ISABEL DE STEIGER (1836-1927). This second part of my life-by-dates begins with an ending: the death of Isabel’s husband Rudolph von Steiger, on the last day of December 1872. It covers the period in which Isabel began rebuilding her life, and ends in May 1878, just before she joined the Theosophical Society.
Just re-stating the Golden Dawn connection:
Isabel de Steiger was one of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s earliest members, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in London in October 1888 - that is, a few months after the last event in this file. She chose the Latin motto ‘Altiora peto’. She took her time over the learning and exams required for the GD’s inner, 2nd Order and was initiated into it in May 1896. She moved out of London in the early 1890s and was a member of the GD’s Horus temple in Bradford for a time; and then (in the late 1890s) of its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh.
THE LAYOUT BELOW which I hope isn’t too difficult to read.
What Isabel was doing, tends to be in italics. My comments, and the sources, are typed in my usual Times New Roman.
Lastly, before we start, a quick note on her name: she was baptised with it spelled in the French way - Isabelle - and did return to that spelling from time to time in her life. For most of her life, however, she used ‘Isabel’ and I’ll stick with that.
31 DECEMBER 1872
Isabel’s husband, Rudolph von Steiger von Riggesberg died in Alexandria. Rudolph von Steiger’s Will had set up a trust fund to provide his widow with an income and at least for the next few decades Isabel was able to live independently provided she was careful. The trust fund’s sole trustee was Henry Cassels Kay, a friend of Rudolph and Isabel in Alexandria.
Immediately after Rudolph’s death, Isabel left Alexandria for a trip to Minet-el Basal and the Egyptian desert. As was proper, she began to wear black, but she didn’t wear the full widow’s weeds as strict observance of mourning wasn’t much bothered with amongst the ex-pats of Alexandria. She carried on not wearing widow’s weeds when she returned to Europe, and her refusal to do so did cause comment there. Isabel was never a regular Christian church-goer after her husband’s death.
Probate registry. Rudolph appointed three executors to put his Will into effect: Charles Forget; William Crosfield; and Isabel’s brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace.
Memorabilia p73, p87, p90, p102.
Sources for Forget and Crosfield: census etc
Comment by Sally Davis: I give short biographies of the trustee and the executors because all three were important to Isabel in the coming years and were friends of hers as well.
The Trustee: HENRY CASSELS KAY and see 1903 in this life-by-dates.
Henry Cassels Kay was of Scottish descent, the son of a businessman who lived in Antwerp. He was born in 1827 and educated in Belgium. In 1844 he went to Egypt to work for Briggs and Co of Alexandria and Cairo, a leading bank. In 1854 the Times appointed him their correspondent in Alexandria. After a brief period working at Briggs and Co’s offices in London, Cassels Kay returned to Alexandria as an employee of Tod, Rathbone and Co and it was during this period of his working life that Isabel and Rudolf knew him and his wife. As well as speaking several European languages, Cassels Kay studied literary Arabic. He retired and returned to live in Campden Hill in 1874, but kept up a keen interest in Egypt: he worked at Arabic translation and articles on Egyptian culture and in 1880 he was elected a director of the Bank of Egypt. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and of the Royal Asiatic Society whose Council he served on. He collected Islamic and other art. In 1859 he married Jane Ann Edmondstone Aytoun; they had one son.
Times 9 June 1903 p10: obituary.
The Banker’s Magazine volume 39 1880 p66 announcement of his election as a director of the Bank of Egypt.
As a collector of art:
Via www.christies.com/lotfinder to sale 5644 13 July 2005: a table clock owned by Henry Cassels Kay and in his family until this sale. Made about 1900: inlaid mahogany with brass mountings.
Via google to Islamic Art catalogue for a sale 9 October 1900 published Christie Manson and Woods Ltd: p122 lots 162-64.
Executor: CHARLES FORGET and see other entries in this life-by-dates
Charles Isaac Forget was probably a partner in the firm Melly, Forget and Co. He definitely served as Swiss Consul in Liverpool. He and his wife were both Swiss by birth though they lived in England for many years. Forget had died by 1885 but the closeness between the Forget and Lace families had continued: in 1885 Charles’ daughter Cécile Marguérite married Charles Verney Lace, Isabel’s nephew, the son of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace and his wife Theodosia.
Executor: WILLIAM CROSFIELD but see also subsequent entries in this life-by-dates.
There are two William Crosfields, father and son. They ran a sugar-refining and grocery business in Liverpool. They were Quakers. The older William was an anti-slavery campaigner and friend of William Lloyd Garrison. Rudolph’s executor was the son. William the younger married Fanny Elizabeth Job, in Liverpool, in 1865. Both William and Fanny were about Isabel’s age - born around 1838. They had one child, Dora, born 1867.
ISABEL AT A CROSSROADS
Comment from Sally: Isabel never mentions having had any children. She may have chosen not to mention in Memorabilia, her memoir, that she had had children that had died; but I get the impression that she had never been pregnant. After all, for most of her marriage her husband was seriously ill. On a wider level, when she looked back at her twenties and early thirties after many decades, Isabel was rather ambivalent about her marriage and about being married. In Memorabilia p56 she describes herself as in a state of arrested development at the time. And on p73, of her early widowhood, she even says, “Strange to say, for the first time in my life I began to feel that I was really alive...I conclude that it was because, for the first time, I had to plan and decide a great deal for myself, with only my own judgement to rely upon”. However, she reiterates many times in the book that the next decade was a time of restlessness, and grinding loneliness. From the vantage point of the early 1920s, she saw her life in the 1870s in spiritual terms. On Memorabilia p125 she describes the decade as one with a great deal of action but also as a period of “almost spiritual death” with time passing in “a sort of spiritual sleep”.
Isabel decided to train properly as an artist and to make a career for herself as a painter. She began by returning to England and enrolling as a student at the Slade School of Art, where she soon discovered how much she had to learn. However, she found it lonely in London lodgings, knowing no one, and soon left, to go to Florence to study with Belucci.
Source: Memorabilia p78 but Isabel doesn’t give a date for this very important decision; nor for the short time she spent at the Slade. I do find her exact whereabouts at any time over the next few years rather hard to follow.
Comment from Sally: I think that in Memorabilia Isabel’s teacher’s name isn’t spelled right. I haven’t found any evidence for an artist called Belucci with one ‘l’. However, there was an artist Giuseppe Bellucci with two ‘ls’ who lived in Florence at about the right time to have Isabel as a pupil. This Bellucci is in Bénézit’s Dictionary of Artists a vast work, published Editions Gründ Paris 2006. Isabel is not in it.
In Volume 2 Bed-Bül: p111 Giuseppe Bellucci 1827-1882, a specialist in history paintings. Most well-known paintings now are:
Death of Alessandro de’Medici, exhibited Paris 1865
The Discovery of the Body of King Manfred of Sicily, exhibited 1880 at the Florence Exhibition
The Treaty of Bruzzolo; subsequently acquired by the king of Italy.
Memorabilia p78. Again, Isabel doesn’t give an exact date for this, but she seems to remember her time in Florence as after her time at the Slade, and before the winter of 1873-74, which she spent back in Egypt.
Isabel spent some time studying painting as a member of Carolus Duran’s atelier in Paris.
Source: Light: A Journal Devoted to the Highest Interests of Humanity, both Here and Hereafter. London: Eclectic Publishing Co Ltd of 4 New Bridge Street Ludgate Circus. Volume 1 January-December 1881 p87 issue of 19 March 1881, letter from Isabel: Ancient Mysteries.
NOT a source for this: Memorabilia, in which studying in Paris, and studying with Duran, is never mentioned.
Comment from Sally: there’s plenty of coverage on the web of Carolus Duran, who is the dapper-looking man shown on the front cover of the catalogue of the 2015 Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. If Isabel’s period as a pupil of Carolus Duran lasted into 1874 she might have coincided with John Singer Sargent, who joined Duran’s atelier in the middle of that year.
See wikipedia for Charles Auguste Émile Durand 1837-1917, and there are many other websites featuring him and reproducing his paintings. Mostly a portraitist but I also saw a nude and a couple of landscapes on the web. See also:
At www.studiorousar.com/2011/03/21/carolus-duran-methods with some details about his painting methods and the influence of Velázquez on his work.
Having been unable to settle in either London or Florence, Isabel returned to Egypt and spent the winter there, thinking about her long-term future. This period of reflection resulted in her rejecting the idea of moving to Paris and choosing instead to return to England and make a better go of things in London.
Source: Memorabilia p78.
Comment from Sally: I’d say Isabel had been a bit too keen to move on after her husband’s death. Always an active woman, she had needed something to do, but it was too soon to be deciding what and where, with her husband not properly mourned yet.
Henry Cassels Kay retired from Tod Rathbone and Co and returned to England. He and his wife Jane Ann went to live at 11 Durham Villas Kensington.
Source: Times 9 June 1903 p10: obituary of Henry Cassels Kay.
Isabel returned to London and found rooms in Kensington, firstly in Young Street off the High Street, the first of several very temporary addresses in the district. This might have been the time that Isabel spent one term at Heatherley’s School of Art, where artists could go if they were more or less trained but as yet had no studio of their own. She settled down to improve her figure-painting technique and to do some oil paintings of a high-enough standard to be exhibited. She also began to form a new social life for herself, singing as a contralto in the choir which was based in the new Royal Albert Hall; and joining the Wagner Society.
Source for Isabel in London: Memorabilia p90, p92-93, p107, p123 but without good dates.
Source for founding of the Wagner Society in England:
The Pursuit of High Culture: John Ella and Chamber Music in Victorian London by Christina Bashford 2007. On p304 London Wagner Society founded 1872 by Edward Dannreuther.
For Heatherley’s see its website at www.heatherleys.org. A list of its well-known ex-pupils includes Byrne Jones, Millais, Leighton and Kate Greenaway.
Comment by Sally Davis: though Isabel wasn’t at Heatherley’s for long, she might have coincided there with two other future GD members: Henrietta Farr and Henry Marriott Paget, who married each other in 1879. I haven’t been able to tie down exactly when the Pagets were students, but it was some time during the 1870s.
Source for Henrietta Farr and Henry Mariott Paget at Heatherley’s: The Correspondence of Samuel Butler with his Sister May edited and with an introduction by Daniel F Howard. University of Cambridge Press; University of California Press 1962: p80, letter dated 21 August 1879 and written while Butler was in Switzerland; and footnote 2 on p81.
EARLY CAREER AS A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST so say mid- to late-1870s
Isabel’s painting style was (in her own words)“somewhat perverted by a strong passion for Alma-Tadema’s work”. Looking back, she felt that it had been “not the right technique for me to have imitated” and saw Alma-Tadema’s work as “cold and soulless”.
Memorabilia p58, p86.
Sources for Laurence Alma-Tadema. Plenty of them, but I looked through these two:
Royal Academy Exhibitors 1769-1904 compiled by Algernon Graves. Volume 1 A-D pp28-29 which shows that Alma-Tadema was showing work at the RA in 1869. He moved to London in 1871 and exhibited at least one painting every year in the 1870s. Roman, Greek and Egyptian subjects and settings predominated.
The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema by Vern G Swanson. London: Garton and Co 1990. Swanson suggests that Alma-Tadema’s work was so hugely popular during his lifetime because his paintings made it easy for the British to equate their imperial project with the Roman one: he painted Victoriann bourgeois scenarios in Roman settings and Roman clothes. Isabel could have seen Alma-Tadema’s work in Europe in the late 1860s if she had been to the right galleries but his style changed slightly after he moved to England and saw works by the Pre-Raphaelites: they brightened his palette.
Comment by Sally Davis: I’m inclined to agree with Isabel about the rather soul-less nature of Alma-Tadema’s work - so often, the people in his paintings seem to be less important than the details of the Roman architecture they are shown in.
Isabel exhibited some pictures at a major venue for the first time. She showed three oil paintings at the 4th autumn exhibition at the Corporation of Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery: The Coming Squall; “Basking in Heaven’s Serenest Light...”; and Philae, Egypt.
Comment by Sally Davis on this momentous occasion for Isabel! I hope she was there at the exhibition’s opening. The Corporation of Liverpool had organised its first autumn exhibition in 1871. The venue is huge and in the 1880s and 1890s there were around 1000 exhibits in every year’s show. Isabel showed more paintings in the Walker’s autumn exhibitions than at any other gallery or Society’s exhibitions: Liverpool was her home town; and she had friends on the Corporation committees that organised this big event. One friend in particular, Philip H Rathbone, was on the Exhibition Committee from 1874 at the latest, to 1894; then his place was taken by another Rathbone, Herbert. Despite her Liverpool connections, at least as far as 1902 the Corporation had not bought any of Isabel’s paintings for its collection.
4th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Watercolours, catalogue 1874: unnumbered page listing which Corporation of Liverpool councillors were on the various committees that ran the exhibition; list of exhibitors p47, Isabel as “de Steiger, Isabel” giving Ramle, Egypt, as her address. On p3 catalogue number 6: The Coming Squall - Mediterranean - Ramle Egypt; at £13/13. On p3 catalogue number 11 with the title line left blank but a two-line quote below:
“Basking in Heaven’s serenest light
Those groups of lovely palm trees bright”. Price £11.
And p12 catalogue number 220: Philae Egypt, also with a quote:
“The ruined shrines and towers that seem
The relics of a splendid dream”. Also priced at £11.
Both the quotes are from Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance published 1817 by Thomas Moore (1779-1852).
Descriptive Catalogue of the Permanent Collection of Pictures issued by the Corporation of Liverpool in 1902; list compiled by the collection’s curator, Charles Dyall. On p22 confirmation that the Corporation had bought pictures from the Walker Art Gallery exhibitions.
Further comments by Sally Davis: I don’t know when Isabel painted these three first exhibited paintings and of course I haven’t seen any of them. From their titles, I’d say they were landscapes; or possibly landscapes with figures. I think it’s safe to assume that the basic sketches for all three paintings were probably done during Isabel’s recent winter in Egypt. Again, just from their titles, they sound like subjects she very often returned to in the future. They were the kind of art that was popular with the newly-rich middle classes, who were buying art works for the first time: scenes inspired by popular literature; and scenes of exotic lands and peoples. Isabel had been lucky, in a way, going to live in Egypt: scenes of exotic lands were right outside her door there.
However, Isabel’s decision to become a professional artist indicated that she was aiming higher now. The training she did over the next two or three years equipped her with the skills needed to draw the human body convincingly. The kind of painting thought of as ‘great’ - allegory, myth, political and history painting - was dominated by depictions of the human body, done large and with the emphasis on accurate portrayal of muscles, faces and - the ultimate challenge - hands. It was a training that women were, in general, barred from and Isabel herself had great trouble getting it; but she was determined to paint ‘great’ art.
For general information on the different kinds of genres, and lists of the most important artists see
Popular 19th Century Painting: A Dictionary of European Genre Painters. By Philip Hook and Mark Poltimore. Antique Collectors’ Club 1986: especially p21 though NB Isabel is not mentioned or listed anywhere in the book.
LATE-ISH 1874, or 1875
Isabel joined the British National Association of Spiritualists (BNAS).
Source for BNAS and its founding: its descendant, the College of Psychic Studies. See its website at www.collegeofpsychicstudies.co.uk. The College has the archive of BNAS and a complete run of its magazine Light, first issued on 8 January 1881 and still being published now.
Source for Isabel joining it: Memorabilia p139.
Comments by Sally Davis: Isabel was not a founding member of the BNAS – it had been set up in 1873. However, by becoming a member she was showing support for it at a time when it was still getting established. She was also acknowledging how important spiritualism was to her in making her second attempt to settle in London more successful than the first. Most of the acquaintances Isabel made through spiritualism aren’t mentioned in Memorabilia, but information from other sources identifies quite a few of them (see below and in other files in the Isabel life-by-dates sequence). Over the next few years some of them played an important part in Isabel’s move on from spiritualism towards more complex and challenging forms of occult understanding. For example, without them she would probably not have found out about the existence of Isis Unveiled. It’s a pity, then, that by the 1890s Isabel was thinking of spiritualism as a form of magic practised by the ignorant, where people professing to know more than they actually did led others into danger in the realms beyond sight.
Source for these changed views:
Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published for its proprietors at their offices 2 Duke St Adelphi. Volume 15 January-December 1895. Issue of 2 November 1895 p535 letter from Isabel headed Luciferianism.
1 JANUARY 1875
The Theosophical Society was founded in the USA by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott.
Sources: I got the information from www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/theosophical-society
Isabel’s younger brother, the solicitor William Henry Lace, died, aged 40.
Source: Probate Registry.
Comment by Sally Davis: almost certainly a most reluctant solicitor, just like his father had been, William Henry was the last member of the Lace family to work for the family legal firm; though out of respect especially to Isabel’s uncle Ambrose Lace, the name was kept in the firm’s title for many years. I can’t find any evidence that William Henry married - he certainly hadn’t by census day 1871 when his sister Constantia was keeping house for him.
Isabel exhibited four more paintings at the Walker Art Gallery’s autumn exhibition: Hagar in the Desert; The Evening Meal, Ramle, Egypt; Mansours Tent; and On the Road to Aboukir.
5th Liverpool Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures 1875. In the list of exhibitors p47. List of paintings: p13 catalogue number 277 Hagar in the Desert, for sale at £15; p16 catalogue number 342 The Evening Meal, Ramle, Egypt, proce £10/10; p17 catalogue number 364 Mansours Tent (which surely should be Mansour’s Tent) £30; and p18 catalogue number 405 On the Road to Aboukir for sale at £20. They were all oil paintings.
Comments by Sally Davis: in the list of exhibitors Isabel’s address was given as Ramle, Egypt. She certainly used local scenes in all four paintings. However, I think she had probably left Egypt by this time.
It was brave of Isabel to tackle the Old Testament story of Hagar and Ishmael, particularly so soon after she decided to become a professional artists: even a quick search with google will show you how many other artists painted it. They included such greats as Rubens and Tiepolo and it seems also to have been a very popular subject amongst northern European Renaissance artists. I believe Isabel exhibited the Hagar painting once more, with the title ‘the dismissal of Hagar’; but in the rest of her career as an artist she only painted one more Biblical character - John the Baptist - and she never exhibited that painting, as far as I can tell.
Isabel’s sister Helena’s son Verney Cameron Turnbull was born, in Ewell in Kent. The only other member of the Lace family to publish a book, he was one of Isabel’s beneficiaries in her Will.
Sources: freebmd and Will of Isabelle Elizabeth de Steiger dated 6 March 1924.
PROBABLY MID-LATE 1870s
Isabel waded into the ongoing debate about whether women could paint great art - or at all - by rebutting some criticisms of works by women in the Royal Academy shows. She wrote letters to the papers saying that if women painters’ technique was poor it was only because the RA wouldn’t let them train in its school. As a result (she thought) not only did the RA refuse to show any of her work for many years, she was also rejected by the Society of Women Artists. In 1882 the RA did exhibit one of Isabel’s works but she was sure it was because they got her name wrong, reading it - and consequently labelling her painting - as by “Miss F Steeger”.
Source: Memorabilia p107, p110, p130-31. Isabel doesn’t say where or exactly when her letters were published. I did check in the Times for the late 1870s as that seemed a likely time, and it’s easy to search using Timesonline, but I couldn’t find any from her. I’m at a loss how else and where else to follow up.
Comment by Sally: I wonder if the RA would have accepted Isabel’s painting, if they’d got her name right?! Although in Memorabilia Isabel gives the impression that the Society of Women Artists banned her altogether for sticking her neck out on such a contentious issue, the SWA’s catalogues show that Isabel exhibited paintings at the SWA on several occasions between the late 1870s and the late 1880s.
AGAIN PROBABLY MID-LATE 1870s
Isabel read at least some works by the French spiritualist and writer Allen Kardec. She read them in the English translations by Anna Blackwell (who later joined the GD) though she doesn’t seem to have known Blackwell personally. Kardec had invented the concept which Blackwell translated with the word ‘spiritism’, which attempted to put together spiritualism with reincarnation.
Source for Blackwell’s translations of Kardec into English: British Library catalogue.
1875 Spiritualist Philosophy: the Spirits’ Book
1876 Experimental Spiritism: the Medium’s Book
1878 Practical Spiritism: Heaven and Hell.
Source for Isabel reading Kardec: Memorabilia p153 but she doesn’t mention which of these she read; perhaps she read all of them as they were meant to be read as a set. Despite Blackwell’s efforts, spiritism didn’t catch on in the UK even amongst spiritualists.
Comment by Sally Davis: these works were amongst the earliest Isabel read, according to Memorabilia.
This was the only year between 1874 and 1895 that Isabel didn’t show a single painting at any of the major gallery exhibitions.
Alma-Tadema’s Cleopatra was shown at the Royal Academy.
Source: Royal Academy Exhibitors 1769-1904 Volume 1 A-D pp28-29.
The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema by Vern G Swanson. London: Garton and Co 1990, from which it’s clear that this isn’t a typical Alma-Tadema with people being upstaged by Roman architecture. Instead, Cleopatra, in close-up, looks sidelong at the viewer from a large, soft cushion, one shoulder bare, breast just about covered by a leopard-skin. Comment by Sally Davis: at the end of the 1870s Isabel painted four scenes from the incident-packed life of Cleopatra. I’ve never seen any of them so I don’t know what they were like; but from their titles I think I can be sure Isabel’s Cleopatras were not like Alma-Tadema’s! However, I do think Isabel might have been inspired to get to work, by this painting which she must surely have seen at the RA that spring. Also on view from Alma-Tadema that year were An Audience at Agrippa’s; and After the Dance (which despite its title has a Roman setting).
BEGINNING OF 1877
Isabel’s sister-in-law Theodosia Fanny Lace died (wife of Joshua Verney Lovett Lace), aged 42. Isabel’s eldest sister Constantia moved in with her brother at Christleton Old Hall to look after his three young children.
Sources: freebmd and census 1881.
Isabel exhibited a painting in Ireland for the first time. It was shown in Dublin, at the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts’ annual exhibition. Its title was given in the catalogue as ‘Mansours’.
Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 compiled by Ann M Stewart. Volume 1: A-G. Dublin: Manton Publishing 1986. On p210 as de Steiger, Mme Isabel.
Comments by Sally Davis:
On the painting: I suppose it was the same oil painting that she had shown at the Walker Art Gallery in 1875 as ‘Mansours Tent’ (which I think should be Mansour’s Tent). This time as catalogue number 164; £20. Isabel also exhibited works at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1882, 1883, 1885, 1887 and 1894.
Probably SPRING 1877
Isabel went to an exhibition at the British National Association of Spiritualists. The exhibits were photographs taken in Paris, of “paraffin moulds of spirit heads”. Isabel felt that one in particular, entitled ‘Angela’, represented “our idea of pure Greek art”.
Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 11 July-December 1877 issue of 17 August 1877 p78.
9 AUGUST 1877
Isabel went to a reception organised by the Dalston Association of Spiritualists, to meet the American mediums John William Fletcher and his wife Susan.
Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 11 July-December 1877 p78 issue of 17 August 1877. The main feature of the evening was a session with John William Fletcher and his spirit guide Winnona. The Dalston Association was a particularly active spiritualist group; its activities were featured regularly in The Spiritualist and in Light in the 1880s. However, this reception was the only one to mention Isabel amongst the guests.
Comment by Sally Davis: Isabel seems to have been particularly anxious to meet John William Fletcher. A trance medium, he had arrived from the United States in June 1877.
Source for his arrival: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 10 p258 issue of 1 June 1877 described him as “recently arrived”. Mrs Makdougall Gregory of Green Street had helped launch his career in England by hiring him for one of her private seances.
10 AUGUST 1877
The Spiritualist published a letter from Isabel entitled A Speculation Relating to the High Art of Ancient Greece. In it she wondered if the perfect bodies portrayed in ancient Greek sculpture were the result of their sculptors having had “visions of the materialised forms of their gods”.
The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science Volume 11 July-December 1877 p70 issue of 10 August 1877 letter as by “Isabel de S” of Kensington
Comments by Sally Davis: it was only a short letter but I think I’ve learned a lot from it! Firstly, letters from Isabel usually print her full surname, so I’m wondering if this was the first letter she had sent to The Spiritualist; though I have to say that I haven’t investigated the magazine any further back than 1877.
The letter indicates that Isabel had been doing some deep thinking since going to the exhibition of paraffin heads. It shows her already holding opinions that she kept to the rest of her life: the move of the human race away from god or the gods towards materialist concerns; the resulting decline in artistic creativity and the current absence of “real beauty” in art. The letter also shows that although she hadn’t been interested in spiritualism for very long, Isabel was already convinced that the spirits contacted during a seance looked like humans, and could be painted as such, and photographed. Although while writing her letter she was shaken by sudden doubt - “are my ideas still crude and worthless?” - the exhibition of paraffin heads had confirmed Isabel in her views on art and modern society.
Finally, sending the letter to a magazine read by spiritualists with some money to spare may have been part of an effort by Isabel to position herself as an artist seeking commissions who shared many of their beliefs:
FRIDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 1877 TO FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER 1877
Isabel attempted to set herself up as a portrait painter, by putting an advert in The Spiritualist magazine.
Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 11 July-December 1877 on piv – the back page small ads – of issues on of 14 September to 19 October 1877; and then with slightly more detail on piv of the issues of 26 October to 30 November 1877. The adverts said that from 15 October a “lady artist” who was a spiritualist would be available to do portraits at a studio in Kensington; she would offer reduced fees (no details) to mediums and other spiritualists.
Comment on why I think it’s Isabel’s advert, by Sally Davis: the lady artist didn’t give her name; but I don’t know of any other woman artist of the time who could claim to be a spiritualist, working in Kensington after a training by Belucci (sic) of Florence. The advert actually named Belucci.
John William Fletcher advertised for readers of The Spiritualist to join a spiritualist circle that would meet regularly, with him as the medium, to encourage “higher forms of mental manifestations”.
Source for the spiritualist circle:
The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 11 July-December 1877 pii – the small ads – of issue of 21 September 1877. It was only an advert and I didn’t see any coverage of such a group in subsequent issues of The Spiritualist. I do think it’s possible, though, that if such a group was set up, Isabel might have been a member of it. Its meetings were held at 2 Vernon Place Bloomsbury.
MID OCTOBER 1877
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled was published, in America. It was available in England through the publisher’s English agent, for £1 16 shillings.
Source: The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 11 July-December 1877 p198 issue of 26 October 1877. Regular readers of The Spiritualist will have known for several months that the book was in preparation. News of it had been circulating in spiritualist circles for some months: advanced notice of its publication was printed in The Spiritualist volume 10 January-June 1877 p36 issue of 19 January 1877, though giving it a slightly different title – The Veil of Isis.
Comment by Sally Davis: in Memorabilia Isabel doesn’t mention exactly when she read Isis Unveiled. However, I think it’s safe to say that she had done so by June 1878.
Isabel lived at 3 Longridge Road in Earl’s Court for a short time.
The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden. Hilmarton Manor Press 1996. Volume 1 A-D p328 entry for De Steiger, Isabel; painter. Information taken from catalogue of the Society’s exhibition March-May 1878; by the exhibition of 1879 Isabel had moved away.
12 FEBRUARY 1878
Theodosia Lace’s widower, Isabel’s brother Joshua Verney Lovett Lace, died aged 46. Constantia became legal guardian of her two nieces and her nephew.
Probate registry information including the guardianship of Theodosia Catherine Lovett Lace, Charles Verney Lace and Josephine Constance Stanley Lace, all still minors.
London Gazette 23 April 1878.
Comment by Sally Davis on this sequence of deaths. There seem to be two trends in the Lace family: one is to die very young - which doesn’t just affect the men; and the other is to live to a remarkable age. Isabel’s sister Constantia stayed living with at Old Christleton Hall with her nieces and nephew. All three of the children died relatively young.
Isabel showed three pictures at the exhibition of what was then called the Society of Lady Artists, in London: Slave Girl of the Harem; Consuelo; and a portrait of Mrs Patterson.
Source for the exhibits:
The Society of Women Artists Exhibitors 1855-1996 editor Charles Baile de Laperrière, compiler Joanna Soden. Hilmarton Manor Press 1996. Volume 1 A-D p328 entry for De Steiger, Isabel; painter. Paintings exhibited 1878: catalogue numbers 354 (£16); 298 (£16); and 401.
Dates of the exhibition: Times Monday 18 March 1878 p4 a typically patronising report on the Society’s 1878 exhibition, which had just opened at the Society’s own galleries in Great Marlborough Street. There were 800 works, about half the number that had originally been submitted to the Society. None of Isabel’s works were mentioned. Times Saturday 27 April 1878 p2 an announcement that the exhibition would close on 4 May 1878.
Further information on Consuelo:
This is not the same painting as the genre scene of a Spanish girl with a tambourine that Isabel showed in 1879. It’s actually an early attempt by Isabel to portray something of the Mysteries: In Memorabilia Isabel mentions, “George Sand’s marvellous novel Consuelo, in which she describes the mysterious underground grotto with its strange ‘well’ scenes, and the powerful secret order of which Count Albert was the leader and head...it was the mystery that enthralled me. I ought to have been a little more inquisitive”.
Isabel’s quote is reproduced in
Rudolf Steiner in Britain: A Documentation of His Ten Visits 1902-25 by Crispian Villeneuve. Forest Row: Temple Lodge 2004. In Section: A New Birth p592 Interlude (1913-21).
And further information on Mrs Patterson:
I’m not quite sure whether this is two women or one; Occam’s Razor would suggest it’s one:
At www.theosociety.org/pasadena The Letters of H P Blavatsky to A P Sinnett etc editor A T Barker are online. Letter number 1, with no date, written by Blavatsky in Bombay, refers to a Mrs and Mr Patterson, friends of the Sinnetts.
The American spiritualist medium Mrs S E Patterson:
Wikipedia on the Seybert Commission, which arose from a donation of money by a Mr Seybert to the University of Pennsylvania to be used to investigate the claims of spiritualism. The University’s Commission was taking evidence between 1884 and 1887 and its final Report was published in 1887. Mrs S E Patterson was one of the first mediums investigated by the Commission. She used a slate to write down communications she received in a trance. However, she tended to freeze and not be able to perform at all when members of the Commission were watching her. It could have worked out a lot worse for her, though: the Commission members caught plenty of other mediums in the act of defrauding their clients.
In Madame Blavatsky Revisited by Joseph Howard Tyson. New York, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse 2006. Seen via google so I couldn’t find a page number: there’s a reference to a Mrs S E Patterson. Dr Furness attended one of her seances on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Commission. He admired the theatrical effects she used to create a receptive atmosphere, including playing on a small organ. But then she channelled two spirits, one German and one Italian, neither of which could speak their supposed native language. Dr Furness wasn’t impressed.
Isabel’s painting of Mrs Patterson wasn’t for sale and was, presumably, given by her to the sitter. She exhibited it once more, in 1879.
The next file in this life-by-dates sequence begins June 1878, when Isabel joined the newly-founded London Lodge of the Theosophical Society.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web. Very good on bankruptcies!
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
COPYRIGHT SALLY DAVIS
2 January 2023
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