Emilie Venturi was the daughter of the London solicitor William Henry Ashurst (1792-1855) and his wife Elizabeth 'Bessie' Ann Brown (1791-1854). On 22 July 1843 Emilie married Sydney Milnes Hawkes (11821-1902), the friend and partner of James Stensfeld, who married Emilie's sister Caroline. Emilie and Hawkes separated in 1854 and divorced in 1859.
Estimates of her birth date have ranged from 1820 to 1826. In the 1841 the family were living in Hornsey and the UK census gave her name as Emily and her age as 19. This suggested a birth date of ca 1822. In 1861 her name was spelt Emilie and her age was given as 39 in the census.
In the Spring of 1861 Emilie married Carlo Francesco Venturi, a Venetian patriot (the marriage certificate spells his name as Venture). In 1871 the widowed 'Emilie A Venturi', 'Artist Painter' aged 49 was living in Kensington - again suggesting the ca 1822 birth date. But in 1891 the widowed 'Emily A Venture', was aged '67' (which would indicate a birth date of 1824!).
However, according to documents checked by Dr Charles Jones, 1821 is the correct date.
Emilie was related by marriage to James Stansfield, M.P. for Halifax, who was a close friend of Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian nationalist. At her father's house in Stoke Newington, Mazzini, Saffa and the leading political refugees of France, Germany and Poland used to meet. Emilie became an admirer of both Mazzini and the Irish nationalist leader and M.P. Charles Stewart Parnell. She was an early advocate of womens emancipation. Her second husband Venturi was a friend and follower of Mazzini. Emilie wrote a biography of Mazzini and acted as his literary editor and secretary in Britain. She was also friendly with the dramatist, art critic and editor of Punch, Tom Taylor. She edited The Shield from 1871 until 1886.
Emilie Venturi was Whistler's friend and neighbour in Chelsea, and according to Whistler, persuaded Carlyle to sit to Whistler for Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle y137, after she and Carlyle had seen in Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother y101 Whistler's studio in 1872. Whistler gave her The Thames m0473, Winter landscape m0572 and A Snowy landscape m0573. She also owned Chelsea in Ice y053. Whistler borrowed the work in 1887 for exhibition at the Society of British Artists.
Emilie greatly admired Whistler's 'Ten O'Clock' lecture. Having read the book she wrote to Whistler in 1890, 'There is one most amazing and ever renewed delight in this book - the dear, impossible butterfly; now gentle as a sucking dove, now defiant dangerous as a wasp; now artful as a mousquito [sic] that pricks so delicately you dont how [sic] where the sting entered, yet the flesh blisters and cannot forget that it did enter with a vengeance; now coy, now pert now playful, now rampant, now defiant, but always new, always graceful and "gentle"(!)' (GUW #05959).
Mazzini, Giuseppe, The Duties of Man, trans. Emilie Venturi, London, 1862; Richards, E. F. (ed.), Mazzini's Letters to an English Family, 3 vols, London, 1920-22; Hammond, J. L., and Barbara Hammond, James Stansfeld: A Victorian Champion of Sex Equality, London, New York and Toronto, 1932; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980 ; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 .