Auctions | November 5, 2014

Portrait of Tragic Girl with Ties to Percy Bysshe Shelley for Sale at Bonhams


A charming portrait of the lovely Bessie Florence 'Floss' Scarlett née Gibson (1851-1934), by Reginald Easton (British, 1807-1893), does not give any sense of the many tragedies that would befall her.

This watercolour of ‘Floss’, painted on ivory gilt-mounted on a rectangular velvet frame, is estimated to sell for £3,000 - 4,000 at Bonhams sale of Fine Portrait Miniatures on November 19th in Knightsbridge.

In the portrait, she stands before a sandy beach, wearing fawn dress over white chemise, her light brown hair upswept beneath a brown shearling hat set with a diamond brooch, holding a cane in her left hand.

Upon the death of her mother, 'Floss' was adopted by her paternal aunt, Jane Gibson, and Gibson's husband, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, 3rd Bt. (1819-1889). The couple had no children of their own. Shelley was the only surviving child of the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his novelist second wife, Mary Shelley née Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797-1851). ‘Floss’ was raised predominantly at Boscombe Manor on the Dorset coast, and the present lot is likely to have been painted close to this location.

On 16 February 1871, Floss married Lieutenant Colonel Leopold James Yorke Campbell Scarlett (1847-1888) of the Scots Guards. The couple had six sons and one daughter. Floss encountered considerable heartbreak during her adult life, outliving her husband and four of their children. Their youngest, Leopold, was lost at sea aboard an Australian submarine in 1914, aged twenty-five. Floss was four months pregnant with him when her husband died. Sir Percy Shelley died the following year.

Floss lived in many homes during her lifetime and visited Boscombe Manor frequently until it was sold in 1911. Her final years were spent in slight isolation at Penenden House, in Boxley near Maidstone. Her daughter, Ruth, and sons, Hugh, 7th Baron Abinger (1878-1943), and Percy (1885-1957), survived her.

The portrait was inherited by Floss’s only daughter, the Hon. Ruth Hester Frances Scarlett (1882-1943), and thereafter by descent.