Monday, 22 January 2018

Noel Laura Nisbet

It is undeniable that there are loads of very deserving Victorian artists who we just don't know enough about.  Actually, there are loads of artists who there is information about but they just aren't high in our consciousness at the mo, just waiting for their moment to come again, ready for their big rediscovery.  One of those could very well be the fabulously named Noel Ruth Laura Helen Nisbet...

Self Portrait (undated)
Noel Laura Nisbet (1887-1956) was part of an artistic family, enabled to follow her dreams by her father's generosity, and the creator of some unforgettable and original Pre-Raphaelite-influenced works.  Her father was a bit of a character, on the whole.  Born in 1849, Hume Nisbet was the son of a painter and decorator, James Herkis Nisbet.  In 1866, the family sailed for a new life to Australia, settling in Melbourne.  Hume Nisbet spent his time travelling around and trying various careers including a spot of theatre work and writing, not to mention a bit of painting too.

A Ship in a Calm Sea at Twilight (1892) Hume Nisbet
He returned to England in the early 1870s and studied art at the South Kensington art school.  After that he was appointed art master at the Watt Institute and School of Art in Edinburgh.  He married Helen Currie, daughter of the sculptor Andrew Currie, in 1875...

Robert the Bruce at Stirling Castle, by Andrew Currie
Hume resigned as a teacher and concentrated on his artistic career, producing large, fancy paintings of sea and landscape, and writing a book, The Practical in Painting in 1880.  The family moved down towards London in 1887, just around the same time as little Noel was born...

Spring (no date)
Noel was the youngest girl in the Nisbet family but not the only artist.  Her sister Margaret Henrietta studied at Clapham Art School then exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908 and 1909.  Noel studied at Clapham as well, winning three gold medals, bronze medals and the Princess of Wales scholarship for her art. That's not all she left art school with, as she also met artist Harry Bush, fellow student there and married him in 1910...

The Tiled Kitchen (1954) Harry Bush
Harry was famous for his paintings of suburban London and his pictures are very restful and beautiful, even when they show bombed-out houses.  Anyway, in the 1911 census, just after the couple had married, Noel and Harry lived in Clapham with Noel's brother, Andrew, who is described as an 'author'.  Harry is an 'Advertisement Designer' and Noel is a 'Painter (Artist)' (I suppose as opposed to 'Painter (houses)').  

Self Portrait with Sewing Basket, Bath Cottage, Speen (c.1918)
Noel and baby daughter Hazel spent the First World War in Bath Cottage in Speen while Harry was away.  Hume bought his artist daughters two matching houses in Merton Park, now Old Merton Park, near Wimbledon.  Have a look at 19 Queensland Avenue on Google Streetmaps and you'll see why the houses were so special - both Noel and Margaret's houses had artist's studios in the attic space.  Noel, Harry and the kids spent the rest of their lives there.  

The Court of King Arthur (no date)
Noel exhibited in the 1914 Royal Academy, then another 23 times between 1914 and 1938.  She was elected to the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters in 1926 and the British Watercolour Society in 1945.  She also provided beautiful fairy tale illustrations for books and her work can be seen as an extension of what Elenor Fortescue Brickdale had been doing earlier in the century.  Her illustrations for Cossack Fairy Tales and Folk Tales (1916) can be downloaded here. Noel Laura Nisbet's work is busy and florrid, filled with detail and colour.

The Devil Ran Away With the Gossip (no date)
Her work is fascinating in subject.  Often referred to as 'the last Pre-Raphaelite' (although there must be as many 'last Pre-Raphaelites' as pieces of the true cross), it is possible to see aspects of Burne-Jones physicality in her figures, and the wonderful medieval clothes are reminiscent of some of the earliest watercolours by Rossetti.  The colours are quite astonishing.

The True Love (no date)
Noel and Harry lived out their days in the comfortable house in Merton Park with their daughters Hazel and Janet.  Margaret, her sister, remained at the other end of the road, never married, and died only six years before her sister, in 1950.  Harry died a year after Noel, and their work was the subject of a major sale at Christies (possibly just after Janet died) in 1984.  Today, Noel's work can be seen in a few public collections, for example the Russell-Cotes in Bournemouth, which is where I first encountered her.  

Now Annie Swynnerton has got her retrospective, maybe it'll be Noel's turn next...

1 comment:

  1. How interesting ! I am sure there are many lesser known Victorian Artists working in the then fashionable style of Pre-Raphaelitism, that have been buried in history. Thanks for this insightful article.


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