Queen of Ightham Mote exhibition

Black and white photograph from c.1889 of Queen Palmer with her daughter Elsie, and Kelpie the dog.

‘Queen of Ightham Mote - An American interlude: Queen Palmer, John Singer Sargent and their Circle’ exhibition ran from Saturday 4 March 2017 until June 2018. This exhibition is now finished.

Who was Queen Palmer?

Queen Palmer, wife of the American railroad engineer William Jackson Palmer who founded Colorado Springs, came to live at Ightham Mote with her three daughters in April 1887. 

Although they were only here for a few years, she was an engaging hostess and attracted the elite of the Aesthetic Movement who championed pure beauty and art for art’s sake.

Circle of friends

Queen’s circle of friends included author Henry James, actress Ellen Terry, costume designer Alice Comyns Carr, and the renowned artist John Singer Sargent.  

Two of Henry James’s most notable works are ‘A portrait of a lady’ and ‘Turn of the Screw’, which may have been inspired by his stay at Ightham Mote. He went on to live at Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, now owned by the National Trust. 

Ellen Terry was considered to be the greatest Shakespearean actress of the era. She later went on to live at Smallyhthe Place, near Tenterden in Kent, also now owned by the National Trust.  

John Singer Sargent

Sargent was the leading portrait artist of his generation, and he also painted landscapes (in both oil and watercolour), sketching with charcoal.

At the heart of the exhibition is his striking portrait of Queen’s daughter Elsie, ‘A young lady in white’.

‘A young lady in white’ returns

After more than a century, John Singer Sargent’s portrait of 17-year old Elsie Palmer returns to Ightham Mote. On loan from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, the portrait shows Elsie seated in front of the linen fold panelling in the house.

The painting was first exhibited in 1891 at Joseph Comyns Carr’s ‘New Gallery’ London, and following Queen’s death, moved to the family home in America. Last in the UK as part of the Tate Gallery’s ‘Sargent at the Tate’ exhibition in 1999, this is a unique opportunity to see the work of one of the great portrait artists in the place where it was originally painted.

" This is an amazing opportunity…and I can tell that Elsie is quite anxious for a visit to her former home."
- Michael Howell, Curator, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Elsie Palmer

Having grown up surrounded by members of the aesthetic movement, Elsie’s artistic connections continued in later life. Alongside her husband Leo Myers, she socialised with the elite of the Bloomsbury set, including Virginia Woolf, and also J.B. Priestley and George Orwell.