Women Writers and Italy: Two Englishwomen in Rome

Anne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of  Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where,  for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938)  makes very entertaining reading.

Artistic talent clearly ran in the family. Here is a study of Matilda Lucas by her niece, Rose Lucas. Samuel Lucas had been a renowned amateur artist and his daughters, too, had evidently inherited a measure of his talent. They spent much of their time in Rome engaged with their sketchbooks and easels, working both in the studio and plein air.

”Rome. February 14, 1875. On Saturday morning I went off my myself round by the Capitol, Forum, and Arch of Janus and out to the place where the Campagna oxen stand not far from the Temple of Vesta. I had taken my sketch-book, and, as I was walking down the road looking out for some cattle to draw, a splendid pair drew up with a very picturesque cart loaded with fodder and logs. So I set to work on that and stood there, surrounded by some villainous-looking roughs and a beggar. I gave out that I had no money and had left my watch at home, so I did not think they could do me much harm. They were much interested in my performance, and I talked to them. But when I shut up my book to go, the owner of the cattle demanded brandy and began to get excited, at which the others said, ‘Quella non ha denaro’. He seemed much disgusted,  but I got away all right, and walked on to the Temple of Vesta and Santa Maria in Cosmedin.’

‘Rome. 1879. Augusto sat very well. The first day he arrived long before time, so that Anne and I might have a private view and see whether he had shaved properly and arranged his curls. When we arranged the red doublet and short mantle on him it was most amusing to see the satisfaction with which he looked at himself in the glass.’

Corrodi: Tasso’s Oak and view of Rome from the Janiculum (mid-19th century)

‘Rome. May 20, 1878. By Tasso’s Oak are the remains of an amphitheatre with cypresses at the top and a small grass plot at the bottom. The singers were on the steps above us. By day the view of the distant city is grand; by night we could see where the city was by the lights, and could make out the line of Monte Cavo. Carlandi [the art master] was very indignant with the moon for being so late, but I told him I thought the stars and fireflies did very well. It was most beautiful to see the moon rise behind the Alban hills; it came up quite golden and made the mists look red. The singers were Carlandi’s sisters, the Professor, and Monsieur Thouron. They have good voices and sang with good taste; the mandolines were very sweet in the open air.

It was charming. Carlandi could not have given us a more artistic entertainment. The frogs, which Anne said had been awoken out of their beauty sleep, encored loudly from the Corsini gardens. The last son was Mendelssohn’s Adieu, which we generally call ‘Mourn Not’after which we made the best of our way home, delighted with our entertainment and the Carlandis.’


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  1. #1 by Robert Senecal on November 1, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    I am shortly publishing a complete edition of the letters – “Every body comes back to Rome” 2013 Gatehouse Editions – info@gatehouseeditions.co.uk
    Robert Senecal

    • #2 by womanandhersphere on November 2, 2013 - 7:44 pm

      Do you mean the letters of the Lucas sisters? If so, will be an excellent read.

  2. #3 by Robert Senecal on October 27, 2017 - 7:37 pm

    Yes, that’s right – and they are an interesting read

  3. #4 by John Owens on December 8, 2018 - 3:57 pm

    My first wife’s maternal grandfather, Russell Bryant, a primary school headmaster just north of Hitchin, had a number of paintings by Samuel and Matilda Lucas. On his death, several of these came down to my wife and on our divorce two by Matilda came to me. They are very charming landscape watercolours, one self-evidently of a cornfield in Hertfordshire, the other as evidently of an Italian view including a viaduct or aqueduct in the middle-distance. By chance today I saw an advertisement for your book in the Oldie Magazine’s winter review of books to which this email exchange relates. I should like to find out more about the Lucases and will do my best to come by a copy of your book on the Lucas sisters’ correspondence.
    John Owens

    • #5 by womanandhersphere on December 8, 2018 - 4:07 pm

      I think there must be a misunderstanding – because, although I did write a short piece about the Lucas sisters in Rome, I haven’t published anything about them. What was the book you saw mentioned?

  4. #6 by Robert Senecal on November 5, 2019 - 2:30 pm

    Every body comes back to Rome: the complete letters of Matilda Lucas; edited by Robert Sénécal

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