Posts Tagged ‘women’s art bibliography’

Beside the Old Church Gate Farm, Smarden, Kent

Coming Events — a hand holds out a knife to the back …


Dear friends and readers,

As for this brief survey of the life and art of Helen Allingham (she excelled in watercolor, oil, illustration, drawing) is (unlike the previous woman artists I’ve covered), I’ve too many pictures to share, I start with a characteristic one, women at work, where line and color and stance make for a sense of vital life; Coming Events, her alert capturing of everyday life; and Torcello, her paintings from Italy, unhappily not well-known. (If you click on some of the images, they enlarge beautifully. Just try.)

Helen Allingham may be distinguished from the seven women artists not because she made a lot of money or was successful (several of them were), but because of the seven I’ve covered thus far, Allingham is the only one not included in any of my basic surveys, though mentioned once by Germaine Greer as a type of “the wrong women singled out for praise” (p. 87) by her contemporaries and “the masculine establishment.” Not much by the latter as she’s singularly absent from most surveys (those dubbed general when they are mostly by and about men), except those specializing in Victorian/Edwardian genre (e.g., Christopher Wood). She is apparently sometimes likened to Fred Walker who painted and drew socially realistic pictures, but I suggest her vein is much richer, more varied, women-centered (a visual equivalent of l’écriture-femme).

Justice is done to Allingham by Deborah Cherry, in her full, informative, insightful Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists (8 straight pages and many single and double-page entries); a concise, reproduction-laden informative study by Ina Taylor, Helen Allingham’s England: An Idyllic View of Rural Life (Devon: Webb and Brower, 1990) more than compensates. The pictures are what matter.

There is only one known self-depiction (and I’ve not got a good copy, so Borzello ignoring Helen in her Seeing Ourselves has some justification), but she painted others:

Thomas Carlyle, a close friend to her husband

Willam Allingham



and his favorite dog:


Then there are the riots of delicate watercolor:

Tig Bridge

Chase Cottage Ponds

She loved blue:

Girls on a Beach

Purple Bluebells

Cow Parsley

There is much that is not idyllic:

Digging Potatoes

The Governess and the Ayah on the beach — most of Allingham’s women are embedded among children

Or with farm animals, domestic pets (here cats), standing among ruins or by buildings they never choose:

Venetian Fruit Stall —

Another — we have the stains on the buildings, the fruits and vegetables real, how wretched she looks

She was a popular illustrator.

for her husband’s play, Ashby Manor (never produced)

and another of her brother, Henry Paterson, who died at 39 in an aslyum


Famously, she illustrated Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (includes detailed discussions of some of the illustrations), and Hardy, then very unhappy with his wife, appears to have found in her a kindred soul. In 1874, He, she and Annie Thackeray dined together (1874) and he wrote this poem 40 years later on what he dreamed they might have known in marriage:

The Opportunity (For H.P)

Forty Springs back, I recall,
We met at this phase of the Maytime:
We might have clung close through all,
But we parted when died that daytime.

We parted with smallest regret;
Perhaps should have cared but slightly,
Just then, if we never met:
Strange, strange that we lived so lightly!

Had we mused a little space
At that critical date in the Maytime,
One life had been ours, one place,
Perhaps, till our long cold daytime.

— This is a better thing For thee,
O man! what ails it?
The tide of chance may bring Its offer;
but nought avails it!

The line “strange, strange that we live so lightly” deeply suggestive about the nature of life

Helen Allingham, in her later years, widowed

There are many online biographies, from art galleries, to an official society website

What to say in brief? She was born into a comfortable middle-class family, her father a physician, and a mother with talent for art (shelved to provide a dowry for her husband to start his practice, to have 7 children), but part of the Unitarian dissenting world (so her father had hard times building a practice), with an aunt, Laura Hertford, a successful professional painter whom she emulated. Her father died relatively young (diphtheria , a harrowing time), and Helen experienced the necessity of making money. Her talent was cultivated: her Paterson aunts sent her to the Birmingham School of Design (studying drawing, painting, perspective, practical geometry, costume, and art-teaching).

By age 18 she is living in London, with a place at the Royal Female School of Art (learning anatomy), and supporting herself by jobs as an engraver, illustrator for Once a Week (among other magazines) where she learned to produce quickly:

Pencil Sketch for a woodcut

A transformative event was her meeting with William Allingham (1874), originally from Ireland, had worked for Irish Customs and Excise for 20 years (he was 24 years older), wrote poetry and journalism, friends with Leigh Hunt, Tennyson, Browning, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood; he especially venerated Carlyle; they may have met at the theater and when he was hired as editor of Fraser’s (for 400£ a year), they married (1874). She worked at her career (remained convinced he had the superior talent, just not recognized), had children:

Her daughter, Margaret

They went to Margate and Surrey for holidays, but when Carlyle died, they moved to Surrey for a country life, of work for her — she loved to go and paint the seaside:

the Allinghams’ Surrey home

A Seaside study

At the shore

1889 they lived in London some of the time, and had set up another home in Hampstead, with new and old friends (next to the Martineaus), more memberships in art societies, before he died in 1889. She was a widow for 37 years, filling her life with intense activity. She had to support her household, but she also returned to her husband’s home in Ireland (acting out what she conceived was her husband’s desire he never got to do) where she painted dozens of watercolors for once capturing the poverty and bleakness of what she saw in the houses themselves.

Ballyshannon, 1891

These years see her moving into more large landscapes

Hindhead, Surrey

She traveled to Venice in 1901 and 1902 as part of attempts to break away from her usual subjects. Later in life she moved into landscape painting.

A study of Aire, St Maclou, in Rouen, done on the way to Venice — brilliance of line design, perspectives

A different color palette for Italy — gorgeous marble, cascading flowers, notice the woman and child with basketed flowers — are they transferring these to a husband/father to use with his customers or selling them or is that another woman selling flowers?

Hers was not a life of tragedy, but hard work, in a changing world; she was on the side of preservation, and there seems no doubt that her exclusion of the ubiquitious abysmal poverty and miseries of the era did not allow her work to be part of needed economic, social, political reform. She had a close friendship with Gertrude Jekyll (a career in photography, studying vernacular buildings and celebrating crafts), and Kate Greenaway, and after 1890 enabled one another (by going together) to paint more subjects, in more places, though her times painting alongside Greenaway didn’t last (their work was to unalike):

‘it was in the spring of 1888 that we went out painting together in the copses near Witley and became really friends …. One day in the autumn of 1889 [when they were neighbours in Hampstead] we went to Pinner [where from the cancelled manuscript of Persuasion we know Jane Austen meant Anne Elliot] together on an exploring expedition for subjects and were delighted with some of the old cottages we saw there. I had been pressing her ever since our spring time together at Witley to share with me some of the joys of painting out of doors. Another day we went farther afield – to Chesham and Amersham . . . . In the spring of 1890 I took my children to Freshwater, Isle of Wight and found ms for us near Kate. She and I went out painting together daily, either to some of the pretty old thatched cottages around Farringford or to the old dairy in the grounds …. During the summer of that year (1890) we continued our outdoor work together, generally taking an early train from Finchley Road to Pinner, for the day. She was always scrupulously thoughtful for the convenience and feelings of the owners of the farm or cottage we wished to paint, with the consequence that we were made welcome to sit in the garden or orchard where others were refused admittance.
Though we often sat side by side, painting the same object (generally silently – for she was a very earnest, hard worker – and perhaps I was, too), it seemed to me that there was little likeness between our drawings — specially after the completion in the studio. But she was one of the most sensitive of creatures and I think she felt it might be wiser for both of us to discontinue the practice of working from the same subjects …. (Cherry, p 177)

So what is this world of women in rural and eastern England:

An earlier picture: a version of her cradling her son, Henry


Women also hung out the wash in Verona

This is a woman gathering sticks and wood for the fire for winter

A dreaming young girl

Worn old woman

Valleywood Farm — lost in the middle distance

Buildings inside and out:

The Interior of Cheyne House (Carlyle’s)

Stanfield House, Hampstead — stodgy and respectable

Aldworth — covered in flowery ivy, this mansion of the wealthy

A fantasia of St Mark’s Cathedal, Venice, or as pastoral, Santa Maria:


More typically:


A big and old tree: Old Beech Tree

She loved gardening and has many still lifes of flowers and gardens, hills and meadows:


Blackdown, Sussex (I use this as my computer wallpaper)


Allingham’s best known book is The Cottage Homes of England; she saw herself as recording a vanishing way of life, and Christopher Wood suggests we should see her art as the visual equivalent of Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford. Deborah Cherry argues that Helen Allingham’s pictures present female sexuality centrally in discreet (coded) ways, and were an influence for good from the respect they showed for women’s ordering, work, and past places and ties too.

I’ll end on a poem by Amy Clampitt, which while intended to characterize “George Eliot Country” and written for Eliot’s first magisterial biographer, Gordon Haight (1901-1985) seems to me to capture the same world as Allingham:

From this Midland scene – glum slagheaps,
barge canals, gray sheep, the vivid overlap
of wheatfield and mustard hillside like
out-of-season sunshine, the crabbed silhouette
of oak trees (each joint a knot, each knot
a principled demurral – tough, arthritic, stubborn
as the character of her own father) – fame,
the accretion of a Pyrrhic happiness, had
exiled her to London, with its carriages
and calling cards, its screaming headaches.

Griff House – dear old Griff, she wistfuly
apostrophized it – in those days still intact,
its secrets kept, has now been grafted to a
motel-cum-parking-lot beside the trunk road,
whose raw, ungainly seam of noise cuts through
the rainy solace of Griff Lane: birdsong,
coal smoke, the silvered powderings of
blackthorn, a flowering cherry tree’s
chaste flare; the sludge-born, apoplectic
screech of jet aircraft tilting overhead.

The unmapped sources that still fed nostalgia
for a rural childhood survive the witherings
of retrospect: the look of brickyards,
stench of silk mills, scar of coal mines,

the knife of class distinction: wall-enclosed,
parkland-embosomed, green-lawned Arbury Hall,
fan-vaulting’s stately fakeries, the jewel-
stomachered, authentic shock of Mary Fitton and
her ilk portrayed, the view of fishponds – school
and role model of landed-proprietary England.

Born in the year of Peterloo, George Eliot
had no illusions as to the expense of such
emoluments. Good society (she wrote) floated
on gossamer wings of light irony, required no less
than an entire, arduous national existence,
condensed into unfragrant, deafening factories,
cramped into mines, sweating at furnaces, or
scattered in lonely houses on the clayey or chalky
cornland… where Maggie Tulliver, despairing
of gentility, ran off to join the gypsies.

Violets still bloom beside the square-towered
parish church where Mary Anne was christened;
the gnashed nave of Coventry fills up with rain
(another howling doodlebug of fright hurls itself
over); the church from which, refusing to commit
the fiction of a lost belief in One True Body,
she stayed away, upholds the fabric in which her
fictions, perdurable now, cohere like fact: Lydgate
still broods, Grandcourt still threatens, and
in Mrs Transome disappointment turns to stone.

One last connection, back to Charlotte Smith with Near Beachy Head:


Allingham’s is a world of women at work, women surrounded by children, and their work. She seeks them out, she records them and celebrates their creations, adds to these:

A Side Canal in Venice (notice the woman high up behind the arch banging out the wet or dirt from a pink cloth of some type

Mrs Eden’s Garden, Venice


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I saw this tucked away on a shelf in the Museum’s library,and this evening have bought a copy from Bookfinder  — woodcuts, lithographs, etchings and other prints created by Vanessa Bell, Dora Carrington, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant with various colour and black and white reproductions.

Dear friends and readers,

I visited the National Museum of Women in the Arts with my friend, Sophie, this past Wednesday, and as a result have decided on a new series for this blog: women artists. First what we saw, and then the project.

We went to their present exhibit called “Organic Matters;” it was made up of recent art by women, mostly landscapes, most installation art, collages, with a strong autobiographical perspective. Kato uses digital photography to create surreal environments in which a figure of herself reappears; looked at carefully you see frustration, indifference, people apart, people seeking something somewhere else. We saw a common theme among women novelists, artist, poets, the search for some kind of refuge in the natural world:

Mimi Kato (b. 1974), Landscape in Retreat: in the Woods, 2012

We enjoyed just as much some of the items in their small permanent collection, like the row of paintings by 18th century women painters, mostly of women, some of them portraits of real women, others mythological, partly because there was a healthy representation of women artists from the same school and era, like a row of French and English painters, most not masterpieces, but set amid one another, they sort of interact and you could see how the women painted within an analogous set of aesthetic criteria and how women wanted to be seen.

Adelaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), Augustin Pajou, sculptor (not there, but some of her work was)

There were moments of uplift among the collection of 19th and 20th century artists, and on the fourth floor, in the library, a small exhibit of Vanessa Bell’s cover illustrations and book art for her sister, Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press.

(c) Henrietta Garnett; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Vanessa Bell, Italian scene (not there, though there is art aiming at this by her there)

When we went for tea outside the museum, we talked of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is our favorite novel by her (for me, The Years; Sophie remembered Mrs Dalloway), and I told Sophie about the history of French translations of Woolf. I like best Woolf’s literary criticism and life-writing, at least as much as a couple of her novels (I love The Voyage Out). Sous la Sable, an unforgettable French film starring Charlotte Rampling is about a woman scholar who teaches Woolf in English in a French academy. Rampling as professor lectures on To The Lighthouse.

But as usual when I go to this museum, it saddens me. As my reader will see from my choice of images, even to try to discuss women’s art that is found there, one has to resort to other pictures to show something more adequate.

Tina Blau Birches, Near the Rotunda, Vienna (not there, nor, to tell the truth, anything like this — there is no courage to go outside fashionable modernist criteria)

The museum is open for limited numbers of hours, its collection so small, much of the wall space more than half bare, and among the items some laughably poor stuff to represent this or that age or country or type. Every once in a long while the museum will host a remarkable exhibit of women’s art, and a catalogue from it ensues. They support lectures (sometimes on women artists), and over the years I’ve lived here (35 in Alexandria, Virginia) I’ve seen them have regular musical events, plays and other performances in their auditorium. It depends who is running the museum at the moment. But its online presence beyond its actual site shows it is known in the local area for using its building as a place for your wedding, fancy party or luncheon (try and google for images).

The explanation was given us at the opening of the 20th century by Virginia Woolf in her A Room of One’s Own: women have had nowhere near the time, encouragement, education — and money. Money matters. This museum doesn’t have enough. I subscribe to the Women’s Review of Books: it comes out every two months (not twice a month or every week like the LRB, NYRB, or TLS) and is 1/8th the size of the first two.

On my Women Writers Across the Ages @ Yahoo that week we had had quite a thread on the erasure of women artists in museum exhibits, to the point that only two women impressionists are ever cited as if Mary Cassett and Berthe Morisot were the only two ever to have painted. One women had put a URL to an indignant article by Griselda Pollock, which led to an outpouring of postings on various women artists and exhibits where women were left out, or permanent installations where women were left out except as muses to men. There were a large number of women impressionists, post-impressionists in several European countries, to name a few, Fanny Cherburg:

Fanny Churberg (1845-92), Winter Landscape (1880)

Marie Bashkirtseff, Gwen Johns, Anna Bilinska, Lila Perry, Paula Modershon-Becker.

There are a number of Pre-Raphaelite English women: the only ones usually cited are those sisters or mistresses of the men who painted, so to give credit, the museum has a wall-length mural by

Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912), Woodland Scene (1885) (not this one but her art is found in the museum)

A recent issue of the NYRB is a case in point; it is billed as about art and money in the 21st century, and while one of the important long reviews is by Ingrid Rowlandson (of the new Whitney and its exhibit from its years as a museum and years of American art across the century), there is but one woman artist mentioned. In an essay purporting to be equally about the Detroit Institute of Arts, her husband, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, most is about Rivera and the museum; Kahlo is treated as a “sacred object” of our era (no explanation), then we are told of her impressive looks; she gets a paragraph and one half about how she is ever autobiographical and a mention of an exhibit in NYC about her depiction of gardening. Her central feminist themes, themes about disability are never mentioned; that she’s a woman comes up only in how she is treated: her appearance, a painting of her in the midst of her husband’s work.

I could go on, but all this has been said before and too many times. So partly as a result of this visit, I’ve decided to try to do something in a small way constructive: make series of blogs on women artists. For a number of years on my WWTTA listserv I’d put a new picture up on the main site each week, accompanied by a short life and works. I can draw on these. I mean to move more or less chronologically, but only one or two per period coming up to today and then return to the chronology again. I’ll also discuss types of paintings women do.

One of the problems of such a project is the women’s names are often not known, nor are the pictures readily accessible, but I have in my library enough to be getting on with beyond what I’ve already written as postings to start:

Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves; Women’s Self-Portraits
Whitney Chadwick. Women, Art and Society (Thames and Hudson book)
—————-. Women Artists and the Surreal Movement.
Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party.
Deborah Cherry. Painting Women.
Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz. Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings
Elsa Honig Fine. Women and Art: A history of women painters and sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th century
Germaine Greer. The Obstacle Race
Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists, 1550-1950.
Nancy G. Heller. Women Artists: An Illustrated History.
—————, ed. Women Artists: Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (an exhibit put on by the museum (quite a number of relatively unknown artists or unknown paintings by familiar women                                 Eleanor Munro. Originals: American Women Artists [20th century]. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Linda Nochlin. Women, Art and Power and other Essays.
Karen Petersen and J. J. Wilson. Women Artists: Recognition and Reappraisal from the early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century.
Claudio Strinati and Jordana Pomeroy. Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque (from an exhibit put on by the National Museum of Women in the Arts)
Jordi Vigue. Great Women Masters of Art.
Christiane Wiedemann, Patra Larass, Melanie Klier. 50 Women Artists You Should Know

There is also the Internet and what I have access to through my library memberships. But the real motive and source here is have so many books in my library, I might as well share their titles and some of their contents before I die, and the books are dispersed. It’s a bit ambitious, not easy to do so I’ll aim at one every week or so, or simply from time to time.

Emily Carr (1871-1945) — she is the sort of artist I want to cover: the shape of her career is different from that of men, but career she nonetheless had and is one of the great women Canadian artists and autobiographers.

My hope is people coming here will see pictures by women they’ve never seen before and fall in love with them.


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