No works by Joanna Boyce Wells will feature in the forthcoming Pre-Raphaelite show at Tate Britain – a pity because of all the women artists who participated in the renewal of energy and sincerity that marked the movement’s beginnings, she was the most gifted and committed. This is underlined by Sue Bradbury’s book Joanna, George and Henry, which presents a full account of her career drawn from the family archive. Letters, diaries, artworks originally owned by Joanna’s widower Henry Wells were lost when WW2 firebombing hit the home of their now elderly daughter Alice, who had already begun to record her mother’s life. Then Alice recalled having given transcripts to her sister – which in turn lay forgotten for 50 more years.
Pam Gerrish Nunn used some of the material in her writings on Joanna, who by common consent had more natural talent as well as seriousness than either her brother or husband. Reading Bradbury's narrative - a valuable addition to PR literature - it’s hard to credit how after her reluctant marriage Joanna was able to paint so much and so well at the same time as producing three children in three and a half years. The last birth killed her, at age 29. ‘English art has lost more than it knows,’ wrote Alex Gilchrist, while Rossetti's comment was bitter: ‘a great artist sacrificed to bringing more kids into the world’. The book also demonstrates that had she lived the boys of the Brotherhood might not now so dominate the story.