Saturday 2 December 2023

Saturday 2nd December - Ruth Hollingsworth (1880-1945)

 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...

Daydreams (c.1910-30)

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 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.

Friday 1 December 2023

Friday 1st December - Hilda Fearon (1878-1917)

 Hello and it's that time again!  For Blogvent this year I will be throwing a load of lady artists at you because they really need to get out more.  I will be seeing how much I can find out in 24 hours and then fling it in your general direction, no doubt shouting 'hurrah!' because it's Christmas and quite honestly, I need to get out more too. By the end of this Blogvent, we should have met 24 more ladies and admired at least one gorgeous image from them.  That's the general idea, let's see how we go...

A Portrait of a Mother and Her Two Sons (1911)

First up is Hilda Fearon, who is at least fortunate enough to have a Wikipedia page, so they aren't 'unknown' (okay, first digression of the season, I absolutely cringe when historians say they 'discover' a painter or an artwork. No you didn't, it was always hanging on someone's wall or in a store. You can raise awareness or shine a bit more light on things, but you no more discovered it than Columbus discovered America. It was always there, you just hadn't looked yet.  Anyway, on with Hilda...)

Springtime (1914)

Miss Fearon was born in 1878, the third daughter of wine merchant Paul (1849-1929) and his wife Edith (1851-1922). Paul and Edith married in 1875, welcoming daughter Edith junior in 1876, then Annie in 1877.  After Hilda, came only son Paul in 1880 and finally Ethel in 1882.  The family were nicely off, living in Court House in Banstead, Surrey with 5 servants (you know how servant obsessed I am).  I especially like the fact that on September 14th 1888, Paul and Edith got all the kids baptised at once in Swanage (which is a very nice place to get baptised).  I wonder if they got a group rate? Anyway, being a wealthy family, Ancestry is actually not much help in figuring out someone's life as our Hilda is a woman of no occupation until she moves out of her home  in the 1911 census, then magically she becomes an Artist! However, we obviously are aware of her artistic career, thanks to the newspapers and the Royal Academy catalogues.  Thanks to the Cornwall Artists Index we have a very good idea of her education, moving from an interest at school to the Slade, then to Robert Sterl in Dresden and finally under Algernon Talmage at St Ives.  Now, I'm far too classy to make any sort of joke about what she learned under Algernon Talmage, but the couple did end up living together towards the end of her life.  

Portrait of Algernon Talmage (1914-15)

Annie Fearon was also a painter and an embroiderer and she and Hilda studied together at the Chelsea School of Art, then the Slade, moving together to Dresden between 1897 to 1899, then to Cornwall.  Annie married the Reverend Bernard Walke, curate of St Ives. Hilda developed her British Impressionist manner of painting, which is evident in works such as Figures in a Field or, possibly most famously, The Tea Party which was given to the Tate by Talmage after Hilda's death...

The Tea Party (1916)

While reading about Hilda today I was very much reminded of Isobel Gloag, not least because their careers seem to take a similar brief trajectory, but also because Hilda  had a piece written about her in The International Studio as well, in 1914, where Charles Marriott made a very interesting observation about her work.  He stated that her work, which tended towards figures in an interior (definitely after her move to London), were 'a little frosty in their manner' due to the lack of relationship between the figures.  Each figure was perfectly realised in identity but how they responded to or felt about the other people in the image was a mystery.  Marriott's answer to this is very interesting - 'The reason might be lack of sensibility or unusual reserve or coldness of temperament in the painter, but it is probably nothing more than the fact that she is a woman. This sounds like a paradox, because women are generally warmer and more intimate than men in their reactions to life.' I'm not sure how I feel about this statement, although I did snigger a bit, for which I apologise to Mr Marriott who I will return to again due to his amazing thoughts on lady painters.  He continues to explain that painters go through three phases - the amateur who is all feeling and emotion, the student who is all technical and no emotion, and finally maturity, where they can marry together technique with proper levels of feeling.  In the second phase, where Marriott firmly roots Hilda, it matters not whether the artist is a man or woman as they become sexless painting robots.  He cites her 'masculine, or rather sexless' manner of execution in her work, but her evident growth was producing conception and outlook that was 'authentically feminine'.  Apparently she did a painting of a Cornish farmhouse that was, and I quote, 'laughably bad' but she is better now. 

Studio Interior (1914)

Actually, looking at Studio Interior with its disconnected figures, Marriott might have a point.  He did end the article on a very positive description of her art - 'one is conscious of the champagne air, the effervescent "hiss" of water, the feel - almost the smell - of newly laundered linen frocks...' 

Enchantment (1914)

The problem with starting Blogvent with someone like Hilda is there is actually far more information and images available than I imagined so now I have a heap of notes and only today to get this done, but it raises a question - why is she not better known? I think actually this is a problem that affects all British Impressionists, who are smashing and yet not really box office yet.  They are patently the successors to Turner so we shouldn't get hung up on the term 'Impressionists' because it makes it look like we had a go at an art movement after the fact and it wasn't bad just not as good as the original.  They need a new movement name - how about Post-Turnerites? It could catch on.  Sorry, back to Hilda...

Alice (1916)

Hilda moved to London in around 1908, living at 68 Cathcart Studios, 44 Redcliffe Road (Alexa Wilding lived at 33 Redcliffe Road in the 1870s).  She exhibited Willows at the Royal Academy in 1908, The White Room and The Sandpit in 1910 (the former was displayed close to Isobel Gloag's In the House of Simon the Pharisee). Hilda seems to have continued to fill the Royal Academy each May as in 1911 she exhibited The Window and The Morning Drive which were described by the Gentlewoman journal as 'fulfilling her promise of individual views ... impatient of prettiness and flattered colour and set upon the larger beauties of atmospheric simplicity and bigness of effect.' 

The Ballet Master (1912)

For the RA in 1912, she displayed The Window and The Ballet Master, a work that was compared with the ballet images of Renoir and won a special mention in the Paris Salon of 1913. This was followed in 1913 with three, yes three, paintings in the May exhibition, Midsummer (which was shown again in the 1915 RA War Relief exhibition), Under the Cliffs, which The Queen magazine called 'a triumph of technique, of assured rightness of tone rather than interest of colour',  and Silver and Green (now in Minneapolis Institute of Art)...

Silver and Green (1913)

In 1914, she seems to have taken it easy with only one painting exhibited at the RA, Enchantment.  As I have said before, I love the RA catalogues as they also have the addresses of the artists in the back (should you wish to visit them in your time machines).  Up until 1914 Hilda's address remained in Redcliffe Road, but for the 1915 exhibition, where she showed Spring Flowers and The Hayrick, she is listed c/o the framers J J Patrickson in Church Street, Chelsea. In 1916, when she exhibited The Breakfast Table and Nannie, Bessie and John, Hilda's address had changed to 22 Joubert Mansions, Jubilee Place in Chelsea. Although Algernon Talmage lists his RA address as the Chelsea Arts Club, it is widely written that by this point the couple were living together in Joubert Mansions.  

Afternoon Sunshine (1917)

Hilda's paintings for the 1917 RA exhibition, Afternoon Sunshine and The Road Across the Downs were praised by the Gentlewoman journal, as they 'sustain this painters growing reputation.' Colour journal reported that Hilda was 'an artist whose work showed remarkable strength and decision' and the Sketch remarked that 'Miss Hilda Fearon exhibits things seen and felt,' surely the pinnacle of what Charles Marriott would call maturity in art.  Sadly, less than a month later, on 2nd June 1917, Hilda died, aged only 39.

In Mrs Ethel Alec-Tweedie's fabulous 1918 book Women and Soldiers, Hilda gets an interesting name-check.  When discussing how life had changed for women in the three years of the war, Mrs EAT states that things have moved more than in the previous three hundred, yet some things remain still unreachable:

'Forsooth, you may still be a Clara Montalba, a Laura Knight, a Henrietta Rae, a Lucy Kemp-Welsh, a Hilda Fearon or an Anna Airy, without the least danger of being raised to the heights upon which Royal Academicians giddily draw breath. Why look for a post on the line? There is plenty of wall space above and below. Artistic merit has its own reward, my dear lady, so aspire not to the alphabet.'

When I read that, I was amazed that only a few of those women are now widely known, and also at the mindset that it's nice to be invited to the party, you don't need any cake. I can't believe that given the opportunity, Laura Knight or Henrietta Rae wouldn't have loved to be the President of the RA but were just pleased to be brilliant painters who were allowed to exhibit with the men. Without getting too ranty, this is a bit of a touchstone for this advent, that these women and more like them, deserve to be considered for the line because they are extremely talented in a world that would rather they did something else, quietly. 

Forsooth, Hilda Fearon and other female Post-Turnerites deserve our love. She was in a 1960 piece in the West Briton and Royal Cornwall Gazette on 'Art and the Artist in Cornwall' by Michael R L Canney, the curator of Newlyn Art Gallery. There needs to be a more enthusiastic embrace of this period in our art history, so I can smell a retrospective coming our way soon...

Friday 17 November 2023

Joy, Whose Hand is Ever at His Lips, Bidding Adieu

 I am very much aware that we are around a fortnight away from Blogvent this year and I would like to fill December with more little-known lady artists, as is my wont.  However, in the meantime, here is just such a lass who I am at a bit of a loss to work out why she is not better known. Her paintings are visually exciting and modern, as well as traditionally beautiful and just a little bit utterly bonkers. She seems to have worked hard and been very popular and yet if you look under Art UK, the listing for oil paintings in public hands in the UK, there is only this one, possibly purchased from the War Relief Exhibition where it was exhibited in 1915... 

A Bunch of Flowers (1915)

…and as you will see, it’s not exactly her most exciting work, lovely though it is. So, why have we forgotten Isobel Lilian Gloag? 

Woman in Green (also known as 1860) (c.1909-16)

The fact that she had two major pieces written about her in 1902 and 1916, in The Magazine of Art and The International Studio, makes it both easier to talk about her but also puzzling as to why she has seemingly vanished.  Starting with the 1902 piece, penned by the artist and art critic James Greig (1861-1941), the piece ‘Isobel Lilian Gloag and Her Work’ was an overview of her life up to 1902 and her work.  It is also funny and inaccurate; however I am very grateful to Mr Greig for it.  I will be working in conjunction with him for Isobel’s backstory.  She was born in Kensington on 1st August 1865.  Greig writes that her parents hailed from Perthshire ‘the most picturesque county in the land of mountain and flood.’ Her father, Henry Dundas Gloag (1830-1908) was actually born in India and her mother Isobel Ogilvie Jackson (1844-1921) came from Australia, but I’m guessing their families originated from the land of Haggis and Nessie before they cleared off to the colonies. Isobel was the eldest of four children, followed by Henry Junior (1867-1929), Mary (1868-1953) and Wilfred (1873-1954). Henry Senior was a captain in the Royal Madras Artillery, and so in Isobel’s first census in 1871, she and her mother, Henry junior and Mary are staying at St Mary’s Terrace, Park Cottages in Paddington.  Henry Senior retired somewhen that decade because by 1881 the family are in their new, rather swanky home of Gloucester Terrace, along with their 2 servants, doing very nicely thank you. 

In the Garden (c.1909-16)

Greig helps out with a bit of narrative here: apparently Isobel wasn’t one of those artists who was drawing from an early age – ‘Not being born with a pencil in her hand [may I add, I bet her mother was relieved] she never defaced the nursery walls.’ Apologies for my interjection, but I winced at that.  I must also add that my daughter Lily merrily redecorated her bedroom door when she was given her first pack of felt tip pens. We wondered why she was so quiet. I digress. It was only when looking at the options for women that Isobel decided that being the artist was the best of a bad lot, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Miss Gloag did not do things by half and was determined to go to the RA School as she was very sensibly aware that attendance there would give her advantages.  She enrolled at St John’s Wood art school to prepare but, as Greig writes, she found she was ‘not in sympathy’ with the academic system of training.  That is such a marvellous euphemism that I intend to use it as often as possible.  This morning for example, I found I was not in sympathy with getting out of bed. Anyway, she found that a route that she was more in sympathy with was at the Slade… 

Portrait of a Woman (c.1909-16)

As you will know, the Slade School of Fine Art was a youngster in comparison with the established Royal Academy School.  It was established in 1871 and is a sort of keynote for a more relaxed, modern way of teaching art that continues today.  It always, sadly, reminds me of the ill-fated Miranda in John Fowles’ The Collector but past pupils and teachers include Augustus John, Dora Carrington, Stanley Spencer and Paul Rego. The Wikipedia page on the Alumni is a bit of a who’s who of 20th century art. Anyway, Isobel did really well there but her health was not good.  It became apparent to her that formal teaching of any sort was not going to be possible full-time, but she was not put off. She settled for part-time study at ‘Mr Ridley’s Studio’ which gained her access to the life classes at South Kensington. 

Decorated plate (c.1880) Louis-Joseph-Raphaël Collin

Greig charmingly states that with Isobel, thought led directly to action and Isobel had the thought she would like to study in Paris. Off she went, but not to the Académie Julian which she felt would be as bad as the Royal Academy.  Instead, she went to the studio of Louis-Joseph-Raphaël Collin (1850-1916).  What impressed her the most was the sheer variety of students from all corners of the earth, all bringing new and interesting perspectives on art.  She said that she received more inspiration from her fellow students than anything her teacher could ever give her. 

A Legend of Provence (1894)

Her absence from the 1891 census (together with that of her sister, brother Henry and father) makes me think that this is when she was in Paris, returning to triumphantly join the Royal Academy and begin her career.  I particularly love the Royal Academy catalogues (all of which are free online) because they give you information on the artist as well as their picture.  In 1893, Isobel exhibited what is widely belived to be her first picture, A Raw Recruit, and her address is listed as 9 Gloucester Walk, Campden Hill. This painting was so popular that it was awarded a medal at the re-opening of the Crystal Palace Art Rooms in 1896. This was followed in 1894 with A Legend of Provence from Adelaide Ann Procter’s poem of the same name. The painting was accompanied with the following lines of poetry: She raised her head; she saw – she seemed to know – / A face that came from long, long years ago: / Herself; yet not as when she fled away, / The young and blooming novice, fair and gay, / But a grave woman, gentle and serene: / The outcast knew it – what she might have been

Much like Procter’s verse, this image is filled with women’s concerns and frustrations at the end of the nineteenth century. In a way this reminds me of Rossetti's Found with a woman being accosted by a vision of their more optimistic (and societally acceptable) past. It is almost like this woman is being confronted by the Virgin Mary, arguably the only acceptable lifepath for a woman in the eyes of Victorian society.  

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1895)

Isabella and the Pot of Basil from 1895 came with the text ‘Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord.’ from Keats. This has to put her in the running to be in the next volume of Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang (The Girl Gang Rides Again). As you can see by the picture, Isabella is fearfully clutching her basil pot/severed head of her lover, looking traumatised.  Given that previous versions are more wistful and romantic, I think the fear and horror in this Isabella’s face is somewhat more realistic. 

The Miracle of the Roses (1896)

Isobel was back in 1896 with another dramatic work, this time the deceptively lovely sounding The Miracle of the Roses. I was expecting some lovely gardening scene, but it is taken from a 14th century story by John Mandeville (or Syr Jean de Maundeville, depending how 14th century you are feeling).  During his (possibly fictional) travels in the Holy Lands he came across a story of a young girl who was falsely accused of fornication and condemned to be burned at the stake. She prayed to God who turned the flames to red roses and the unburned kindling to white roses and these were the first roses ever seen. Blimey.  Again, she tackles the perils of womanhood, false accusations and the fragility and importance of virginity and reputation. Also, bear this story in mind as the next painting is a mirror image of it... 

The Magic Mantle (1898)

She didn't submit a painting in 1897 (possibly for health reasons) but she submitted possibly her best-known painting the year after, The Magic Mantle. Now, this is a very interesting painting and story and I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a great painting, worthy of Byam Shaw, who I feel she most closely resembles, but what exactly is the message? It comes from an Arthurian tale, where a little boy brings a cloak to the King’s court and declares that only virtuous and faithful wives could wear the cloak.  Well, as reported in the Gentlewoman journal, a feckless young wife who felt she could get away with it revealed her shortcomings as the cloak disintegrated: ‘mere shreds and tatters of gorgeous embroideries hanging from a band about her neck… [bringing] smiles of pleased depreciation to the faces of the surrounding courtiers.’ Is 'pleased depreciation' the same thing as Schadenfreude? Do we think that the knight is her husband or the chap sat at the back – neither look particularly impressed.  Is one of them her fancy man? According to the Westminster Gazette it was the only picture to sell in the fifth room in the exhibition, for £100. What is equally as interesting is that Isobel, professionally using her initials I L Gloag, was often referred to as a man, leading many reviews to talk about Mr Gloag’s painting. I wonder if the person purchasing her painting knew she was a woman? 

Rosamond (or Fair Rosamond) (1899)

In 1899, Isobel was back to Pre-Raphaelite subjects, with a very interesting take on Rosamond, with the text ‘The queene this thread did gette, and went where Ladye Rosamonde was like an angell sette.’ The profusion of ‘e’ should alert you to the fact this is a 16th century retelling of the tale of Fair Rosamond and Queen Eleanor. Poor Rosamond looks rather alarmed at the arrival of the Queen, signified by the shadow holding a cup. Isobel’s entry for the 1900 Royal Academy exhibition was no less Pre-Raphaelite in intent, taking the theme of Rapunzel but framed within the William Morris poem… 

Rapunzel (1900)

The use of space in this work is interesting as you are remarkably close to the action. Poor old Rapunzel was imprisoned without clothes I see. In this exhibition she had two paintings, the other being a profile and her address is given as Elm Park Gardens, a decidedly red-brick and luxurious bit of London where she would remain for the rest of her life. She was mentioned regularly in the papers, drawing attention to her paintings as being ‘problem paintings’ in the style of Byam Shaw whom she exhibited alongside. In 1901, her paintings Four Corners to My Bed was the smash of the RA, rivalling the popularity of  The Magic Mantle 

Four Corners to My Bed (1901)

The text that accompanied it was the popular children’s rhyme ‘Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on.’ I love that the woman in the background can get on with some work as she has four angellic babysitters.  James Greig announced it to be ‘the kind of subject a woman can do better than any man’ as it appealed ‘to the deep maternal tenderness of her finer nature.’ It is a common compliment given to female artists when they tackle subjects to do with motherhood and it always makes me wince.  How odd that we never praise male artists with their deep paternal tenderness, for example when they paint the Virgin Mary (as one or two male artists have been known to do, I’m guessing). 

Mother Nursing a Baby (1911)

Isobel also painted an intriguing work entitled The Quick and the Dead for which I frustratingly cannot find any illustration.  It is described as a group of women at an alms-house by around them are ghosts of men and children.  If anyone can find me that painting, I would be delighted as that sounds marvellously weird. 

Mary Lowndes and Isabel Gloag windows in Sturminster Newton

Also in 1901, Isobel worked with Mary Lowndes (1857-1929) on a set of stained-glass windows for St Mary’s Church in Mary’s home town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset.  Mary also went to the Slade and I wonder if that was how they knew each other, but she had been working as assistant to Henry Holiday. Mary was obviously a prolific window artist, but this seems to have been the only foray into stained-glass that Isobel made.  Always one for variety, she also turned her hand to designing a poster for a pastille manufacturer and won £50.  Her other poster designs included a girl with a spinning wheel and a very popular one featuring Old King Cole.

Old King Cole (poster)

Art Metal Exhibition poster (1898)

The thing I like about Isobel’s art is that she is not afraid of a really long title.  After her 1902 RA piece The Daughter of Hippocrates, she brings us some corkers, such as 1903’s For There was Never Yet Fair Woman but she made Mouths in a Glass. I had not the first idea what that was going to be about until I saw the illustration… 

For there was Never Yet Fair Woman but she made Mouths in a Glass (1903)

The fool (from King Lear) is spying on a scene of vanity.  The woman practices and admires her beautiful face in her hand mirror, assisted by her elderly maid.  Themes on women’s vanity were popular at this time, most famously in Frank Cadogan Cowper’s 1907 Vanity. The artifice and ridiculousness are laid out; before too long that beautiful young woman will be the older lady behind her. In a world where women's appearance was (and is) highly prized, the mocking of women for being concerned with this seems cruel and contrary. I wonder if there is a link in Isobel's art between this and her (untraced) self portrait Portrait of a Plain Woman where she obviously didn't feel she was a 'fair woman'. 1904 followed with the equally impressive title Knowledge Putting the Garment of Sorrow on to Everyman which frankly is a tad depressing. A brief interlude in long titles came with 1906's Clytie who was transfixed with an arrow and dubbed 'unconventional' by The Graphic.  However, my absolute favourite title has to be 1909’s Joy, Whose Hand is Ever at his Lips, Bidding Adieu... 

Look at the hands reaching for the little figure of Joy - I am reminded of Anna Lea Meritt's Love Locked Out (1890) and also Joy and the Labourer by Mary Young Hunter and the litle cheeky figure of Joy was much admired.  I wonder if her continued ill health gave her a somewhat pessimistic view of life – knowledge brings sorrow, joy is fleeting.  Her adherence to the latter Pre-Raphaelite revival in colour and the problem picture meant she was a worthy contemporary to Byam Shaw, Brickdale and Cadogan Cowper.  She even turned her hand to book illustration, much like EFB...

Stories of William Tell (1907)

1909 saw not only her election to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Watercolour Society, but also a change in her work, commented on in an article in 1916 by Arthur Reddie, published in the International Studio magazine.  This earlier, Pre-Raphaelite phase ended when Isobel turned largely to modernity in subject and treatment.  Her delight in the antique and beautiful found a new form of expression in pieces such as The Choice in 1913… 

The Choice (1913)

Goodness, I love a problem painting! The papers praised its 'early Victorian Atmosphere' and in one way it is a very simple image of two girls trying on dresses, with their mother/grandmother seen in the reflection, however it was referred to as one of the 'query pictures of the year' byThe Sketch so what is the problem? Is it something about the dresses, their colour and frothy nature that says something about the chooser? Isobel was always one for a painting that inspires thought but it was also noted how her style had changed. 

The Yellow Coat (c.1913)

I find it interesting that the difference was seen as so marked, although it is clear from works such as The Yellow Coat, there is a difference in the way the figure is handled and unlike her fellow late Pre-Raphaelites, Isobel made her dramas about her contemporaries, not the past. In defence of Byam Shaw, there are examples of him doing similar in pieces such as The Lure but always with fantastical elements.  I wonder also how much John Collier’s paintings were an influence, with pieces such as The Prodigal Daughter (1903). 

Bacchante and Fauns (c.1909-11)

It isn’t as if all of Isobel’s pieces from 1909 are strictly modern as there were still pieces such as Bacchante and Fauns which were praised for the echoes of Rubens, and Diana Protected by her Nymphs When Disturbed by Actaeon While Bathing from 1911, but amongst these are some striking and very modern pieces including East and West, a nude featuring a woman of colour and a bulldog. 

East and West (c.1915)

This piece was praised in the 1916 article with Reddie commenting on the ‘clever and amusing’ contrast of the brown skin of the girl and the white dog, with highlights of red and yellow behind them. I would dearly like to see a colour version of this image too as the flowers on her head obviously are echoed in the flowers behind and in itself, the work is no worse in tone than the Nymphs, but there is something about the pairing of the girl and the dog which makes me very Colonially uncomfortable, especially when critics apply the adjective ‘amusing’ to it. What is the message? That the British bulldog is protecting the lovely maidens from over the seas? That a white dog and a black lady are tonally interesting together? Is it a call back to Manet's 1863 Olympia or even The Rokeby Venus? If it was painted in 1914 or 1915, this could have been inspired by the suffragette attack on the latter or a comment on the complication of sex in our attitude to colonialism through Orientalism. Or she might have thought the colours would look good together. I wish I knew more... 

He and She (c.1916)

Amongst the last of her paintings, I particularly like He and She, a painting described in Reddie’s article as being of a ‘coster girl’ and her ‘bloke’ ‘as he holds the reins of the barrow in which they drive out apleasuring.’ (I can’t tell you the last time I went apleasuring, it’s such a shame). I had to remind myself what a costermonger is (it’s someone who sells things off a barrow) but it is definitely a piece on class but it is hard to get the definite meaning. The girl is looking away from her ‘bloke’ and the hand she has raised is her ringless left. Is that a flower coming out of her mouth? Is He looking at She? Is He a pearly king? I can’t tell, it’s all very mysterious and I’m not sure exactly how much ‘apleasuring’ will be taking place. 

Woman With Puppets (1915)

I should mention this piece from 1915 which still intrigues people today - it seems to have been used in an exhibition in 2016.  There is a distinct commentary about the power of naked women over the little puppet men.  I think that's all fairly obvious, but it is very interesting that when Isobel uses nudity in her work it is almost always to do with power either taken or exerted.

The Kiss of the Enchantress or Lamia or Knight and Mermaid

The piece I am most frustrated with is this one, which is probably her most famous work on the internet.  The date given with it is 1890 which seems unlikely as her first RA picture was in 1893 and this work is definitely of RA quality, yet I can't find an RA listing that would match it.  It also has so many different titles that people don't quite know what exactly it is but countless searches have born no fruit as to its current location or any other information.  What gives me hope is that it is in colour, so someone must have it in order to make a good colour picture of it.

Isobel's final RA pice in 1916 was Sleep and she died in the January of 1917 leaving much of her work to her sister Mary who seemingly gave some pieces to the V&A in the 1920s. There are a few others dotted around the globe but the fact that she has never been given the sort of attention that someone like Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale has been given over the last few years is criminal.  What is so sad is that she was chiefly known as a colourist yet so many of her images are only available in black and white, and only then because of those journal articles. Whilst I am obviously calling for a retrospective (when am I not?) I think Isobel Gloag is such an inspiration, working through her chronic illness and chanelling so much fire and feeling into her modern works of art.  In the International Studio article it was quoted that the medium she worked in was "vitality, Sir, vitality" - "In all her work one conceives her to be moved by a distinct purpose, and animated by such fervour and energy that the natural result is the achievement of something extreme, either good or bad, in art." 

In her 24 year career, you could never accuse her of being dull and can you image all that colour, all that fury, on a gallery wall? Isobel needs her moment, so if you know of any Gloags, give me a shout.