women. The fact that he chose Maria Rossetti, who went on to become an Anglican nun suggests that he was never looking for a particularly passionate relationship. And with Katey, it really seems that he was just looking to get married because of course to be a gay man in Queen Victoria’s Britain was not safe. I don’t know that he ever had any lovers. He seems to have been pretty much an ascetic in the fact that he didn’t himself all the pleasures in life. His friends would get deeply frustrated that he was constantly denying himself his favourite foods, or his favourite pastime. He was kind of talked about as if you were a monk at times. And even on their honeymoon, he wrote back to his mother and said, We sleep in two beds like sensible people.
Holly: So am I right in thinking that their marriage was plagued quite significantly by a lack of money and was never consummated as well?
Lucinda: Absolutely. It seems to have been very much a marriage of convenience on both side. Katey’s parents had recently separated, they were never divorced, but they had a legal separation. And this was a huge scandal in Victorian Britain because Charles Dickens was so famous and he wrote so many books about family values, all these kind of wonderful love affairs and for him to have a legal separation from his wife was awful on many levels. And for Katie, one of the saddest things was that it devastated her mother. And it also made people because they were such fans of Charles Dickens start to say that Catherine must have been the problem. Now what, of course, was that the problem was that Charles Dickens had fallen in love with somebody else, a young woman who was actually the same age as Katey. So, as you can imagine, Katey was not best pleased. Katey would try and visit her mother and end up having huge rows with her father, although she later admitted that she hadn’t visited her nearly as much as she should have done because she found it very depressing and very sad. And she just wanted to have her own home. She wanted to be able to live in her own home and see both parents and not have all this stress. Now Charlie was 11 years older than she was, he was in his early 30s. She was 21 when they married just before her 21st birthday. And his older brother said at one point that Charlie had decided it was time that he married. So there was not really a belief that he was actually in love with Katey. I think they loved each other as friends. But it definitely wasn’t this kind of great romantic love match. And Charles Dickens was very angry about it. He didn’t want his daughter to marry Charlie Collins. He liked Charlie, but he didn’t think he was gonna be good husband material. And he was quite right in many ways, the most apparent thing seeming to be that they never had sex that the marriage was unconsummated. My personal belief, and this is purely my personal belief, is that Charlie Collins was actually gay. I think that he was possibly in love with Millais. He was never particularly interested in women. The fact that he chose Maria Rossetti, who went on to become an Anglican nun suggests that he was never looking for a particularly passionate relationship. And with Katey, it really seems that he was just looking to get married because of course to be a gay man in Queen Victoria’s Britain was not safe. I don’t know that he ever had any lovers. He seems to have been pretty much an ascetic in the fact that he didn’t himself all the pleasures in life. His friends would get deeply frustrated that he was constantly denying himself his favourite foods, or his favourite pastime. He was kind of talked about as if you were a monk at times. And even on their honeymoon, he wrote back to his mother and said, We sleep in two beds like sensible people.
Holly: It’s a very clear rule early on.
Lucinda: Very early on, and of course for Katey, that would have been a real shock. That’s not what she would have expected. And people didn’t really talk about this very much before marriage, girls were usually told by their mothers what to expect but wasn’t openly discussed like it would be so obviously with some couples, it was not it was not something that women were expected to talk about first. So she was obviously disappointed in that aspect of her marriage. She said to her father, not long after they’d been married, that Charlie Collins ought never to have married, which seems to have been her way of saying that he was gay. A family friend called Frederick Lehmann wrote to his wife in very strong terms, and he said, it is an infamy that Charlie Collins has taken away. So it seems to have been something that was discussed at the time. However, they did have a loving marriage in that they were good friends, they got on really well together. And at last Katey had somebody with whom she could be an artist, and she could be herself in many ways. So, you know, there are many different types of marriages. And I think that their’s in some ways, was successful in that they had a kind of sanctuary with each other. She has been longing to leave her father’s home much as your daughter father that was part of the problem was that she really loved him and they were fighting, and she didn’t want to fight with her father. She didn’t want to know that her mother was miserable that her daughters were still living with her husband. So she really did it as a kind of way of escaping an unhappy home. And throughout their marriage, she had seemingly a long term love affair with another artist, a Pre-Raphaelite artist called Valentine Prinsep and Val Prinsep was friends with Charlie Collins and with all of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and it’s possible that Charlie Collins knew about their relationship. It went on for many years. And at one point, she seems to become quite ill from the situation. Katey often suffered throughout her very long life from dangerous illnesses that people thought she was going to die from, from a very young age from babyhood. And these illnesses would come on regularly. And we don’t really know what they were – various different things at different times in her childhood, but as an adult, perhaps it was a very severe form of depression. Perhaps she stopped eating, but there were times when her friends and her family honestly thought that she was dying, and then she would always rally and actually she was the longest lived of all the Dickens children. So all these terrifying illnesses, and one of them happened when she was in her early 30s. And this was at the time when I believe she was having a love affair with Valentine Prinsep and a friend of hers revealed in old age that Katey had said that her love for Valentine Prinsep had made her ill and I think the fact that she just was married to Charlie Collins, in love with Val Prinsep and just didn’t really know what to do, and was suffering greatly between the two. However, when Charlie Collins became desperately ill he’d been ill for a long time, pretty much all through their marriage and nobody really knew what it was. And Charles Dickens used to get really annoyed that his son in law was as he felt a malingerer. And then he was like, Oh, he’s definitely dying this time. And then Charlie would survive, but poor man what wasn’t diagnosed for years with it was that he was suffering from stomach cancer. So it was really, really unwell. And Katey ended up nursing him for many months, well years towards the end of their marriage. And this is, I think, where the love that they shared as a husband and wife, regardless of the fact that marriage wasn’t consummated, really comes to the fore, and she nursed him tirelessly.
Holly: So she was widowed fairly early on in her life, then.
Lucinda: Yes, in her early 30s. So Charlie Collins died in April of 1873, that was when Katey was 33 years old. And of course they’ve had no children. So not surprisingly, Valentine Prinsep thought that when he proposed she would accept him and he was possibly rather stunned when she turned him down. Then another friend of theirs and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, a man called Frederick Walker, he also proposed to her and she also turned him down, and it seems that she had truly fallen in love.
I don’t really know what happened in her relationship with Val Prinsep, whether it had already come to an end anyway, and then he had proposed after she was widowed, but it seems that at some point towards the end of her first marriage, she met the man who would become her second husband. And it seems they met at the house of Frederick Lord Leighton, who was a wonderful artist, president of the Royal Academy, great friend of the people that Katey and Charlie Collins hung out with, and it was at his house that she’d always certainly met Val Prinsep many as earlier. Carlo Perugini was born in Naples and he’d migrated with his family as a child to England but travelled a great deal around the continent and met Lord Leighton when they were both traveling in France and Italy and had worked together a great deal. And Carlo Perugini was the person with whom Katey was truly in love and he would become her second husband. There were absolutely no rumors of extramarital affairs during this marriage. This really was a love match.
Holly: What was Carlo like when they first met? Was he very famous within the art world or was he still up and coming?
Lucinda: Carlo was well known within the art world, but not necessarily well known amongst the buyers. And he was great friends with Lord Leighton and Leighton was really philanthropic. He had a lot of family money even before he became an artist and then he made a lot of money as an artist, so he paid a lot of his friends like Carlo Perugini to assist him in his studio. And for a long time during that early marriage, Carlo was still receiving this money from Lord Leighton, so he definitely wasn’t making enough at the beginning. Carlo’s work sold fairly well, but it took a long time his paintings were large scale and didn’t always have buyers. So throughout this second marriage, it wasn’t as financially precarious as her first marriage, but they both were hard working artists who really needed to make enough money to make ends meet. Now, Charles Dickens had died a few years earlier. He actually died in 1870 – so three years before Katey was widowed, and although he left all his children a legacy, there wasn’t a huge amount of money to go around. So it wasn’t something that was going to put Katie in good financial water for the rest of her life. They both had to work incredibly hard. And Katey was a portrait painter, and her career really took off during her second marriage, and it seems that she got the more regular kind of bread and butter commissions and she was working solidly on portrait painting, but when Carlo did sell a painting that was when they got some proper money. So Katey’s work was the kind of the thing that kept them ticking over and it was fairly well paid, but women never earned as much as men, particularly in the art world. And when Carlo sold a painting, it might be months since he’d last sold one, but then it would be a really big payment.
Holly: And so they fell in love very quickly. I understand after Collins died, and there seems to be a bit of murky water around when they got married, which marriage they actually consider the official wedding date.
Lucinda: Yes, it’s fascinating. Now I have tried at the Leighton House archives to try and find out precisely when they met and we just don’t know precisely when it would have been before Charlie Collins died. When their love affair began I don’t know but I think before she was widowed because the official wedding date is June of 1874, which is 14 months after Charlie Collins’s death, and it was considered absolutely vital that you had at least a full year of deep mourning as it was called for the death of a spouse or a parent. So this was at least a year before you were allowed to marry again, so she married 14 months after she’d been widowed. Some guides would actually recommend two full years before marrying again, however, Katey didn’t do that. So I knew that this was their wedding date and when I first started researching the book, I took all of the birth marriage and death dates that I knew about to the family records office. And I looked at all of the records and I got certificates for all of these things. Then it was a few years later, when I was finishing the book, I’d got the manuscripts complete, and I went back to the family records office just to double check everything. And in those couple of years, they had digitized all of their records, which made it so much easier, because in the past, when I first went in, you had to take with you the dates, and then you went to the specific books that were kept in date order. So because of that it wasn’t very easy to search without knowing the date. However, when it was digitized, and this was something like 2005 I mean, they didn’t digitize these early. I typed in his name because Collins is a very common name so Kate Collins would have come up with loads and loads of hits, as indeed was Dickens. Dickens is also a very common name. Perugini might be a common name in Italy but in England in the 19th century, it definitely wasn’t common. So I typed in his name just to double check the date of the marriage certificate and I found two marriage certificates for Carlo. One was the one to Katie in June of 1874. But then I found another one for September 1873. And my first thought was an absolute horror that he had been a bigamist and I felt really physically sick actually, because when you’re writing a biography, you truly feel as if this person is your close friend. So you don’t want to discover that they cheated on your close friend. Anyway, when I went and got the certificate, it was also a wedding to Katey. I got the certificate and I said to the people who worked at the records office, ‘there’s a discrepancy in your records because this is the wedding date that I knew about. This is the first wedding certificate that I found, but I found this other one nine months earlier.’ And they looked at this and said ‘God we haven’t actually seen this before, but it can’t be a mistake. If there are two wedding certificates. There were two weddings, but we’ve never seen two weddings to the same person.’ And then we looked at it more carefully and the first one was at a register office. The witnesses were two names I’ve never come across in any of my research. So likely they will either people who worked at the register office were kind of professional witnesses that were or perhaps just two strangers, given a bit of money to come in off the street and witness a wedding. Now that was just five months after she was widowed and it’s never been talked about, even at the end of her life when she was revealing a lot of secrets to a friend of hers who wrote them all down in a book she never ever mentioned this first wedding. And it seems that it was a complete secret even from her family. After that wedding, she was living at the time because her father had died, she was living with her siblings and her aunt and she went back to living with them. And he went back to living with his parents for whom he was financially responsible. He was taking care of them. Nobody seems to have known about this wedding. Now one hypothesis again, this is purely my supposition is I wondered if she were pregnant, and if she were pregnant, they must have lost the baby. If she perhaps thought she was pregnant, perhaps you discovered she wasn’t or perhaps they had a miscarriage. But it’s really interesting that they married just five months after she was widowed, and didn’t tell anybody about it. And as I say the witnesses were not friends of theirs, but as far as I can find out, so the official wedding was in June of 1874.
And so many people said, ‘ah I wish that her father was still alive, he would have loved Carlo.’ Everybody felt that this was a real love marriage, a proper marriage and they actually had a baby so it shows that their marriage was definitely consummated. Just over a year after they got married, they had a baby boy, who was called Leonard Ralph Dickens Perugini. Leonard was after Carlo’s father whose name was Leonardo. However, they always called him Dickie, after Dickens is one of his middle names. Very sadly, he didn’t live very long at all. He died a few months old, and they had no more children. And in fact, because Katey was in her mid 30s, then women’s reproduction was very, very different reproductive health was very different in the 19th century because of different health care particularly with the different diet and the lack of understanding of female health at that time, so it was really quite incredible that she managed to get pregnant for the first time in her 30s. There’s lots of records of women who have babies all the way through, you know, they might have their first child at some and they continue having them into their 40s. And so you’ll often find in Victorian families that the oldest daughter is having a baby while the mother is still having children, because there wasn’t much contraception available to women at the time. However, it was still fairly unusual for women to successfully conceive and go to full term later on when they hadn’t already had children beforehand, and she just didn’t seem to have got pregnant again, sadly, but this could bring them closer. You know, in some marriages, the loss of a child can end the marriage but this made them even closer and they were very, very much in love. Their friends commented on how much in love they were.
Holly: And did they collaborate as artists as well?
Lucinda: They don’t seem to have actually worked on the same paintings but Katey definitely posed for Carlo as a model. And perhaps I mean, a lot of her paintings are unknown. They are in private collections or they’re lost. There is a possibility, of course, that she may have painted him. I know that there is at least one kind of sketch of her painting him. What they did do was they would paint side by side, so when they moved house, they moved into Victoria Road in Kensington, not far from Lord Leighton from Katey’s great friend, Annie Thackeray, who was the daughter of William Thackeray. Lots of artists were living in Kensington and Holland Park at this time, it was a really important artistic area and their home is not far from Kensington High Street, which was a big artistic area. And when they moved into this house on Victoria road, they built a double art studio. Now, in many ways that was practical – instead of needing two rooms they had one – but it was a great big room. And they definitely worked together when it came to selling and promoting their works. And because Katey was Charles Dickens’s daughter, she was very sought after by fans of Charles Dickens and she would often receive letters particularly from America, and Canada from members of the Dickens fellowship, which is a society that still continues to date all over the world. It’s a quite amazing Dickens kind of fan club, really. And some of your listeners may well be members of the Dickens fellowship. And they would write to her, and she would often agree to meet them when they were coming to England. And she became patron of a couple of Dickens fellowships, so she would often invite them to come for tea at her house. And of course, the tea would be held in their artist studio, which was wonderful because then you’ve got these wealthy Americans and Canadians who could afford to travel to England, probably traveling around Europe and doing a bit of an art tour, and in the studio while they’re having tea, they’re surrounded by works by Katey and Carlo. So I just think that was a great piece of marketing
Holly: Very smart! So it sounds like they lived quite uniquely at the time as equals.
Lucinda: I think they did live as equals Yes, Katey was one of the artists who signed the early petition for women’s rights – for women to get the vote. When she was older, she made a couple of comments about how she didn’t like suffragettes because they were too spiky. But I think, it was more the fashion, it wasn’t she was against suffrage where I’ve heard people say before she was anti suffrage, she definitely wasn’t at all. In fact, as I say, she signed the petition very early on long before the word suffragette was even thought of. And she just expected equality. I think in her childhood, she and Mamie definitely had equality with their brothers. In fact, Charles Dickens favoured his daughters over his sons. So Katey grew up with a great sense of the fact that being a woman or being a girl, was not less important than being a man or being a boy. And I think that’s something that she managed to hold on to throughout her life. That’s not to say that she would necessarily have compared to feminists today because Victorian feminists were understandably very, very different from feminists today because the whole society was geared towards men, but she had great friendships with men as well as women. She saw herself as their equal, and I love that about her. She never put herself down. She could be quite self deprecating, in that, like every creative, she would think that her art wasn’t as good as someone else’s. And she was compared to Millais and she said, ‘of course I’ve nothing like as good as Millais – a woman could never be as good as Millais,’ which is the most frustrating comment. But I think really what she was saying was I can’t be as good as Millais because he was the god I mean after Lord Leighton, he became the president of the Royal Academy. Katey had grown up seeing his work as a young art student and wanting to be like him. But when it came to actually being in a friendship with Millais, she totally thought she was as good as them and in fact, is a wonderful portrait of her. He painted her twice. The first time she modelled familiars while she was engaged to Charlie Collins, and it was for his very famous painting The Black Brunswicker in which she looks absolutely gorgeous in this beautiful satin dress. And then he painted her a second time and Millais, as I say, had been great friends with Charlie Collins, but he always felt a bit guilty about their marriage. I think he really felt bad for Katey, that this wasn’t a real marriage. And he was also great friends with Carlo Perugini and he painted for Carlo as a wedding present a portrait of Katey and it’s a very unusual portrait. She’s dressed all in black ostensibly because she’s in mourning for her first husband. However, I also know from her letters that she thinks black suits her better than any colour. It’s a very gorgeous dress. Yes, it is technically a mourning dress, but it has very sheer sleeves, very sexy for a Victorian dress. And what is a very unusual painting because it’s painted from behind with her standing in front of him with her back towards him looking over one shoulder at him. And this was apparently Katey’s idea. She walked into his studio, she positioned herself, looked over her shoulder at him and said, this is how I wish to be painted. Now, nobody told Millais how he was going to paint them except for Katey, very different from her first experience, by the way, which is recorded in Millais’ son’s book about his father in which she said how terrified you are. She gave me that when she was 20 she was absolutely terrified of sitting to him and too scared to move and terrified of giving her opinion.
Holly: She found her voice.
Lucinda: She’d been through a lot. She grown to know Millais very well. They were very good friends to the end of his life. She no longer felt scared.
Holly: I’ve looked at a couple of portraits that Carlo did of Kate, and I really loved the symbolism of flowers that he uses throughout.
Lucinda: There’s a very beautiful one. I think one of my favourite ones is at the Dickens Museum in London and she has roses in her cap on her hair. And that’s particularly lovely because roses are of course a symbol of love and the Victorian language of flowers was very important. Viewers at the time would have recognized what all the flowers meant, but also they were her favourite flower. So it’s a lovely love token from a husband to a wife, you know, not only as a symbol of love, but he knows her well enough to know that they’re her favourites.
Holly: Yes, it really is beautiful and it is a testament to their love match. I also really loved the story of their matching signatures that they developed.
Lucinda: I think that’s been part of the problem with researching Katey’s art, and probably Carlo’s as well, instead of writing out their name, they each only used their initials, but they would place the letters on top of each other almost looks like a monogram like you might have on a towel or something we know that people might have had on their luggage in the past. So he would do CEP, the CEP on top of each other, and she would do KP on top of each other. So it’s rather lovely that they came up with this joint signature. There are a couple of examples of different signatures. And in fact, there’s a portrait by Katey of my great grandmother, so Katey’s niece Enid and in that case is actually written Kate Perugini. And it’s written out in full but she’s also written war fund 1900 and this was being sold to raise money for the funds for the soldiers in the Boer War. And so that’s I think, why she wrote it out in full so that people would know. However, her other professional work was always signed in a kind of very similar monogram to Carlo’s.
Holly: And am I right that the CEP was the anglicized version of Carlo’s name?
Lucinda: Well actually, it’s the same in English and Italian because he’s Carlo Eduardo Perugini. But it’s always anglicized to Charles Edward Perugini and I guess that that’s probably why Carlo actually ended up signing all of his only with his initials, because his friends and family seemed to have called him Carlo, but the art world called him Charles. And I think that’s perhaps his way of getting over the kind of xenophobia of the British art world, well Britain at the time, by not having to do Carlo or Charles not having to make a decision. In all of the art catalogs, he’s always listed as Charles Edward Perugini. And yet when you look at his correspondence, when you look at how his friends talked about him and how he viewed himself, he was always Carlo. So I do find it frustrating that the art world, perhaps the dealers themselves or the galleries always anglicised his name, but he doesn’t seem to have done so. Another thing that is interesting in researching Carlo is: he was obviously bilingual. Reports vary as to what age he arrived in England, but it’s somewhere between the age of two years old and the age of eight years old. So he grew up in England, and he could write English as well as he wrote Italian, obviously and speak English as well as he spoke Italian, but his handwriting in letters in which he’s writing in English versus letters in which he’s writing in Italian could be two different people. And that, to me, is really fascinating and I got the impression that he felt way more at home in Italian. I mean, that was the language of his home, his parents, his siblings, they all spoke in Italian.
Holly: So both of them working together, creating these matching signatures did both of their careers advance whilst they were together?
Lucinda: Yes, both of their careers definitely did advance while they were together. Katey had sold almost nothing. I mean, she really wasn’t known as an artist at all as Kate Collins or as Katie Dickens. She really started to get known and to be exhibited in the big art galleries, interestingly, shortly after the death of her baby, so her baby died in 1876. And in 1877, that was the very first time she exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. And from then on, exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor gallery, which was the wonderful aesthetic Art Gallery, which, you know, if you exhibited there, you made it in the aesthetic world, she exhibited at the old watercolour society, the Society of women artists, all sorts of different places, and was really really well known by the 1880s. And she got lots of very popular commissions so I think people today think she wasn’t well known because she’s not well known today. But she definitely was quite a name in the art world at the time, and the buyers that wanted portraiture definitely knew who she was, and she had constant commissions.
Holly: That’s very interesting that it was after her baby Leonard dying, that she really seemed to find a place as a more renowned artist, especially by Carlo’s side.
Lucinda: Yeah, I think that both she and Carlo threw themselves into work after the death of their baby. When Katie had her baby, her aunt Georgina Hogarth said there’s other rather sad and beautiful things she said, ‘having the baby released in Katey a power of loving she never knew she had.’ Okay, she was very loving. She adored her father and her siblings. She was a very loving, touchy feely person, but obviously, this deep love for her baby was even more than they’d ever seen, even more than her love for Carlo initially. And she needed an outlet. And like her parents, Katey suffered a great deal from depression really up until the end of her life. And this comes across in her letters, not all the time, but at various times of her life. And obviously, after the awful death of a baby, she I think needed to paint away her grief. And that is when she threw herself into her work. And interestingly, Carlo starts to become better known around this time as well, and perhaps because they were living together and encouraging each other, and being there for each other because with Charlie Collins, almost as soon as they came back from a honeymoon, he decided he wanted to be a writer. And he wasn’t a natural writer, he wasn’t as good as his brother or definitely not as his father-in-law. And for Katie, who’d grown up with someone for whom writing was just as easy as breathing, living with somebody who’d given up art in order to struggle at writing must have been deeply frustrating. So here with Carlo, she was able to truly live as an artist, and they were very, very happy together as artists.
Holly: It’s lovely to think of her kind of happily ever after as being this really life changing second chance at a marriage with Carlo?
Lucinda: And that’s not to say, you know, it wasn’t a real marriage. I mean, they had times when they didn’t get home together. 96 in particular, in her letters, I feel very sorry for Carlo because they’re obviously having a really tough time and she had just lost one of her brothers and her sister and also a couple of really close friends – Leighton and Millais. So Katey’s older brother, her older sister, and Leighton and Millais all died within a few months of each other. And Katey went into a not surprising terrible depression and Carlo possibly did as well. And it’s really a time when you can tell their marriage is tested just by looking at her letters. But right to the end of their marriage, despite the difficulties which every relationship goes through, they really were, they were lovers all the way through their life, I think. And that is the most important thing and not every marriage has that. And there’s a really touching story, that when I read, it really moved me. Katey suffered a great deal from what we recognise today as OCD, which is something that Charles Dickens also suffered from, and it’s not something that was ever understood in the 19th century, and Katey’s siblings used to tease her about it, and it seems to have come and gone throughout her life. So she wasn’t always plagued by it, but the times of great stress it would come back and one of her things was that she would have to walk around the room at night before going to bed and run her handle on all the walls and touch every object in the room. And this included running her handle on the back of the wardrobe, the inside of the wardrobe, which has been quite inconvenient with clothes and everything in it. There was one time in their marriage when she was ill in bed. And she was stressing because she couldn’t do the nightly ritual. And so Carlo went around and touched everything in the room and ran his hand along the wall for her. I just thought that was so sweet that he knew she wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep. So he did it for her.
Holly: Yeah it shows that they had a really sweet connection as friends as well as being married to each other
Lucinda: Yes they really did just have a lovely time together despite not having had children and I think you see that in a lot of child-free couples, either who’ve made the decision not to have children or who it’s not happened for and in Katey’s situation who have lost a baby – that closeness, that intense closeness, that draws them together. Because they’re not putting their energy into raising their children, they’re putting their energy into each other and for those that it doesn’t rip apart – as sadly it does in many marriages – I think it does give them that intensity that nobody else can quite enter. And that is what I think it was with Katey and Carlo.
Holly: And when Carlo died in 1918, he was buried with their baby son wasn’t he?
Lucinda: Yes, well they’d been living in Kent at the time that they had their baby – in Sevenoaks in Kent which is nearby – and they had bought at the time a family plot at the church so when baby Dickie died they placed him in the grave there but they didn’t stay in Sevenoaks because it was just too sad. They moved to the countryside because they wanted to raise a family there and when they realised that they weren’t going to have a family to raise they moved back to London and that was, as I say, when their careers really took off. But, of course, they had this family plot and the idea had always been that when they died they would be buried with their son. And then later, Katey was placed in their grave as well. So, it’s rather beautiful. And something else that’s quite touching is that next to their grave, is the grave of Katey’s sister Mamie who didn’t marry or have children. So, they’re all together in Sevenoaks which is rather lovely if you go down there to see the graves that they’re all together. Something else that’s very touching: when he dies and he was 80 years old – because he died in 1918 people always think he died as a result of the war but he didn’t actually it was just after the end of the First World War – and he died at home. And Katey decorated him with holly around him because she wanted him to not miss Christmas which I think is lovely. Some people, you know, would find that a bit ghoulish but Victorians (as she still was, it might not have been the Victorian age but she was still a Victorian) they grew up with death. They lived with death, you know, family members died and they stayed in the home until they were taken away to be buried. So the idea today of having a dead body in the house and kiss at night and decorate with holly is probably really awful. But, for somebody of her generation, death was a part of life and, of course, with its being just before Christmas it wasn’t very easy to arrange a funeral and things.
Holly: And that they went through that last part of their lives fully together, which is lovely and that kind of final send off, I think it’s really beautiful.
Lucinda: It is really beautiful and then, she very much became reclusive after his death and she had been an extremely sociable person beforehand. She had to move house and she moved into what she called a tiny flat – it probably wasn’t tiny in today’s standards but it was for her – on the King’s Road in London. And she just didn’t really enjoy living on such a busy road and she just doesn’t seem to have got as much joy out of life after Carlo’s death. And there doesn’t seem to have been anything physically wrong with her but she became quite scared of going out. So, her friends would go to visit her and she had wonderful servants who became her friends. She had a cook and a kind of companion maid who was technically a maid but she actually became a companion and they just took wonderful care of her. And Katey just missed Carlo I think the last 10 years of her life. She did have other romances. She had a romance with a much younger man, an MP called T.P. O’Connor. He was in his 50s and she was in her 80s. Apparently, her maid always said that she would always put on make-up and her best jacket before he arrived. I don’t think it was actually a full-blown love affair; I don’t think it was a sexual affair. But it was a romance. Yeah she did have dear friends, dear male friends after being widowed. But Carlo really was the great love of her life and she was looking forward to being with him in death, to reuniting with him in their family grave. I think her love affair with Carlo was wonderful because of equality, because of its synchronicity really – they just met at the right times in their lives. And one thing that I didn’t mention was that they’d actually been in Paris at the same time as teenagers and not met. He’d been the assistant to Ary and Henri Scheffer in their very famous portrait studio when he was 16 years old. Katey was also 16 and they were living in Paris for a year and Charles Dickens went to have his portrait painted and Katey went to watch because she was an art student. So imagine that, this young art student watching these two masters the two most important portrait painters in Paris painting her father but she never met Carlo. He didn’t meet her either. They were both living that year in Paris and they were destined to meet all those years later.
Holly: Their paths were to cross at some point.
Lucinda: Yeah, they had to meet. They were intended for each other.
Holly: Thank you for listening. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation as much as I had. I really fell in love with Katey and Charles and particularly because I really appreciated the equality that they managed to create within their relationship which really is a testament to how much they loved each other and I was so pleased for Katey that after the death of Charles – I mean she had many men coming after her – but that she fell in love and Carlo seemed to be an utterly delightful husband and partner and supporter and I really appreciated that about those two. Lucinda’s book Dickens’s Artistic Daughter Katey: Her Life, Loves & Impact, was published by Pen & Sword, is available now online and at your favourite bookshop. It really is a delightful read. I’d highly recommend it. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast please subscribe, rate and review and then hop over to my Instagram @pastlovespodcast where I talk about other couples from history, the #PastLovesBookClub – which if you’ve never heard of it before, every 2-3 weeks I post a new book and tell everyone what the next book will be and we have a little discussion and it’s great – I do a few quizzes, and you will get a teaser as to who the next episode will be about. So it’s really not to be missed. It’s the perfect place if Past Loves has become your current love. Just click HERE and you’ll be there. Thank you again for listening, I look forward to the next episode – until soon!