Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Dorothy Dene - New Cross Eliza Doolittle?
Ada Alice Pullen (1859-1899) was one of several sisters from an impoverished family in New Cross whose faces stare out from pictures in art galleries across the world. Of these the most famous was Alice, who renamed herself Dorothy Dene, and was the main model for the painter Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) from the early 1880s onwards.
Dorothy Dene was the model for Leighton's The Bath of Psyche, now in Tate Britain, as well as other celebrated paintings inlcuding Clytie, The Last Watch of Hero and The Captive Andromache. Leighton encouraged Dene in her ambitions to be an actress. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'Her performance on stage was apparently disappointing, but it has been suggested that Leighton's attempts to model and promote a working-class girl from south London as a classical tragedienne.... were the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (first performed 1913)'.
Dorothy came from a family of ten - her father Abraham Pullen was a mechanical engineer. Four of the family posed for Leighton - Edith Ellen Pullen sat for his Memories; Hetty for Simothea the Sorceress and Farewell; and Lena in a number of paintings including Sisters Kiss and The Light of the Harem (source: The Dictionary of Artists Models).