Thursday, 10 March 2011

Origin of the World, an extended footnote, part four

Terrified by the death and destruction in besieged Paris, Wallace moved back to England and took his collection with him. (The family had also previously returned to London, briefly, during the 1848 uprising.) Things were never much good again for him. His marriage soured. He became depressed and listless to the point where, although he kind of intended to bequeath his collection to the nation, he could never quite stir himself to do it. It was eventually done by his wife, a Frenchwoman, who never quite got round to learning English.

His son - who was a French army officer during the siege - broke with him and returned to Paris and his four illegitimate children, by a woman 'of the theatre'. Wallace is reported to have said: 'Mon Dieu, est-ce que nou n'aurons jamai fini de b√Ętards?'. Good God, will there ever be an end to bastards?

Father and son died without reconciling. Wallace did, though, himself acquire a young man as a secretary, then adopt him. It was Sir John Murray Scott, Vita Sackville-West's father.

So who was Richard Wallace then? Well, the surname was his own choice. He switched to it, legally, from his given surname Jackson, in 1842, having himself rebaptised in an Anglican church in Paris. (By which time, he already had a seven-month-old son by his mistress, Julie Castelnau - who he later married and stayed with, after a fashion, till his death.)

His father? Well, one idea is that it was not the fourth Lord Hertford but the third - Mie-Mie's husband-back-in-London. One account describes that Lord Hertford as a man who 'begat more than one illegitimate child and who acquired across the years a very unsavoury reputation.'

Another theory - and this is the one in the Dictionary of National Biography - is that he was, in fact, Mie-Mie's son. Which would have made him the half-brother of the man who was - to most accounts, anyway - his father.

Whatever, it's hard to imagine that Wallace didn't have a look at Khalil Bey's Courbet. It could have ended up in Manchester Square.

Next up I’m taking a break from Courbet etc to ask: What’s so funny about (What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?

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