The expression in this head is so subtle, and so tenderly wrought, that at first the picture might easily be passed as hard or cold; but it could only so be passed, as Elgiva herself might have been sometimes seen, by a stranger without penetration of her sorrow. As we watch the face for a little time, the slight arch of the lip seems to begin to quiver, and the eyes fill with ineffable sadness and on-look of despair. The dignity of all the treatment the beautiful imagination of faint but pure colour, place this picture, to my mind, among those of the very highest power and promise. Complete achievement there is not in it as yet, chiefly because the colours, quite exquisitely conceived and arranged, are not each in their own separate quality perfect, in the sense in which any given colour by Bonifazio or Giorgione is perfect ; but if this artist, looking always to Nature and her own thoughts for the thing to be expressed, will strive to express them, with some memory of the great Venetians in her treatment of each separate hue, it seems to me that she might entertain the hope of taking place in the very first rank of painters.
[This was the first exhibited work of Miss Joanna Mary Boyce (1831-1861), sister of G. P. Boyce, the painter (see note on p. 162). Two years later she married Mr. H. T. Wells, R. A. She continued to exhibit, but the high hopes which her talent inspired were cut off by early death. Several of her works were included in the Winter Exhibition in the Academy in 1901. She was a friend of Rossetti, who took a portrait of her as she lay in death (Letters and Memoirs of D. G. Rossetti, i. 212 ; Life and Writings of Anne Gilchrist, p. 94). Ruskin had a great regard for her, as is shown by the following passage from a letter to his father : "BOULOGNE, July 19 . Mrs. Wells's death is nearly as great a trouble (more of a shock to me) than Mrs. Browning's she was nearly a perfect creature in intellect and purpose, her work just beginning. You may remember her beautiful head of Elgiva in the Academy." Elgiva, the queen of Edwy (from whom she is said to have been separated by the machinations of the Church), was in favour with painters at this time. Her sad story was the subject of a picture by Millais in 1847.]