It is London in the summer of 1871. Queen Victoria has just opened the Royal Albert Hall in memory of her beloved husband; Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland has just been published, and French refugees from the Franco-Prussian war continue to arrive in the capital. Among them is Claude Monet, who is having a miserable time in the fog and mist. Not far from the Thames views that he had been painting, a fellow artist has just opened her first exhibition of 155 ‘Spirit Drawings’ in a gallery on Old Bond Street, in the heart of London’s art quarter.
She was Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884), a 57-year-old London-based middle-class artist and celebrated spiritualist who had for the previous ten years been feverishly working behind closed doors on a series of abstract coloured drawings, which had been produced ‘guided’ by the hand of spirits.