A Celebration of Women Writers

"Anne Killigrew."

From: Reynolds, Myra. The Learned Lady in England 1650-1760. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; The University Press Cambridge, 1920. pp. 85-86, 139-141.

Anne Killigrew (1660-1685), a maid of honor to Mary of Modena, died at twenty-five, but she had already attained considerable repute as a portrait painter. There is a tradition that she studied with Sir Peter Lely. If so she must have taken these lessons before she was twenty, for Lely left England in 1680. Dryden says that her portrait of James II expressed "not only his outward part, but drew forth the very image of his heart," and that she was equally successful in depicting the bright beauty and peerless majesty of Mary of Modena. Her portrait of herself was engraved by Becket and prefaces the volume of her poems issued the year after her death. Other paintings were religious in subject, as her portrayal of incidents in the life of John the Baptist; or mythological, as in her representation of Diana's nymphs. Of far more possible significance is her landscape work. During 1660-1685, Robert Streater is the only English landscape-painter of whom we have record. Charles II brought over a number of Italian and Flemish artists who painted English landscapes in the style of Ruysdael, Poussin, or Salvator Rosa, and their work would be the pictures chiefly known at court. It is not improbable that Miss Killigrew's landscapes were copies or imitations of these foreign artists. Dryden says she painted ruins of Greece and Rome, and forest glades in which were nymphs and shaggy satyrs. Such pictures must have been copies. But Dryden also enumerates sylvan scenes of herds and flocks; clear, shallow little brooks; deep rivers reflecting as in a mirror the trees on their banks. Such pictures are truly English in tone and whatever their intrinsic value such a choice of subjects would put her with Robert Streator at the very inception of English landscape art. And though the scanty records concerning her painting do not substantiate Dryden's description of her landscapes, it could hardly be supposed that he would have been so explicit in a poem written for the family and immediately after her death had there not been some pictures at least moderately correspondent to his lines.1

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1 At Admiral Killigrew's sale in 1727 were six of his niece's canvases. They were Venus and Adonis, a Satyr playing on a Pipe, Judith and Holofernes, A woman's head, Graces dressing Venus, and her own portrait.

Portrait of woman, head and shoulders
Mrs. Anne Killigrew
From a painting by herself engraved by T. Chambars

Anne Killigrew came of a family prominent in the court of Charles II. Her uncle Thomas, the "court wit," was given a patent for the Theater Royal; her uncle Henry was admiral under James, Duke of York; her father was chaplain to James and Master of the Savoy; and Anne was maid of honor to Mary of Modena. She was born in St. Martin's Lane and died at her father's lodgings within the Cloisters of Westminster. London and the court were her habitat. Ballard says she had "a polite education," but no details are given. She apparently was taught the accomplishments counted necessary for a girl in her social position. That she went beyond mediocrity in painting we have already seen.1 In poetry, also, according to Dryden, she excelled. The thin volume of her published verse (1686) scarcely justifies his eulogy, but Wood, in Athenæ Oxoniensis, says that Dryden in no way exceeds the truth. Her poems sent anonymously from hand to hand received high praise and were even at first attributed to the best poets of the age. They gradually came to be known as hers, but she gives no evidence of having suffered any contumely as a poetess. She has nowhere any complaint of undue or irritating feminine limitations. She is pessimistic, scornful, rather hard and drastic, in her judgements, but it is greed for gold, ambition for place or power, unbridled love, atheism, war, that are the subjects of her invective. There is not a light or playful, or even a happy, touch in her poems. They have a crude virility, what Dryden calls a "noble vigour," and a contemptuous outlook on "the truly wretched Human Race."

Personally Miss Killigrew must have been attractive. Her epitaph eulogizes her as a daughter and a sister:

In a numerous race
And vertuous, the highest place
None envy'd her: sisters, brothers,
Her admirers were and lovers:
She was to all s' obliging sweet,
All in one love to her did meet.
And she was an acknowledged favorite at court, especially with her royal master and mistress. Dryden emphasizes her beauty and charm. The portrait she painted of herself shows her in no sense averse to pomps and vanities of attire.2 In actual life she must have moved along in fairly smooth accord with the life about her, but there could have been few ladies within the circle of the court more alien to it in spirit than Anne Killigrew. It is difficult to place her mentally amid the gayeties of London life. She presents an anomaly. To be young, beautiful, gifted, high in social opportunities, praised and loved, and yet to look out upon life with bitterness and distaste, to be conscious at twenty-five that all this world has to offer will turn to dust and ashes in the mouthsuch is the curious combination we find in her. While the few accessible details concerning her indicate a considerable degree of loveableness, her poems are those of an implacable moral censor.

Anne Killigrew was but four when Mrs. Philips died, but the spell of the "Matchless Orinda" descended early upon her, and she gives one of the earliest of many eulogies written by women concerning their distinguished ancestor among British Muses.

Orinda (Albion, and her sex's grace)
Ow'd not her glory to a beauteous face:
It was her radiant soul that shone within,
Which struck a lustre thro' her outward skin;
That did her lips and cheeks with roses dye,
Advanc'd her heighth, and sparkled in her eye.
Nor did her sex at all obstruct her fame.
But high'r 'mongst the stars it fixt her name;
What she did write, not only all allow'd,
But ev'ry laurel, to her laurel, bow'd !

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1 See p. 85, 86.

2 See mezzotint engraving by Becket in 1686 edition of her poems.