Emilie Venturi was the daughter of the London solicitor William Henry Ashurst. In 1850 she married Sydney Hawkes, the friend and partner of James Stensfeld, who married Emilie's sister Caroline. Emilie and Hawkes separated in 1854 and divorced in 1861. In 1861 Emilie married Carlo Venturi, a Venetian patriot.
Emilie was related by marriage to James Stansfield, M.P. for Halifax, who was a close friend of Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian nationalist. At her father's house in Stoke Newington, Mazzini, Saffa and the leading political refugees of France, Germany and Poland used to meet. Emilie became an admirer of both Mazzini and the Irish nationalist leader and M.P. Charles Stewart Parnell. She was an early advocate of women’s emancipation. Her second husband Venturi was a friend and follower of Mazzini. Emilie wrote a biography of Mazzini and acted as his literary editor and secretary in Britain. She was also friendly with the dramatist, art critic and editor of Punch, Tom Taylor. She edited The Shield from 1871 until 1886.
Emilie Venturi was Whistler's friend and neighbour in Chelsea, and according to Whistler, persuaded Carlyle to sit to Whistler for Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (YMSM 137), after she and Carlyle had seen in Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) Whistler's studio in 1872. Whistler gave her The Thames (M.473), Winter landscape (M.572) and A Snowy landscape (M.573). She also owned Chelsea in Ice (YMSM 53). Whistler borrowed the work in 1887 for exhibition at the Society of British Artists.
Emilie greatly admired Whistler's 'Ten O'Clock' lecture. Having read the book she wrote to Whistler in 1890, 'There is one most amazing and ever renewed delight in this book - the dear, impossible butterfly; now gentle as a sucking dove, now defiant dangerous as a wasp; now artful as a mousquito [sic] that pricks so delicately you dont how [sic] where the sting entered, yet the flesh blisters and cannot forget that it did enter with a vengeance; now coy, now pert now playful, now rampant, now defiant, but always new, always graceful and "gentle"(!)' (#05959).
Mazzini, Giuseppe, The Duties of Man, trans. Emilie Venturi, London, 1862; Richards, E. F. (ed.), Mazzini's Letters to an English Family, 3 vols, London, 1920-22; Hammond, J. L., and Barbara Hammond, James Stansfeld: A Victorian Champion of Sex Equality, London, New York and Toronto, 1932; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995.