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Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Stillman (née Spartali) (Greek: Μαρία Σπαρτάλη; 10 March 1844 – 6 March 1927) was a British member of the second generation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Of the Pre-Raphaelites, she had one of the longest-running careers, spanning sixty years and producing over one hundred and fifty works. Though her work with the Brotherhood began as a favourite model, she soon trained and became a respected painter, earning praise from Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others.

Marie Spartali was the eldest child of Michael Spartali, a wealthy merchant, principal of the firm Spartali & Co and Greek consul-general based in London from 1866 to 1879. He had moved to London around 1828, where he married Euphrosyne Varsini, the daughter of a Greek merchant from Genoa. The family split time between their home at Clapham Common in London and their country home on the Isle of Wight. In the city, Spartali’s father was fond of lavish garden parties where he invited up and coming writers and artists. It was at one such event where Marie would first be introduced to the art world.

In 1870, Spartali met American journalist and painter William J. Stillman. The couple had previously posed for Rossetti in his famous Dante pictures, though it is not certain if that is how they first met. Interestingly, although her husband was an artist himself, Marie never sat for him as a model. The pair married in 1871 against her father's wishes, causing a rift that would never fully heal.

As her husband was a foreign correspondent for The Times, the couple divided their time between London and Florence (1878-1883), and later Rome (1889-1896).

The couple had three children of their own who were raised alongside William’s other three children from a previous marriage.  Marie Stillman died in March 1927 in Ashburn Place in South Kensington, four days shy of her 83rd birthday, and was cremated at Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey. She is interred there with her husband.

Known for their Greek heritage and beauty, Spartali along with her cousins, Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Coronio, were known collectively among friends as "the Three Graces," after the Charites of Greek mythology (Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia). Beauty aside, Marie was very tall, and cut an imposing figure- in her later years dressing entirely in black- and purposefully attracting much attention throughout her life.

In the house of the Greek businessman A.C. Ionides at Tulse Hill, in south London, Marie first met the artist James McNeill Whistler and playwright Algernon Charles Swinburne. The meeting made quite the impression, for Swinburne was reported to have said that "She is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry".

In 1864, Whistler introduced Spartali to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She began sitting for him and when Spartali expressed interest in learning to paint he referred her to Ford Madox Brown. Over the next five years the pair developed a close, almost familial, relationship. Of his models, Brown said that Spartali was “the most intellectual,” and maintained a deep respect for her work, chronicled in their correspondence. By 1870, Spartali had decided to pursue art professionally and with the help of her mentor made her first sale for 40 guineas.

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Marie Spartali Stillman Artworks
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