Mary, Madeline and Pamela - the three Wyndham sisters - were painted by John Singer Sergeant in 1899. For The Times it was, quite simply, ‘the greatest picture of modern times’. These beautiful, rich fin de siecle women clad in white came to epitomize a vanished world. The languor of their pose reflects the leisured, gilded, existence of the late Victorian aristocracy that was to be dealt a deathblow by the impact of the First World War.
Yet the lives of these three Wyndham sisters were far more turbulent than their air of calm suggests. Brought up in artistic and liberal circles, their childhood was freedom loving and filled with romance medieval fantasies. All three girls were intimate friends with the Pre-Raphaelites and grew to become leaders of the aesthetic movement. Bowing to convention, all three made excellent marriages but only one was happy. All three found emotional support from others - Mary with Arthur Balfour and the artist Wilfrid Blunt; Pamela with Edward Grey All three sisters were central to ‘the Souls’ - an unconscious and accidental grouping of brilliant, sincere and loyal friends.
Devoted to aesthetics and culture, the Souls also treated women with absolute equality to men and believed in liberated morals and a freedom of behaviour which shocked society.
This book is the first ever biography of these extraordinary sisters. Their lives and times are brought to life by the many letters they have left behind. All three were consummate, compelling and humorous letter writers which illuminate their markedly different and enchanting personalities. The First World War brought devastation to their families and their way of life. This brilliant debut by Claudia Renton captures them and their age in an unforgettable piece of historical and political biography.