After yesterday's slightly epic wander into the life of Hilda Fearon, I am very much hoping today's lady is more obscure or we'll be here until midnight. My second
victim subject was a name I kept seeing yesterday in the Royal Academy catalogues, so I made a note for later because that is how well-thought-out all of this is. Say hello to Ruth Hollingsworth...
I'm delighted how little-known Ruth is as this will make my life easier, but the few colour pictures I have found make me wonder why she isn't better known. She has a Wikipedia page and a Suffolk artist page which is a positive sign, not to mention three paintings on ArtUK, including this rather lovely offering...
Isn't that just lovely? Let's just dive in...
Ruth Hollingsworth was born on the 29th August 1880 to Alexander (1837-1928) and Charlotte (1849-1939), in Clapham, Surrey. Alexander Hollingsworth is an interesting chap - he was a newspaper agent and proprietor who own an impressive art collection; he owned Lawrence Alma-Tadema's A Roman Scribe which was borrowed for the 1913 Winter Exhibition of Alma-Tadema's work at the Royal Academy. By the social events he seems to have attended and his art collecting, I think he knew Lord Leverhulme and a piece of Ruth's art, A Breconshire Landscape, is one of the illustrations in an International Studio article about Leverhulme's art collection in 1922. Ruth was one of nine siblings, her eldest sister Kate born in 1871 and youngest sibling John born in 1884 to give you an idea of the span. When she was born, their home in Clapham seems rather uninspiring but by the 1891 census, the family have moved to Sutherland Avenue and the tall red brick houses are rather grander. The family have also acquired four servants and a governess, which leads me to believe that the sons attended schools while the girls were tutored at home. By 1901, they had moved to Belsize Grove and gained another servant. Ruth, by this time, was off to the Slade and London School of Art and she began her Royal Academy career in 1906 with From a Window in Chelsea. This was followed in 1907 by At the Foot of Lympne Castle, Kent.
|Landscape (no date)|
I found that painting an interesting counterpoint to this one by Richard Hellaby, who I'll come to in a bit...
|Harvest Time (no date) Richard Hellaby|
Mind you, I'm from Wiltshire and I'm anyone's for a stook. Moving on.
Poor old Ruth, I have had a bit of bother finding many of her pictures, despite being present in a few more national collections than Hilda. I suspect this was because her paintings did not make the same sort of initial splash or excitement. 1909 saw the exhibition of The Spring Clean followed by 1911's RA exhibition of The Hat and The Rivals. She exhibited The Siesta in 1913, then The Chestnuts in the 1915 War Relief exhibition. At some time in this period she met fellow artist Richard Sydney Hellaby, who was a second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery and they married on 26 April 1917. Richard hailed from Auckland, New Zealand, son of a fairly famous butcher who has his own Wikipedia page, albeit brief. According to the Suffolk artists page, the day afer the Great War was declared, Richard locked his studio door and enlisted.
|Lt Col B C Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO (1921) Richard Hellaby|
Before I launch into Ruth's married life, I was struck by the rather troubled home life she had lived through between the turn of the century and her marriage. Not everyone can turn out multiple paintings for every single Royal Academy show, but I was struck by gaps in her exhibition and her absence from home in the 1911 census (she was in Yorkshire with her sister Jessie, visiting friends). Coupled with this, she had some deaths among her siblings, and one rather messy divorce. Starting with eldest brother Allen Alexander, he seems to have had mental health issues early on and died in his 30s at The Priory hospital in Roehampton. That would be the original and most famous of The Priory hospitals, so I was oddly and sadly impressed. Less than a year later, eldest sister Kate also passed away, and youngest sibling John went to Gallipoli in 1915 and never returned. Poor sister Edith, six years older than Ruth, married a very unpleasant gentleman in 1899 who proceeded to throttle and terrorise her and their two children, culminating in a rampage around the house with a gun when he threatened to shoot them all. She divorced him in 1909, uncontested by the look of it, and a jolly good job too. Mercifully when Ruth married Richard nothing untoward seems to have gone on and they welcomed baby Lettice into the world in 1918, followed by Felicity in 1921.
|Still Life with Flowers and Ducks (no date)|
Interestingly, Ruth used both her maiden and married name professionally which makes my life so much harder, but predominantly she used Hollingsworth (although occassionally she is 'R Hellaby', which leads me to wonder if any of Richard Hellaby's works are hers and vice versa). Being married with kids did not seem to halt her output either. As a member of the Women's International Art Club she had exhibited her work The Field Mouse in 1914, and all the reviews pointed out that it was mainly a picture of cabbages. She joined forces with Evelyn Fothergill Robinson in 1915 to hold an exhibition at McLean's Gallery in aid of the Red Cross which was reported on by the London Evening Standard - 'Both ladies may be classed as "decorative" painters ... Miss Hollingsworth is the more competent in the actual use of the brush, while Miss Robinson has the more highly developed sense of style.'
|The Wood, Thornton Manor (1915)|
In 1916, the Queen visited an exhibition of women artists at the Georgian Gallery at Waring and Gillows where Ruth was exhibiting. She became known in the press for her landscapes which the London Evening Standard called her best work 'or at any rate, the most charming' especially when they were small in scale. She continued to exhibit at the RA, in 1921 displaying The Road to Fiesole. In 1924 she exhibited a flower study, but her Royal Academy appearances became patchier after this point, with landscapes and finally one building study in 1938 of a building in Dedham in Essex, where she and the family lived. Part of the reason for her lack of RA appearances might have been that the Hellabys seemed to have travelled the world, down to New Zealand (no doubt to see family) and to South Africa, during the 1920s and 30s.
|My apologies to Fiji, from The Bysander 1922|
One thing that drives me slightly mad is that in the 1939 register of households, Richard Hellaby is recorded as an artist whereas Ruth, not long after appearing at the RA, is recorded as 'unpaid domestic duties'. One slightly odd adventure for Ruth's art happened in 1922, the same year as her art was featured in the Pears Annual. A messenger who was carrying a parcel of paintings and prints, including a still life of poppies in a blue and white vase by Ruth, was stopped at Paddington Station by a man who claimed to be from the printer Henry Stone and Son. As that was the owner's name, the delivery boy handed it over after initial refusal but, of course, it was a scam. It is unclear if they were recovered, so if you have a painting of shirley poppies in a blue and white vase, keep quiet...
|Poppies (no date)|
Ruth died in March of 1945, aged 64, leaving £315. She didn't live to see either Felicity or Lettice marry, but both had long lives, dying this century. Richard remarried in 1950 and travelled again, dying in 1971 in Cape Town, South Africa. I think my lasting impression of Ruth is that the paintings I can find of hers are little gems, but that there are not that many available to see. I was very disappointed to see that she did not get a look in when it came to the Royal Academy illustrated catalogues (my first port of call of RA artists) but they have a tendency to be a predominantly male affair for obvious reasons, much to the detriment of people like Ruth. The problem becomes that her art is not out there digitally (all the catalogues are obviously available on Archive.org) so she is not included in the conversation because it is hard to imagine how her dormouse picture is actually about cabbages.
I expect this won't be the last time that a woman was left behind before we had the chance to forget her.