SeIf Portrait of Artist unknown. 1832
“Among the consequences of fame was a visitation by artists”
[‘Grace Darling - Her True Story’, by Daniel H Atkinson & Thomasin Darling.]
Shipwrecks were ideal subject matter for artists. Add to this the true story of a ‘young maiden’ rescuing people from a wreck and very soon there were artists beating a path to Longstone Lighthouse, brushes at the ready. Such was the frenzy of public interest in Grace that even maritime painters, unskilled at portrait painting, were compelled to capture likenesses of the Darlings and to reveal to a waiting world the image of this heroine of the sea.
Before the days of photography sitting for a painted portrait was normal, but not for a lighthouse keeper and his daughter. William gave his approval for these “sittings” but Grace in particular had to sit for days for different artists, many commissioned to bring back images of this remarkable young girl.
Within a month of the rescue William had to restrict the number of new sittings and suggested that the public could obtain likenesses directly from the artists themselves who were already selling prints of engraved copies and even sending a batch to William Darling to sell to his visitors!
Despite this, the Darlings had a good relationship with the artists themselves and some became family friends. The portrait painter Henry Perlee Parker from Newcastle had an extended stay of a week with the Darlings at Longstone due to a raging storm and he was made welcome. He felt privileged to have shared a glimpse of their world, and even shed tears on his departure: “A rich treat to mix amongst these true children of nature,” he wrote. Parker named his baby daughter Grace and, three years later, Grace herself sent Parker’s wife “a frock for little Grace as a token of sincere respect…”
John Wilson Carmichael also from Newcastle was a notable maritime landscape painter who accompanied Parker to Longstone. He too befriended the family and corresponded with them, sending them books and offering to give them a dog. William had to refuse the dog, saying the house they live in was “not like one’s own”.
Thomas Musgrave Joy of London was the best-known artist, commissioned by a wealthy benefactor, Lord Panmure, to paint portraits of Grace and her father. He asked William to describe exactly where each person was situated in the coble during the rescue so he could paint an accurate image of the events. He lodged "for several weeks" with the Darlings. "Very pleasant he was" the family recorded.
John Reay of Newcastle came to Longstone during the autumn. He had a lucky escape; the boat he arrived on then foundered near Holy Island. Of Reay’s paintings a local newspaper reported, “The brother of the heroine...thinks it would be a difficult matter to have more striking likenesses.”
David Dunbar was a sculptor from Newcastle. During October 1838 he made marble busts, from life, of both Grace and William and within three weeks was selling casts of them at one guinea each. His bust of Grace can be seen in the entrance to the Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh. Another bust, bought at the time by the Bishop of Durham, can be seen at Bodelwyddan Castle, North Wales.
In the 1850’s the pre-Raphaelite artist William Bell Scott painted an outstanding mural of the rescue, as seen from the Forfarshire, in the Central Hall at Wallington Hall for Sir Walter Trevelyan, as part of a commissioned history of Northumbria. A National Trust property, Wallington is open to the public.
Painted 30 years after the event, Brooks famous portrait of Grace rowing alone in the coble, with windswept hair, sleeves rolled up, waves crashing over the side of the boat was much copied. It became the iconic image of Grace, reproduced on many souvenirs to this day.