A portrait of Lady Tennyson (nee Sellwood) July 9, 1813-August 10, 1896
Lady Tennyson, Emily Sarah Sellwood by Helen Allingham, 1880, Tennyson Research Centre, Lincolnshire, England
"A late watercolor drawing by Helen Allingham, now at the Tennyson Centre at Lincoln, comes as near to my memory as such a work can do. It shows a face with many traces of suffering. Perhaps it misses my grandmother’s strong sense of humor. I don’t remember ever hearing her laugh, but she had the most engaging smile." Sir Charles Tennyson
Painter, Helen Allingham was an artist in her own right married to William Allingham. The couple were good friends of The Tennysons and upon their last visit with them, this time at their home Aldworth, Haslemere, Surrey, Helen painted Alfred Tennyson's portrait along with his dog, Don, who sadly died the day after it was painted. According to William Allingham, it was Alfred who had asked Helen if she would paint his wife. She complied and painted her portrait the same day she painted Alfred's dog, Don. Although, I could not find a reference to this specific painting in Emily Tennyson's letters, or that of Alfred Tennyson's letters, it is within a paragraph of, Ann Thwaite's, 'The Poet's Wife' that mentions Emily being very frail and ill during The Allingham's visit and sitting for her portrait because her husband asked.
Don by Helen Allingham, painted August 5, 1880
I remember her as a frail, not very tall old lady, generally lying on her sofa in the drawing room at Farringford or Aldworth for she had been an invalid since the autumn of 1874 when a severe illness struck her and she had had to give up being the poet’s secretary and business manager, as she had been since very soon after their marriage in 1850. But she remained his intimate and entirely trusted comrade and adviser and the very competent director of all the domestic arrangements at both his homes. Though she seldom left her sofa, except to walk slowly into the dining room on the arm, of her husband or elder son, the house, with its large posse of servants, ran like clockwork. The upper servants the Lady’s Maid, “Smith,” the Housekeeper, “Andrews,” the Butler, “Godsall,” and the Coachman “William Knight” were all trusted friends. Each stayed with the family for forty or fifty years. Their peccadilloes were ignored and their dignity respected.
My grandmother herself had in old age at least, great beauty of feature and expression. When I think of her, I picture her in a silk dress, black or lavender voluminous and trailing, her silvery grey hair very plainly done, drawn back from a central parting and covered by a white lace shawl." The Letters of Emily Lady Tennyson by James O.Hoge, Foreward by Sir Charles Tennyson, 1974 edition. *NOTE: Sir Charles Tennyson was Alfred and Emily’s grandson, son of their youngest son, Lionel Tennyson and his marriage to first wife, Eleanor Bertha Mary.
“Lady Tennyson was never strong, and her son told me that even when he was a boy she was seldom able to walk far, and was always taken when an expedition on the Downs or to the sea was planned, in a wheeled chair, which his father pushed, and to which he and his brother Lionel were harnessed.
But she was a great worker, and until her son left Cambridge and became his father’s secretary, she dealt with the Poet’s enormous correspondence, and all her life was an active centre in the social life of her house; as gracious a hostess to the humblest visitor”. Helen Allingham, The Homes of Tennyson, 1905