Watching and Waiting
Watercolour heightened with bodycolour; signed. Once labelled with title (since lost)
17 x 12 inches
Marks' dry and piquant humour endeared him to his friends and fellow artists. He was a frequent visitor to London Zoo, 'painting poultry' as a fellow RA put it. Marks wrote, 'I hope I may be excused, and not held too eccentric, in preferring to converse with a parrot for one hour, rather than with a politician for two'. In 1909, the critic Gleeson White prophesied that 'It would not be astonishing if [his pictures] retained the respect of future collectors long after many far more ambitious contemporary works ceased to charm'. The birds are Grey Crowned Cranes, or African Cranes, about a metre high.
In 1877 the Duke of Westminster, to whom Marks had been introduced by the architect Alfred Waterhouse, commissioned Marks to paint a series of 12 panels of birds (including African Cranes) for a drawing room at Eaton Hall in Cheshire. Marks saw the project as 'a fairy garden, an ornithological Walhalla, where no bird quarrels with another, it is content with the climate, conditions, and surroundings of its present abode - an abode where food is always present without the trouble of seeking it'. The walls were covered with grey velvet by Gertrude Jekyll. The recurrent motif in the background of all twelve paintings is a low wall four courses of stone high, and it is likely that this watercolour in some way connects to that project. The identity of the lady is not known; it was unusual for Marks to paint human figures in his pictures (he preferred birds), but she has a strong resemblance to Lady Elizabeth Harriet Grosvenor, the Duke's eldest daughter, who became the Marchioness of Ormonde on her marriage in 1876. Her husband the Marquess was Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron and patron of the Dublin Swimming Club, and it is possible that she is watching and waiting for him.