Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Wednesday 2nd December - Miss Donald the Housekeeper at Cliffe Castle

Well, it is proving to be a bit of an eventful Muffvent so far.  Yesterday our boiler stopped working and my daughter threw up and so today will be spent with a recuperating nine year old awaiting the boiler man.  I think a nice, respectable picture is in order...

Miss Donald the Housekeeper at Cliffe Castle Marie Louise Pierrepont
First of all I thought that, as the subject is the housekeeper, Miss Donald was holding some linen but given that she is wearing a rather nice hat, that is probably a white fur muff keeping Miss Donald's hands warm. I love the fact that Miss Donald has grace and a little mystery, not to mention a hint of sadness in her partially shadowed face.  I wanted to know more about painter and subject, which is always a good sign.

Seated Self Portrait, Shown in a Cheval Dressing Mirror (1952)
Marie-Louise Roosevelt Butterfield (then Pierrepont) was the only daughter of Sir Frederick and Lady Jessie Butterfield, born in Belgium in 1889.  She showed a talent for art at an early age and was sent to the Julienne School of Art when her parents travelled to Paris in the early years of the twentieth century.  In 1912 the family settled at Cliffe Castle in Yorkshire where Marie-Louise painted her surroundings, including the people.  Although undated, the portrait of Miss Donald, their housekeeper and Marie-Louise's companion, probably comes from 1912-18, judging by the sober Edwardian dress.  Marie-Louise married Gervas Evelyn Pierrepont, 6th Earl Manvers in 1918 and moved to Thoresby Hall, Nottinghamshire.  At Thoresby, there is an extensive collection of her work amounting to around 700 pieces, some of which can be seen on the PCF/BBC's Your Paintings website.
So what of Miss Donald...?

Miss Chaseley on the Undercliff (1927) Maxwell Armfield
At first inspection, with the knowledge that Miss Donald was a housekeeper, I was reminded of Maxwell Armfield's portrait of his housekeeper, Miss Chaseley.  Although Armfield rejected any sort of deeper reading of the picture, I have always taken it to be a picture of one of the countless women who were denied a husband and family because of the First World War.  Despite being 'Miss' Chaseley, she is wearing a wedding ring, and her black dress hints at mourning for a loved one.  The toy boat on the choppy lake makes me imagine a sailor, lost in battle.  All very sad.  Miss Donald's stoic expression, the shadow over her face made me think that her chances of life and love had been denied by the War, as the painting could have been painted 1914-18.  I began to feel terribly sad for the lost life, often the lot of servants.  How wrong was I?

The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922
The Butterfield's travelled widely, taking Miss Donald with them.  In an interview with the Halifax Courier in 1958, when she celebrated her 82nd birthday, the Edinburgh-born Mary Spiers Donald recalled her many adventures with the Butterfields, including crossing the Atlantic numerous times, meeting President Theodore Roosevelt (who the Butterfields were related to) and going on a 100-day world cruise.  However in 1922 she had her most memorable adventure when the family went to Egypt to watch the excavations.  Somewhere in the crowd in the above photograph is Miss Donald, who saw the contents of Tutankhamun's tomb carried out of the ground by Howard Carter and his team.

Miss Donald retired after 50 years service, but during her final year with the Butterfields, she read Foretold by the Stars, a privately published validation of astrology by Charles Everard Mitchell.  Mitchell's predictions had been reported in the Courier for years as he was a local man and he predicted things like the Derby winner and the fate of financial investments and Adolf Hitler (there is an interesting page on him here).  Anyway, Miss Donald was so fascinated by his book that she wrote to the author.  The couple met, fell in love and were married at Cliffe Castle in the summer of 1948. They lived out the rest of their lives in Halifax until they both died in the 1960s, happy together in their old age.  I could not hope for a happier ending for Miss Donald.

My second present recommendation is one of my favourite films of the year, just out on DVD.  As Miss Donald had such a remarkable life and old age, it seems fitting that I recommend Mr Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes retires, keeps bees, becomes my Dad...
I loved this gentle gem of a film filled with mystery, drama and remarkable acting.  Why did Sherlock Holmes give up detecting?  What is the mystery of his final case? Why does my Dad hates wasps so much?  All of these things are answered in this perfect film for a cold, winters night.

Mr Holmes is available to buy now and my review is here.

See you tomorrow!


  1. Dear Kirsty
    I do like the way you introduce us to new artists or new characters and then go on to tell us what happened to them - it's important to me to know the 'what happened next?' bit, if it's possible to know. Of course, it might be that I'm just very nosey.
    Best wishes

  2. Always best to be nosey with a friend, I say. That way we can call it 'research for enquiring minds' and pretend to be high-brow about it.

    Thanks for your comments as always, Ellie!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx