Wednesday 17 February 2021

Mary F Raphael (1861-1942)

Occasionally I'll see a picture and think - 'That's lovely, I'm sure there is loads known about that artist...' and then see it's by a woman and think - 'Rats...' because unless that woman is lucky, or has a lot of kids to keep her art then donate it when the market is more favourable, or she has a solid presence in public collections, then they are often lost.  Anyway, this is the story of Mary F Raphael, one of those artists...

Marianna (Mary) Florette Moses was born on 11 July 1861.  Her father, Assur Henry Moses, was a very well respected Jewish merchant and stockbroker who married Henrietta Cohen in 1855. Marianna was the eldest of six children who followed in the 1860s.  In a later article on her life, it was reported that she was talented with pencils as a child but probably never thought it would be a part of her life.  Her father was apparently a talented pen and ink draughtsman and Mary would idly fill the margins of her school books with ivy leaves, dogs, cats and even mermaids.  These were passed down to her younger sisters who treasured them more for Mary's art.  She was allowed to study art at Mr B S Marks studio in Linden Garden, but this was just biding time before her marriage in 1883, to Arthur Lewis Raphael.

The Water Nymph (undated)

Arthur Raphael came from an extremely wealthy family - when his father died in 1899 he left over a million pounds to his children and grandchildren. I'm sure Mary thought she was set for a straightforward life, with her husband and baby daughter Gladys, born in 1885, but it was not all easy.  Gladys was born with hip problems and was disabled as a child, but no doubt the wealth of the family aided treatment as I will tell you of Gladys's exploits in later life in a bit. Mary fulfilled the role of a society wife, appearing at functions such as the Royal Drawing Room, in May 1889, dressed in velvet and white satin, embroidered in gold.  All was opulence and luxury. Then in on Valentine's Day 1891, Arthur died suddenly, aged only thirty three.

Florizel and Perdita (undated)

Possibly Mary turned to art as a salve after such a shock, possibly it had been planned before Arthur's death and she carried on regardless, but months after becoming a widow at 30, Mary enrolled at Cooke's Studio on Fitzroy Street (in the very pleasant Fitzrovia area of Greater London). The studying there was strict, and she was only allowed to use charcoal until the end of her preliminary study period of technique was completed.  A visiting artist-teacher, Solomon J Solomon saw Mary's art and was impressed, encouraging her over her three and half years of study. She went then to Paris to study at Julien's Atelier under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, Jean Paul Laurens and Gabriel Ferrier.  Solomon and Mary must have remained in touch because in the 1895 Society of Portrait Painter's exhibition, Solomon exhibited a portrait of Gladys Raphael, praised for its simplicity and sincerity.

Gladys (1895) Solomon J Solomon

Mary came to prominence at what was probably her first Royal Academy.  She was hung on the coveted line in Gallery VI and her painting, The Wood Nymph, was praised for its delicacy and design. The St James Gazette described it as a pretty and graceful nude, but the outline was a little hard.  However, there was a feeling of 'general unity and whiteness of the flesh tones which is observable in the work of Bronzino and Correggio'. 

Britomart and Amoret (1899)

Her fame continued with a frontispiece in 1899 in the Art Journal.  Her Britomart and Amoret was praised by some for its quality and considerable style, but for others, it was not so sweet.  The East and South Devon Advertiser reported that it was 'a nice clean picture of two models posing as a knight and a lady with an impossible dragon kicking about in the background. Is not this sort of thing rather played out in 1899? Mr Hacker or Mr Byam Shaw, rather than Rossetti, is  the inspirer here.'  I hesitate to go against such an illustrious publication as the East and South Devon Advertiser, but I rather like Britomart and Amoret not least because the couple are two girls, the knight Britomart rescuing the beautiful Amoret from a wicked wizard Busirane (well, actually it's Busgrau the Dragon, but still Girl Power and all that). Britomart is wearing some stunning armour and that is definitely some outfit goals when I come out of lockdown.  I find it interesting that, although the viewers would have been familiar with the subject (there were other depictions of the pair, most famously by Etty), there was no discussion of how androgynous  Britomart was in comparison to previous paintings. Being a lady-knight previously seemed to involve some armoured boobs, apparently...

Britomart Delivering Amoretta from the Enchantment of Busirane (1824) Henry Fuseli

By the 1901 census, Mary and Gladys were living at 2 Hanover Terrace (current property price estimate, £8million) with four maids and a cook.  In her later memoirs, Gladys remembers that her mother became a rather distant figure, so immersed in her art that Gladys was left to governesses, growing up as a shy and timid child. Interestingly in 1901, Mary lists herself as a retired artist.  She had exhibited with the Society of Women Artists in 1900, showing A Lady in White, a portrait of a lady in a white satin dress and sable cloak against a pale blue background.  In the May after the census, she presented Queen Guinevere at Almsbury at the Royal Academy.  She also produced a cover design for An Island Interlude by John Amity, as what seems to be her first foray into the publishing world...

It's not overwhelming and you have to tilt the screen a bit to get the effect so I wondered if there was a more spectacular version of the cover available, but I haven't found one so far.  Not only that but in 1904 she held an exhibition of forty-five oil paintings, entitled 'At Home and Abroad' at McCleans Gallery in the Haymarket.  The Queen magazine reported that 'Mrs Raphael's colour is good, and in her treatment of sunset effects she displays praiseworthy control of her palette, while her street scenes maybe regarded as her best work; she conveys a sense of sunshine without undue glare of colour. "Fields of France" is a charming landscape, soft in colour and having nice feeling.  Her studies of flower are also very pleasing.' One reporter complained that although they appreciated her art, 'too many cases the drawings were spoiled by excessively heavy frames'.

Queen Guinevere at Almsbury (1901)

1904 also saw the marriage of Gladys to Louis Ernest Mendl.  Mendl was actually the brother of Gladys's uncle (married to Mary's sister Frances) and you have to wonder whether it was a slightly arranged affair to sort out Gladys's future. Mary painted either her daughter or her sister as 'Mrs Mendl' in 1906 in a full-length portrait, although there was a mention that 'some of the attention which should be bestowed on the handsome and pleasant face is diverted to the rich texture and colour of the dress.'

In 1905 she exhibited Iphigenia in Tauris showing the figure of a priestess of the temple of Artemis, the complication of emotion playing over her face. Without seeing the painting, it's tricky to say but I wonder if the priestess was there to sacrifice poor Iphigenia (daughter of Agamemnon, who offended Artemis and had to sacrifice his eldest daughter) or if the figure they are describing is in fact Iphigenia. The year later Queen magazine described her painting The Three Witches, praising the sunshine flickering through the trees onto the mossy bank below the trio.

Hide and Seek (undated)

In 1911 at the time of the census Mary was staying with her sister Frances and her husband Sigismund Mendl (brother of Gladys husband. Keeping up?  Jolly good).  She was travelling most of the time in this period, spending time in Venice, then returning to her studio at Hanover Terrace.  In 1912 she held an exhibition in Baillie's Gallery, including Versailles Twilight...

Versailles Twilight (1912)

As War approached, Mary turned her art to more charitable purposes, holding exhibitions in aid of St Dunstan's Hostel for Soldiers and Sailors Blinded during the War.  Both Mary and Gladys were supporters of female suffrage and offered assistance in the cause but it was Gladys who took this forward.  She divorced Mendl in 1912 and almost immediately remarried to Australian bateriologist Dr Harry Schutze, another suffrage supporter.  In 1914, Gladys took part in a deputation to Buckingham Palace where she was beaten by a policeman and kicked by a police horse, injuries from which she never completely recovered.  She remained a keen supporter of the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) and sheltered Emmeline Pankhurst at her house in Chelsea, Glebe Place, from where Pankhurst gave  a speech from her balcony.  She also smuggled WSPU documents to Christabel Pankhurst in Paris, rolled up in her hair.  

1914 saw a change of direction for Mary.  She had been involved with cover design of books and her portraits had appeared in books, but in 1914 she published her first novel Phoebe Maroon, the story of an artist's model. It was given very positive write-ups, some remarking that it was thrilling and 'handles an absorbing theme with tact and delicacy'.  This was followed by The Lure of the Loire (1923), The Romance of English Almshouses (1926), The Best PolicyJust in Time and Keeping her End Up, amongst others, all of which were popular and a number published through Mills and Boon. She also published countless short stories in the newspapers and seemed to find greater, or certainly as great, success as a writer than as a painter.  Gladys also wrote, publishing as Henrietta Leslie, and produced books of memoirs which I now am eager to read because she seems to have had a hell of a life.  The frontispiece of one of her memoirs was the portrait by Solomon J Solomon.

Henrietta Leslie (Gladys Raphael Mendl Schutze) (1933) Bassano

The eve of the Second World War saw Mary staying in the New Forest on the south coast, at the Bulmer Lawn Hotel (very fancy indeed although the traffic in Lyndhurst is a nightmare) with countless other people who lived on their own means and had possibly brought their own ladies' maid. She died in 1942, back in London.  Gladys died in 1946 while staying in Switzerland with Harry, who died barely a month later.  I can't imagine it was a coincidence but can't find any mention of the circumstances, despite the fact that her books continued to be talked about after her death.

The Wood Nymph (1896)

So why do we not know Mary F Raphael, despite her having two very successful careers as both a novelist and an artist?  She was well connected, she was wealthy, it's hard to see what the problem is.  Only one of her paintings is in a public collection, The Wood Nymph which resides in Cheltenham at the Wilson Collection.  Her dates are not listed and I could find no more information on the links between her art and her novels.  Mary F Raphael (1861-1942) is yet another woman artist who needs our attention.  I really want to see more of her paintings in colour, and I also want Britomart's armour.  Also, why on earth has no-one written a biography of Gladys? Any woman who smuggles feminist secrets to Paris in her hair has my attention...