The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Cecilia M. Pearse, 1853/1854-??

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1853 or 1854
Place of Birth: London
Date of Death:
Place of Death:


Cecilia Maria Pearse, née de Candia, was the daughter of Grisi and the great Italian tenor Mario de Candida. She herself was an amateur soprano singer and society hostess. She married Godfrey Pearse, a fencer and the brother of Mrs Charles Stephenson.


In 1868 Cecilia Pearse was living at Arlington House, Turnham Green and in October 1869 her family moved from the Villa Salviati, Florence for good. Louise Jopling, who went on to paint her portrait, described her as 'One of the most charming of women', declaring that 'Her singing voice was exquisite - too delicate for public life, but in private she enchanted all her listeners.' She also wrote and was the joint author along with Frank Hird of The Romance of a Great Singer: A Memoir of Mario (1910), as well as author of The Kitchen Garden and the Cook: An Alphabetical Guide to the Cultivation of Vegetables (1913) and The Enchanted Past (1926). She also published Two Songs. No. 1. In Benison. Words by E. Harter. No. 2. Three fateful Days. Words by Lord Henry Somerset (1910) and Golden Slumbers. Song (1912).

In 1874/6 Cecilia Pearse's name was included in a list by JW that may have been a guest list to a private view of JW's Pall Mall exhibition of 1874 or a subscription list for JW's Venice etchings as proposed in 1876 [#12714]. In February 1877 JW personally invited Cecilia Pearce, whom he greatly admired, and her husband to view Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (YMSM 178) at Leyland's London home at Princes Gate [#09361]. The Pearses were also among those invited to JW's famous Sunday breakfasts in the late 1870s and 1880s [#04544, #13155]. Cecilia Pearse recalled: 'It was about 1879 we used to go to Whistler's 'breakfasts', which was a big breakfast and luncheon rolled into one. They generally began about 11.30, sometimes 12 o'clock and he always had interesting guests. At one of these repasts we met Carlyle who signed for me the print of his portrait by our brilliant and erratic host, and which Whistler himself had given me'. She met Frank Miles there who did a drawing of her with a nightingale in the top corner as a compliment to her voice 'soprano acuta'. Cecilia Pearse, describing the decoration of JW's home at this time, wrote: 'Whistler at the Copper Door, decorated his narrow passage from the front door with 'nocturnes' in blue and silver, and scenes from the Thames, both in sunset and fog'.

JW commented on the Whistler v. Ruskin libel trial to the Pearses: 'What was the use of asking juries if my paintings were worth the sums I ask for them. You might as well sing 'Maggie's Secret' to them and then ask them if Wagner's 'Tannhauser' came up to it and which was the best'. 'Maggie's Secret' was a very well known and popular ballade composed by Virginia Gabriel that Cecilia Pearse sang frequently at concerts and according to her was admired by JW. Pearse had some of JW's letters and prized his autographs. Following the Franco-Prussian War the Pearses lived partly in London and partly in Brighton.


UK census 1881, from (accessed 2004); Jopling, Louise, Twenty Years of my Life, 1867 to 1887, London, 1925; Mrs Pearse, The Enchanted Past, London, 1926.