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Meynell, Alice

    Full Name: Meynell, Alice Christiana Gertrude

    Other Names:

    • Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson
    • A.C. Thompson

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 11 October 1847

    Date Died: 27 November 1922

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): art criticism; aesthetics, Impressionist (style), and Pre-Raphaelite

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): Homeschooled


    Late-Victorian poet, journalist, and art critic. Meynell, then Thompson, was born into an affluent and well-educated family with a pianist- and amateur painter mother, Christiana Jane Weller (1825–1910), and an independently wealthy Jewish father, Thomas James Thompson (1809–1881). Thompson and her elder sister Elizabeth Thompson (1846-1933), later known as Lady Butler and one of the most acclaimed British painters in the 1870s, were homeschooled by their father. The Thompson family’s connection with many prominent writers at the time, including Charles Dickens, grew Alice Thompson’s literature interests at an early age. She frequently moved between England and Italy beginning at age four, enabling her to speak both English and Italian. She published her first poetry collection, Preludes, in 1875, quickly following the sudden success of her sister’s paintings. Among the admirers of Preludes were the English art critic John Ruskin as well as journalist Wilfrid Meynell (1852-1948), who married Alice in 1877. Their subsequent family grew quickly with eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Despite having a family to attend to, Meynell was equally committed to her journalist career, regularly contributing literary criticism to the Pall Mall Gazette, the National Observer, The Spectator, the Saturday Review, The World, and The Tablet, among other periodicals.

    Beginning in 1880, Meynell wrote as an accomplished art critic publishing essays continually in the Magazine of Art. She wrote about artists, including Alexandre Cabanel, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Léon Bonnat, Henri Regnault, William Quiller Orchardson, Ernest Meissonier, and Alphonse de Neuville, in the “Our Living Artists” column of the magazine. Meynell contributed reviews of art exhibitions and collections and collaborated on many other articles in the Magazine of Art that were credited solely to her husband. During the same period, the friendly rival of The Magazine of Art, The Art Journal, was another periodical where Meynell published her essays on artists, paintings, and architecture. Her essay The Point of Honour, was collected along with her other works from periodicals into her first volume of essays published in 1893, The Rhythm of Life. In that essay she characterized Diego Velázquez as “the first Impressionist.” The year 1892 began Meynell’s friendship with English poet and literary critic Coventry Patmore (1823-1896), who made evident his devotion to Meynell by giving her the manuscript of his most famous work The Angel in the House. Patmore invited John Singer Sargent to draw the portrait of Meynell in 1894, prompting Sargent’s admiration for Meynell’s work and consequential request for Meynell to write the introduction for The Work of John S. Sargent, R.A., a book of Sargent’s pictures’ reproductions in 1903. Meynell published her book on Ruskin, a praiser of Meynell’s earliest literary works, for Blackwood’s Modern English Writers series in 1900. Titled John Ruskin, the book was intended to be “principally a hand-book of Ruskin” (8) as Meynell offered exhaustive analyses of over twenty writings by Ruskin.  After a number of illnesses, migraines and depression among them, Meynell died in 1922, age 75.

    Selected Bibliography

    • Preludes. London: H.S. King, 1875;
    • The Rhythm of Life, and Other Essays. London: E. Mathews and J. Lane, 1893;
    • (with Frederic Farrar) William Holman Hunt, His Life and Work. London: Art Journal Office, 1893;
    • John Ruskin. London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1900;
    • Children of the Old Masters (Italian School). London: Duckworth & Co, 1903;
    • (introduction) The Work of John S. Sargent, R.A. London: W. Heinemann; New York: S. Scribner’s Sons, 1903;


    • Badeni, June. “Meynell [née Thompson], Alice Christiana Gertrude (1847–1922), poet and journalist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004;
    • —. The Slender Tree: A Life of Alice Meynell. Cornwall: Tabb House, 1981;
    • Meynell, Viola. Alice Meynell, a Memoir. London: J. Cape, 1929;
    • Fraser, Hilary. Women Writing Art History in the Nineteenth Century: Looking like a Woman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.


    Contributors: Siyu Chen


    Siyu Chen. "Meynell, Alice." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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