Marie Duval by Ellen Clayton
SUCH is only the nom d’artiste of this clever lady, her real name being Isabelle Emilie de Tessier. She was born in Paris, of French parents, five and twenty years ago. Hers has been a busy, changeful life. At the age of seventeen she was a governess, but quitted that laborious profession for the stage, and appeared at several London and provincial theatres. In 1874 she made a very successful tour through the country, playing various rôles, among others “Jack Sheppard”—in which part she created surprise by the striking resemblance she bore to Mrs. Keeley. Once, at Yarmouth, she met with a serious accident, which necessitated the performance being brought to an untimely end. In the piece in which she was acting—a version of “Les Chevaliers du Brouillard,” the French play of “Jack Sheppard” —she, as Jack, had to make a desperate escape, climbing up a rope ladder from a boat on to old London Bridge, under a volley of pistol shots from Jonathan Wild, the thief-taker, and his myrmidons. The cartridge from one of the pistols struck the actress on the side of the face, thus obliging her to loose her hold. She fell from the ladder, receiving a severe cut on the leg from a piece of iron used to strengthen the scenery. With a great effort she managed to climb the rope once more, and so brought the scene to a close, but the play had to end with this act. A doctor was sent for, who sewed up the wound, and no coach at that late hour being obtainable, a kind of sedan chair was improvised from the stage “throne,” and the disabled “Jack” was carried to the Star Hotel through the streets at midnight by her old enemy Jonathan, and other members of the company. They said at the time that she bore the operation bravely—” just like Jack would have done.”
In addition to playing, Mlle. De Tessier (Marie Duval) has drawn caricature subjects for three or four English, French, and German journals, and illustrated several books under different pseudonyms.
Her designs for Judy are probably the most familiar to the English public. Nothing could be more irresistibly droll than “Ally Sloper,” absurdly comic, with an under-current of serious reflection, sometimes with a touch of strange pathos. “Ally” himself has become a pronounced character and familiar friend, like Micawber and a few other terrible old schemers. Austere morality forbids approval of the villanies and subterfuges of the droll old scamp, yet somehow a smile will relax the features of Justice herself, where a frown should mark displeasure and discouragement.
Her figures are humorous to grotesqueness, though the “drawing” is often incorrect: but this defect has been judiciously utilized in heightening the burlesque. Mlle. de Tessier may be pardoned for not drawing in academic proportion when it is understood that she is self-taught. Perhaps the carelessness may be sometimes intentional, for undoubtedly many of the fanciful fashion sketches which appeared in Judy signed “Noir” were very graceful. In private life, Marie Duval herself dresses with great taste, but always in black.
Of all the comic artists now living, with the exception of Charles Keene and William Brunton, this lady is the only one who can be called really a humorous designer. The others are undoubtedly witty and graceful, but rarely provoke laughter. Miss Duval is probably seen at her best in coloured subjects, as, for example, in a nursery book published by Messrs. Chatto and Windus, called “Queens and Kings, and other Things,” to which she contributed numerous grotesque subjects under the stately pseudonym of the Princess of Hesse Schartzbourg. Some of the best critics seriously welcomed this illustrious unknown, about whose antecedents the Almanach de Gotha was enigmatically silent!
Marie Duval is passionately fond of music, though, singularly enough, she does not know her “notes.” On hearing almost any piece once, she can sit down and play it by ear.
Clayton, Ellen Creathorne. English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1876. Volume II, pp. 330-333.