Marianne Stokes

by Tolovaj

Marianne Stokes was among the leading female painters of the Victorian era. Here is an article about her life and work.

Marianne Stokes was a painter from Austria who married another painter from England. They often worked and exhibited together but she achieved a pretty good share of fame on her own. While she is considered a leading female painter of the Victorian era, her legacy is almost forgotten today.

One of the possible reasons is the simple fact that the majority of her works belong to private collections and are very rarely publicly displayed. So I decided to present her work to a wider audience through an article with a lot of her pictures and some interesting tidbits from her life.

Here are 10 facts about Marianne Stokes.

1. From Graz to Munich

Born as Maria Leopoldine Preindlsberger in Graz, Styria, Austria, she started her art education at the Graz Drawing Academy. Her first painting Muttergluck brought her a grant given by a foundation that took care of the inheritance of an artist who died one hundred years before and left only a few guldens to be invested and after a century paid to the most promising artist in Styria.

This strange last wish of an otherwise unknown artist gave Marianne a chance for further studies.

Portrait of Marienne Stokes (in front), the other lady unknown, by Helene Schjerfbeck (1881)

2. Couldn't Study at the Academy

She moved to Munich when she was 19 years old and lived there with her aunt. As the Academy of Fine Arts Munich did not accept women at the time, she took lessons from Gabriel von Hackl, Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger, Otto Seitz, and others.

3. The Muse

It's not known when and where exactly she met Johann Strauss II but she surely made a great impression on the already accomplished composer and conductor who dedicated Licht und Schatten (Light and Shadow) polka-mazurka to Marianne in 1875.

Lights and shadows were indeed Marianne's main occupation in her early years. Here is an example of her work titled Sweet Dreams which was made the same year as the musical composition above.


4. Paris

Next (logical) stop for the young artist looking for improvements was Paris where she moved in 1880. There she attended different academies and learned from many different painters. Anyways, the most influential in that period was definitely Jules Bastien-Lepage.

The magic of rustic naturalism became part of her always-evolving style and can be noticed in her works right to the end of her life.


Homeless (On the Way to the Fields) (1885), oil on board

In Paris, Marianne paved her way to success. She got a few awards, her paintings were accepted by the notorious Salon, and there she befriended another painter Helen Schjerfbeck. Helen convinced her to visit an artist colony in Brittany in 1883, where she was introduced to British painter Adrian Stokes. Next year, Marianne and Adrian got married in Graz.

They didn't become just ordinary married couple but enjoyed numerous artistic partnerships as well.

5. Travels

In the next years Marianne who adopted her husband's surname, and Adrian traveled to Italy, Denmark, Dalmatia, and England where they established a home at St. Ives in Cornwall. They didn't have children which gave them an opportunity for many more travels and paintings.

The most important of all were probably their visits to Hungary where Adrian painted landscapes and Marianne (mostly) portraits. Several exhibitions were held after these trips and finally, a book was published with 75 paintings and Adrian's text.


Styles of Marianne Stokes

6. From Naturalism to Symbolism

When Marianne left Paris she became more and more interested in Symbolism. She especially preferred themes from mythology, folklore (including fairy tales), and religion.

Here are a few examples:


This scene from the famous Frog Prince is more her vision or interpretation than a pure depiction of the scene from the fairy tale number one from the famous collection by the Brothers Grimm. The first meeting of the frog and the princess in the story is a confrontation of powers.

At first, the frog has the power because it can reach the golden ball, so it can extort the girl. But when she gets the promised ball, she instantly forgets her promises and doesn't care about the frog. Of course, she doesn't know she is dealing with an enchanted prince.

Marianne's scene shows both with crowns, the frog in the position a bit higher than the princess, which clearly puts both in at least the same position. There is no water which acts as an important barrier in the original fairy tale and there is a book portraying the princess as smarter than she appears in the Grimm version.


This scene at the glass coffin from Snow White is a good example of a symbolistic painting. Marianne Stokes didn't bother with too many details from the story (seven dwarfs, three different birds,...) and rather include a few symbols, like a deer (gentleness), a brooke (eternal life), Snow White with clasped hands (praying),...


The Passing Train, an oil painting from 1890 combines elements of Symbolism and Naturalism. Marianne Stokes' love of lights and shadows is obvious and we can also feel the impact of Impressionism, acquired from two visits to the artists' colony in Skagen, Denmark with her husband.

7. Move to Pre-Raphaelites and Decorative Art

Marianne Stokes gradually adopted the main principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with intense colors (what was essentially the same as her love for light and contrasts) and numerous details (great for a Symbolist). Hystorical themes, so popular among Pre-Raphaelites were also in tune with her inclination to mythological and religious themes with relatively complex compositions.


Like many followers of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Marianne later moved in other directions, keeping many of the acquired principles, like, in her case, the usage of a simple monogram instead of the signature of the painting. Her later works can be described as decorative art, which, by the way, regained popularity after the rise of another artistic movement called Arts and Crafts (one of the most important members was Walter Crane).


8. Medium

As every classic painter Marianne started painting with oil colors. But oil colors become darker with time and the contrasts are gradually lost. Tempera proved to be a good alternative although more demanding because it demanded more technical skills (every single not-so-perfect move shows in the final result). Marianne didn't have problems with a lack of technical skills but colors in tempera are still losing their brightness.

The solution was simple: many artists (Marianne Stokes included) replaced oils as the liquid part of tempera with egg yolk, creating egg-tempera where the brightness stays intact for decades and more!


9. Red Color All The Way!

As you probably already noticed, almost all presented paintings by Marianne Stokes share the same characteristic: they are largely dominated by red color. The color red is popular among the painters for centuries, but in this case, red stands out even more.

And it looks like all the people in the paintings belong to the group of redheads, statistically the rarest group of folk (regarding the color of the hair) in the world. This is true for real people in portraits and imaginary characters in Marianne Stokes' paintings.


10. Favorite Composition

While Mrs. Stokes moved through styles, media, and themes, one subject stayed among her favorite choices for all of her career. It was a portrait of a mother with a child. She frequently portrayed women (men were rarely in her paintings) and kids - real people and fictional characters but the theme of a mother with a child was definitely a popular option that was explored at different occasions, genres, and compositions.

It's not known if this was connected with the fact she didn't have kids on her own (and we don't know why), but it seems several great female illustrators like Kate Greenaway and Jessie Willcox Smith who didn't have their own children similarly enjoyed portraying scenes from the childhood - real and fictional.

Updated: 09/22/2023, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj 10 days ago

This is Marianne Stokes' autoportrait.
No, I don't think there is a public list of galleries containing their works. The book With Urmost Fidelity by Magdalene Evans might be a good starting point.

DerdriuMarriner 14 days ago

The Snow White image under the sixth fact, From naturalism to symbolism, has some intriguing elements.

For example, the painting has what looks like rocks under Snow White's coffin. But the coffin has an interesting metal design along its bottom It also has a shield lying against the headward part of that coffin bottom. It partially is covered with a coverlet that is sparsely but interestingly designed.

Is there a particular symbolism in the coverlet and metallic designs and in the shield?

DerdriuMarriner 15 days ago

The computer crashed before I could continue with my galleries-related comment.

Your commenting on galleries that collect Adrian and Marianne Stokes artwork drew to mind something that I've been meaning to ask.

Is there information somewhere as to the image to the left of your title? Was it a self-portrait by Marianne Stokes or a portrait by someone else, such as her friend Helen?

DerdriuMarriner 15 days ago

It would be interesting to view Adrian and Marianne Stokes artwork in person.

Would there be a list somewhere -- I found none no matter how much I searched -- on the internet or in some publication as to the addresses and names of the galleries that may exhibit Adrian and Marianne Stokes artistry?

In particular, I would be most interested in France, Great Britain and the United States from the list of four countries that you mentioned in your comment below.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

Most of their work today is in Great Britain but I found some listed in Galleries in USA, France, and Australia.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

I think you could find most of information talking to museums and galleries where her work from private collections is occasionally exhibited. Some works, of course, are 'forgotten' on private walls.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

Thanks, Veronica. I hope I present her work to as many people as possible.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

In my opinion, Adrian and Marianne were mostly successful in their lives following the trends which are out of fashion now. So they are both a bit out of fashion too.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

According to my data, Adrian and Marianne collaborated mostly on consulting each other on the subjects covered by one and the other.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

I think the data from Austria is just too old and nobody really tried to dig into old documents about her family tree.

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