Connie Gilchrist: A Little Victorian Superstar

Before the age of broadcast media a child’s best hope of becoming famous was either through acting or modeling, sometimes both.  One such star was Connie Gilchrist, who made her name by first modelling for Pre-Raphaelite painter supreme Lord Frederic Leighton at the tender age of 6 (the same age another English Connie made her big splash in more recent times).  Her first major assignment was for Leighton’s “Little Fatima”:

frederic-lord-leighton-little-fatima-1875

Frederic Lord Leighton – Little Fatima (1875)

Gilchrist posed again for Leighton for the line of little girls at the front of the procession in “The Daphnephoria”. All of the little girls were modeled after her.

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Daphnephoria (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Daphnephoria (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Daphnephoria (detail) (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Daphnephoria (detail) (1876)

And again for the child in “The Music Lesson”:

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Music Lesson (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Music Lesson (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Music Lesson (detail) (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Music Lesson (detail) (1877)

Around this time she began her career as an actress at the Gaiety Theatre, and Leighton would soon move on to other models.  Not long after, she caught the attention of Lewis Carroll, an avid theater-goer, in one of her roles.  Carroll described her in January 1877 as “one of the most beautiful children, in face and figure, that I have ever seen” and wished to capture her on camera.  As far as I know he never did.  He did, however, take her on a date of sorts to the Royal Academy, where she was able to observe the painting of herself in “The Music Lesson”—something, according to Carroll, she got quite a kick out of.  However, Carroll’s fascination with this particular child friend seems to have waned quickly, for only a year later he said of her: “She is losing her beauty, and can’t act,” a comment that was in my opinion undeserved, at least in terms of her beauty; I can’t vouch for her acting.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler had attended some of shows at the Gaiety Theatre and captured the child in one of her most notable and beloved performances, the so-called skipping rope dance, which Carroll did like despite his scathing critique of her otherwise.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Harmony in Yellow and Gold - Gold Girl - Connie Gilchrist (1877)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Harmony in Yellow and Gold – Gold Girl – Connie Gilchrist (1877)

Whistler painted her again in a more formal context a couple years later.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - The Blue Girl - Portrait of Connie Gilchrist (1879)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler – The Blue Girl – Portrait of Connie Gilchrist (1879)

Several theatrical photographs of Gilchrist were made over the span of her acting career.

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (1)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (1)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (2)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (2)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (3)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (3)

CIS:S.135:355-2007

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (4)

CIS:S.135:351-2007

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (5)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (5)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (6)

Wikipedia: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton

Wikipedia: James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Google Books: Dictionary of Artist’s Models: Connie Gilchrist

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