The artist Anna Lea Merritt (1844–1930) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and spent most of her professional life in London and in a rural village in Surrey. She settled in England in 1871 and soon became a friend of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in their mature years, the art critic John Ruskin, the late Victorian artists George Frederick Watts and Frederick, Lord Leighton, and others in the London artistic and literary community. In the milieu she had chosen, her intimate and spiritual relationship with nature and her sympathy for all mankind, ingrained in her in childhood among Unitarians and Quakers in Philadelphia, developed into paintings, murals, and etchings that were at once academic, naturalistic, and mystical. In re-introducing this little known woman artist today, this article focuses on her work as one that evokes the spirit and beauty of the natural world and sympathy for the plight of the suffering, both eloquent testimonials to the ideals and beliefs of her renowned friend and contemporary, John Ruskin and to late Victorian liberal sensibilities.
The siege ended in1885after 11000 deaths of English and Egyptian soldiers with the murder and beheading of the renowned British Brigadier General Charles George Gordon. This painting was however completed and exhibited two years before Gordon’s death. One recent text the catalogue of The Women’s Art Show 1550–1970 Nottingham Castle Museum 1982 modifies the standard interpretation of the painting but not significantly. Beside the reproduction of the painting the text states: “This painting is described by the artist herself in her list of works as Five women one boy watching army return-ancient dress. It shows her respect for the classical tradition. It also shows the women’s side of war—the anxieties the fears & the long wait as opposed to the glorification of war (see Lady Butler). The war refers to the siege of Khartoum and the death of general Gordon during the Egyptian Campaign of 1882–1884.”