Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake (17 November 1809 – 2 October 1893), born Elizabeth Rigby, was a British author, art critic and art historian who was the first woman to write regularly for the Quarterly Review. She is known not only for her writing, but also for her significant role in the London art world while her husband, Sir Charles Eastlake, was director of the National Gallery there.
She was born in Norwich into the large family of Edward Rigby and his wife Anne. Her father was a physician who was also a classical scholar, and Elizabeth's parents included her in their social life and conversation with prominent citizens and intellectuals.
Elizabeth Rigby was fond of drawing from a young age and continued studying art into her twenties. She was privately educated, and learnt French and Italian, but after an illness in 1827 she was sent to convalesce in Germany and Switzerland. She stayed two years, and started a lifetime of publication with a translation of Passavant's essay on English art; a second trip to Germany in 1835 led to an article on Goethe. After travelling to Russia and Estonia to visit a married sister, her published letters, and her travel book A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic (1841) led to an invitation to write for the Quarterly Review by the editor, J. G. Lockhart.
In 1842 the widowed Anne Rigby moved with her daughters to Edinburgh where Elizabeth's literary career brought entry to an intellectual social circle including prominent figures like Lord Jeffrey, John Murray and David Octavius Hill who photographed her in a series of about 20 early calotypes, assisted by Robert Adamson. In 1857 she would publish an essay on the relationship between art and photography, showing she was knowledgeable about the "new and mysterious art" and discussing its strengths and weaknesses.
Despite a diary entry in 1846 saying there were many "compensations" for unmarried women, three years later when she was 40, Elizabeth married Sir Charles Eastlake and joined him in an active working and social life, entertaining artists like Landseer and mixing with a wide range of well-known people, from Macaulay to Lady Lovelace. Lady Eastlake's habit of continental travel continued through the 1850s and 1860s as she and her husband toured several European countries in search of new acquisitions for the gallery.
She continued to write prolifically, helping to popularise German art history in England, both as critic, and as translator (Waagen and Kugler). Sometimes she collaborated with her husband, and wrote a memoir of him after his death in 1865. Italian art also absorbed her attention. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and Dürer were the subjects of her Five Great Painters (1883), published ten years before she died.
In the 20th century she was mostly remembered for her scathing review of Jane Eyre, of which she strongly disapproved. She is also known for her attacks on Ruskin, assumed to be linked to her role as confidante to his estranged wife Effie. According to historian Rosemary Mitchell, however, her work as art historian and writer was significant and original. Mitchell considers Eastlake to have been a scholarly and perceptive critic, and a pioneer of female journalism. (ODNB)
- Rosemary Mitchell, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
- Lady Eastlake and Edinburgh Society in The Scotsman, 4 December 1895
- National Galleries of Scotland
- A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic (1841)
- Vanity Fair--and Jane Eyre from the Quarterly Review (1848)
- Music and The Art of Dress, two essays reprinted from the Quarterly Review (1852)
- Photography (1857)
- 60 drawings by Elizabeth Rigby from the Tate Gallery
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