George Eliot's Piano
The Herbert's Ali Wells Discovers Some Facts
When George Eliot's piano returned to The Herbert in Coventry, after thirty years in Nuneaton Museum, curator Ali Wells wanted to research its provenance
The story goes that forty or so years ago The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry were not much interested in George Eliot's piano and had consigned it to a storage area out of public view. One of the many wonderful achievements by Kathleen and Bill Adams was that they persuaded The Herbert to loan many of their George Eliot artefacts to Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery.
That happy arrangement continued until a few years ago when the Herbert underwent a massive rebuild, after which they discovered a long lost love of George Eliot and wanted all their artefacts back, including George Eliot's piano. Many of us recall with pleasure hearing the piano being played in the gallery at Nuneaton Museum on Sunday afternoons during the summer, in the reconstructed drawing room at the Priory. The pictures below show Kate Brookes playing the piano on 30th November, 1997.
Later curators decided that the piano should be seen but not heard, but nevertheless it stood proud, with a mannequin of the author perched at the keyboard, with models of G H Lewes and J W Cross looking on. In its new home in a gallery at the Herbert it stands isolated on a plinth. One of the pictures shows Dr Jaque Bohn Donada from Brazil standing beside it in December 2012.
Once it was installed in its new minimalist surroundings, Social History Curator Ali Wells set about finding out more details. We are grateful to Ali and the Herbert for permission to quote from her findings:
The piano was hired to Madame Mehlig, 39 University Street, London in May and June 1869, and to Baroness Mayer de Rothschild at 107 Piccadilly in June and July 1869. On 22 November 1869 the piano was sold to G H Lewes esq., 21 North Bank, Regents Park. On 18 June 1875 the piano, still belonging to Mr Lewes, was taken to the Rev F Hewson, The Elms, Rickmansworth, which was where they moved for a few months whilst repairs were under way at the Priory. On 8 June 1878, Lewes sends it in to Broadwoods to regulate. Records show that in 1878 and 1879 the piano was moved between North Bank and the Lewes's house at The Heights, Witley, near Godalming, Surrey. On 10 May 1880 Mrs Lewes (George Eliot) still had the piano and the entry is annotated as 'now Mrs John Cross' (she married John Cross 16 May 1880). Eliot died 22 December 1880 and on 15 September 1882 the piano is sent to C L Lewes, Elm Cottage, Hampstead. (Charles Lee Lewes, son of George Henry Lewes).
Ali discovered that Broadwoods keep meticulous records of their pianos and so was able to establish quite clearly that there was a clear line of ownership from 1869 until today.
Above: Ali Wells in front of the Herbert's Middlemarch section; and telling visitors about the piano
Published on 03 August 2013