Lady Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake (1809-1893), wife of Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, is one of the earliest women bearing an Eastlake surname to receive national prominence for her contributions to writing and the arts.
Elizabeth was born in Norwich, Norfolk in 1809, the daughter of physician Edward Rigby and his wife Anne Palgrave. While taking a cure for typhoid in Switzerland, she learned German and began her career as an author when she translated a work on English art collections. An artist in her own right, she returned to study at the British Museum and National Gallery. In 1841, she published a travel book entitled A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic which earned her an invitation to write regularly for the Quarterly Review, the first woman to do so.
Elizabeth married Charles in 1849 at the age of 40. Working closely with her husband on his work at the National Gallery and Royal Photographic Society, they became central to London’s art world as described in a 2011 publication by Susanna Avery-Quash and Julie Sheldon, Art for the Nation: The Eastlakes and the Victorian Art World. She also continued her translation work and published a classic article on the newly developing field of photography in 1857.
Following her husband’s death, Lady Eastlake’s insightful memoir entitled ‘The Life of Sir Charles Eastlake’ was prefixed to his book, Contributions to the Literature of Fine Arts. Her surviving correspondence sheds further light on this remarkable woman, assembled for publication in 2009 as The Letters of Elizabeth Rigby, Lady Eastlake. In the introduction to this book, her personal impact is perhaps highlighted by the observation:
On his deathbed in 1851, the painter J. M. W. Turner was reported to have said ‘I saw Lady Eastlake’.
Anonymously published, A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic, 2 vol, (London, 1841).
S Avery-Quash and J Sheldon, Art for the Nation: The Eastlakes and the Victorian Art World, (Yale University Press, 2011), https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/art-for-the-nation-sir-charles-eastlake-at-the-national-gallery, [accessed 10 June 2016].
Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography”, The London Quarterly Review 101, no. 102 (April 1857), pp. 442-468, accessed at http://www.nearbycafe.com/photocriticism/members/archivetexts/photohistory/eastlake/eastlakephotography1.html, [accessed 25 July 2016].
Julie Sheldon, The Letters of Elizabeth Rigby, Lady Eastlake, (Liverpool, 2009), accessed at Open: Open Access, http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=389225, [accessed 25 July 2016].
60 artworks by Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, Tate Gallery, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/elizabeth-rigby-lady-eastlake-2555, [accessed 25 July 2016].
Portrait Sketch of Elizabeth Rigby: “Lady Elizabeth Eastlake”, (1831), source V&A Museum no. E.1009-1945, accessed at Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizabeth_Eastlake_portrait.jpg, [accessed 25 July 2016].
Photograph of Elizabeth Rigby: Hill & Adamson, “Elizabeth Eastlake c1847”, source The J. Paul Getty Museum, accessed at Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizabeth_Eastlake_c1847.jpg, [accessed 25 July 2016].