Friday 25 November 2022

His Wife, Who Was Also An Artist...

My current obsession is the spouses of artists who were also artists.  I do not get out very much but bear with me as that is a very interesting dynamic and makes me wonder how rubbishly history treats female artists.  Of late, I have done a few posts of artists who married artists and there are certainly some well-known couples in the Victorian/Pre-Raphaelite field, however today's subject/victim is a bit different.  You might not have heard of her, you will definitely have heard of her husband and you will be surprised how well you know her face.  Say hello to Esther Maria Kenworthy Waterhouse...

The Lady of Shalott (1888) John William Waterhouse

Okay, we shall get on to how this is Esther and why I'm dubious but why I think Esther is massively important in the art of her husband John William Waterhouse, but first let's cover Esther's alarmingly tragic backstory...

Esther was born in October of 1857 to James Lees Kenworthy and his with Elizabeth Caroline Atlee. Elizabeth's father had been a teacher at the Grove School in Ealing and James Kenworthy was a teacher of perspective and painting at Kerrison Lodge which functioned as both a boarding school and home to the Kenworthy family.  It is also written he was an artist too, but I can't find any evidence of his work (but it was often the case that art teachers were also artists in a professional sense).  He was, however, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society and the National Temperance League, so both educated and sober, which is a jolly combination. The Kenworthys had married in 1850 and between 1852 and 1870 produced around 10 children, with Esther appearing somewhere in the midst. James didn't last much longer, dying in 1876, leaving the family with very little in the way of money (probate was under £300).  The family remained at Kerrison Lodge, with Elizabeth listing herself as a school teacher by the 1881 census. 

Right, I hope you are braced as it gets a bit bumpy now.  Esther had two brothers, Edward Augustus Sidney (known as Sidney) and Nelson, who wished to go to sea to seek their fortune and careers.  They were off to New Zealand aboard the Avalanche, a sailing ship, which was also full of people from New Zealand, sailing home to Wanganui, including the daughter of the mayor.  At 9.30pm on the 11th September 1877, it was struck amidships by the Forest, a Nova Scotia vessel, and sank in less than three minutes, drowning all but three people on board.  The Forest sank slower and so most of the passengers and crew scrambled into lifeboats and were rescued by fishermen. The sizable loss of life, especially with the toll felt on both sides of the hemisphere, made national and international news, but the death of the two brothers, off to their new life in New Zealand must have been keenly felt by the family.

Next came the death of eldest sister Elizabeth's husband, George Willcocks.  The couple had only married in 1878, but he died in 1882.  They were still living with his parents in the 1881 census so I'm not sure how much of a married, independent life they got before George popped off. Not put off by this, Elizabeth remarried in 1886 to Edward Sandford and he managed to last until 1909.

Lastly, the eldest brother Charles James Fox Kenworthy died in 1887 of diphtheria. He had been an accountant and a beekeeper.  One of his mother's relatives, Charles Atlee had been instrumental in the formation of the British Bee-Keeper's Association and according to his obituary in the British Bee Journal, his father James had been a keen beekeeper too. In 1887 there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Ealing that baffled the authorities for a while as it was only the wealthier households that were affected. There were 23 cases and 3 deaths including Charles.  The source of the outbreak was tracked back to a dairy, hence the households who could afford milk and dairy products being the ones who suffered.  The case was covered in the Lancet and in the national news.  It's not that the Kenworthy family were unusually blessed with bad luck, it's just the manner in which it struck was newsworthy. Anyway, in the midst of all that was Esther, who was training to be an artist...

Esther (c.1885) Antonio Sorgato, Venice

Not much is recorded of Esther's training, but in the 1881 census, she is listed as living at home and working as an artist. In the 1882 Directory of Artists, Miss E Kenworthy is listed, together with the acknowledgment that she had one painting at the Royal Academy exhibition of that year, a watercolour of Wallflowers.  The Aberdeen Press and Journal referred to it as "an effective study" in their review of that year's show. It might have been at the Royal Academy school that Esther met her future husband, John William Waterhouse, or maybe at the exhibition but in 1883 the couple married.  There are some sizable and impressive tomes written on Waterhouse which I won't plunge into here, but I was impressed with the effort he went into for his tragic backstory.  Born in Rome, John 'Nino' Waterhouse was moved to Kensington as a little child, where his mother and two brothers died of tuberculosis. Marvellous.

Portrait of the Artist's Wife (c.1885) John WIlliam Waterhouse

After marriage at St Mary's Church in Ealing, Mr and Mrs Waterhouse moved to Primrose Hill to establish their studios, first at number 3, then number 6.  They were soon surrounded by fellow artists and friends, including one of Esther's brother-in-laws, the artist Peregrine Malvogue Feeney, a landscape painter from Birmingham who married Emily Kenworthy in 1891.

Baggy Point, Devon (undated) P M Feeney

Their neighbours included this motley lot...

This photo is from the magnificent 2008 catalogue from the Royal Academy exhibition and shows Esther standing at the back with an umbrella, Emily her sister looking dubious, sitting on the left, another sister Edith being handed something by Waterhouse, wearing a turban. This was a fancy dress party from around 1884-88, and in addition to this, the Waterhouses socialised with other artists including Antwerp-trained William Logdail, who painted the couple multiple times (there is a helpful post on him here).  

Primrose Hill School (1893) Unknown artist

This caricature of the gang form the 1890s, shows Waterhouse in the middle in a tutu and mary-janes for some reason, but Esther is at the bottom with her back to us, her striped belt tied in a bow. She is very much in the mix with the other artists, even though by this point we don't have any paintings listed by her.  The couple were obviously good friends with the other artists.  Logsdail painted this famous portrait of Waterhouse...

John William Waterhouse (c.1887) William Logsdail

But more interestingly, he painted this picture of Esther...

Portrait of Esther Kenworthy Waterhouse in the Artist's Studio (1880s) William Logsdail

In the lot essay that accompanied the sale of this painting, Logsdail recalled the happy family nature of Primrose Hill, how the artists were in and out of each other's studios as seen here with Esther.  Is she in Logsdail's studio or her own? Interestingly, Logsdail had written 'Manet' in the lower right corner - was he referring to Edouard Manet's images of female artists, such as Eva Gonzales and Berthe Morisot?

Rest (Berthe Morisot) (1870) Edouard Manet

Both Mr and Mrs Waterhouse appeared in other of Logsdail's works, most notably in the extremely busy The Bank and the Royal Exchange from 1887...

It's like an artistic version of Where's Wally?

There they are - I'm guessing they are the couple on the left
with possibly Emily and Edith as the other two women

Anyway, I wanted to bring you much news and pictures by Esther, but do you know what?  Nothing.  She did more flower paintings, exhibiting Azaleas in 1885, Pink Roses in 1887, Violets in 1888 and Carnations and Violets in 1889, then nothing and we have no images for any of these.  If you have any of these or even just images, please give me a shout as I'd love to see them.  If she painted beyond this, we cannot say at present as her artistic presence drops off the radar.  However, in 1888, she did, allegedly pose for The Lady of Shalott. Now, I'm not being critical, and to be honest, all Waterhouse women sort of look the same, however I can't see a great likeness between John William Waterhouse's portrait of her from 1885 and the Lady in 1888 but the style, setting and intention are completely different.  An equivalence would be the painting of Ethel Warwick in her coat and hat and one of the draped figures both by John William Godward. However, I am wondering whether Esther posed for any of the following which honestly look more like her...

Cleopatra (1888) John William Waterhouse

The Magic Circle (1886) John William Waterhouse

Head of a Woman (1883-4) John William Waterhouse

I would argue that the strong-featured women that pre-date The Lady of Shalott all resemble Esther and that Cleopatra resembles Esther more than The Lady of Shalott does, but then after a while all of Waterhouse's women looked alike.  Like Rossetti, he had a type. Anyway, I don't think that is the only thing that Esther brought to Waterhouse's paintings.  If we consider that Esther was a specialist flower painter, then what do we make of things like this...?

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May (1908) John William Waterhouse

The Soul of the Rose (1903) John William Waterhouse

It is an intriguing thought that the flowers in Waterhouse's canvases might owe something to the talent of Esther.  It's a shame we do not have her flower work to compare it to. It might do something to restore her reputation as in the rediscovery of John William Waterhouse, somewhere Esther was lost.  The way she is spoken about in biography is either dismissive or rude.  For example, from Anthony Hobson's 1989 biography of Waterhouse - '[Waterhouse's] portrait of her from this time [1885] shows dark eyes and rounded features but no great beauty.' Charming.  Later, when discussing why the couple left Primrose Hill to live in St John's Wood, comes this - 'Though they had no children and Esther does not seem to have wanted any, perhaps as a housewife she required more space.' Presumptuous and patronising doesn't really cover all of that.  Okay, I grant you that was 1989, but even in later publications, comments such as calling them 'the childless couple' (from the 2008 catalogue) makes me understand why people who have no children feel offended by such delineation.  Also, if a couple were childless in the 1880s, it is probably not a conscious decision (possibly more interesting if it was) so why make a point of it? A childless housewife?  The horror.

So, Nino and Esther Waterhouse went off to live a St John's Wood, at 10 Hall Road where there is a blue plaque now.  Waterhouse grew in stature as an artist, becoming an Academician and being very much the establishment.  By 1911, the couple had a cook and a housekeeper, but what I find interesting is that although in 1881, Esther is recorded on the census as an artist, after her marriage, she has no recorded occupation. When Waterhouse died in 1917, he left Esther £3389, equivalent to around £200K these days which wasn't as much as I thought he would leave. Esther lived on in St John's Wood, allegedly keeping her husband's studio as a sort of shrine, possibly with the hope that a museum would be formed around it.  However, times had changed and the value of Pre-Raphaelite art and Victorian dreams had fallen through the floor. In the 1934 sale of Lord Faringdon's collection from his London residence at Sotheby's, Waterhouse's 1905 painting 'Resting' (described as a lady and knight in a wood, so possibly Lamia) was sold for £160.  To give you some context on what a depreciation that was, Burne-Jone's Six Angels of Creation sold for £660, but had been purchased in 1886 for £1732 10s.  In today's money, that is the difference between £142k and £33k, which is a terrifying drop.  G F Watt's Choosing was sold for £320. Good Lord.

Lamia (1905) John William Waterhouse

Esther died in 1944 and never got to see her husband's, let alone her own, rediscovery.  When she is mentioned now it is always in the context of John William Waterhouse, where she is 'his wife, who was also an artist.' I think it is time that we back that up, find her art and see if she had an influence on those gorgeous roses her husband painted. If the Primrose Hill School respected her enough to include her along with her husband, it's about time we did too.

Friday 18 November 2022

Review: The Wonder on Netflix

 I've always had a soft spot for this photograph...

Fading Away (1858) Henry Peach Robinson

The tragic little girl in the middle just dying from too much Victorian-ness is irresistible.  Maybe she went out without her coat?  Maybe she was accidentally crowned the Queen of the May?  We shall never know because off she popped, quick as you like.  Anyway, I ended up buying a book because it was on the front cover (yes, I am that shallow, but it has resulted in me reading all kinds of books I might not have picked up otherwise)...

Published in 2000, this is a fascinating book and I ended up falling down a rabbit hole of 'Fasting Girls' and the utterly terrifying world of anorexia mirabilis, the act of self-starving in order to echo the suffering of Christ but also, conversely, women (let's be honest, this is a mainly woman thing because it is to do with food and punishment) who seem to miraculously exist without food, sustained by God. The Victorians are absolute gems for this sort of thing, being stuck between the two worlds of modernity and superstition.  They also record and report, which is a blessing, so we can all read about one of the most famous Fasting Girls, Sarah Jacobs, through the newspaper reports that charted her fame and subsequent death. Sorry, spoiler alert, you can't exist without food, so don't get too attached to a miraculous girl who seems to do so. Sarah Jacobs supposedly had not eaten for long periods from the age of 10, then was entirely and miraculously without food from around her 11th birthday.  A watch was set up, scientifically, to record her lack of food and she starved to death within a week. Her parents were convicted of manslaughter.

With all this in mind, I was very interested to read Emma Donoghue's 2016 novel The Wonder, a fictionalised account of a nurse sent to watch an alleged 'fasting girl' in Ireland, in 1859.  We follow Elizabeth 'Lib' Wright (how very Dickensian, because she is 'right'. Or is she?), a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, war-wearied and widowed, as she approaches the case of the miraculous Anna O'Donnell with extreme scepticism.  Try as she might, she cannot see how this 'wonder' is performed and she begins to feel the slip of science and the overwhelming wave of superstition, as she remains a stranger in a strange land. I was a big fan of Donoghue's 2011 novel Slammerkin, and as the summary of The Wonder felt very much like Affinity by Sarah Waters, I was eager to read it and of course, watch the Netflix film, released on 16th November...

I will try and remain spoiler free as this is a twisty piece.  The reason I liken it to Affinity is that, just like Margaret Prior is pulled into the magic of Spiritualism despite her reasoning, the struggle that Lib has with what she can see and what her common sense tells her about the so-called miracles of little Anna is a large part of the tale. This is heightened in the film because the actresses playing Anna and Lib are actually very similar in size and appearance, so the little girl doesn't seem to be suffering at all, and there is a feeling of a doppleganger sent to bring Lib's own secrets to the surface.  In the book, there are descriptions of dropsy, swelling of limbs and a physical deterioration which is very worrying, but apart from the loss of a tooth, Anna isn't physically damaged in the film. So, how is she managing it?

Florence Pugh and Kíla Lord Cassidy as Lib and Anna

This is a story about stories, heightened by the very divisive trick of showing the viewer the back of the film set as the story begins, just to tell us not to get too immersed, we are being fooled.  We are happy to be fooled, it is our entertainment to believe that Florence Pugh, a very talented 26 year old actress from Oxford, is really a Crimea-veteran nurse from somewhere unspecifiedly Northern in the 185s, but it is jarring to be pulled in and out of the illusion.  This is deliberate and is a repetition of a moment in the book and film, where Anna plays with a thaumatrope of a bird in a cage.  In and out the bird goes as she spins it - so are we in or out of the story?  In or out of the ensnarement of superstition? Is Lib the liberator of Anna, as her name suggests, or not?

Tom Burke as journalist William Byrne, carrying Anna

Another thread is education - the women are deprived of it and are slowly going mad or remaining under the weight of folklore.  The men who have it seem unable to use it, as the doctor suspects that Anna is living off sunshine or magnetic forces.  In the book, he believes she is slowly changing into a lizard.  Lib's own teaching comes to her over and over again but is little help in such a different environment where she is very much alone, other than a friendly journalist, William Byrne. Lib's isolation, the community involvement in the 'miracle' of Anna, and the secrets that the community are carrying all combine for a equally tragic and triumphant ending.

If I have complaints of the film, it is mainly the pacing which is quick by necessity.  The book, while not enormous, is a slow burn of anxiety which includes lengthy descriptions of Lib's thoughts and her watch over her subject that wouldn't translate to film.  I also have major problems with the ending of both, but I'll say no more because of spoilers. There are a few added extras in the film which I felt were unnecessary - spirited sex in a doorway is all very jolly but I'm a little sceptical of its necessity.  Also, not every woman in the 19th century was on laudanum. There are two times in the film where Lib does something that the character in the book knows to be tempting but utterly fruitless - force feeding, which is horrific to watch, and bringing up a secret at the committee meeting.  Book Lib was right, both things were completely pointless and awful.  Film Lib obviously isn't as wise as Book Lib, but that's laudanum for you.  Say no to drugs.

A Hopeless Dawn (1888) Frank Bramley

For all my complaining, this is a gorgeous film to watch with the cinematography coming out of the Newlyn School of Art by the look of it.  The blues, greens and slate grey colour palate is beautiful, with the house a mass of shadow and light.  Everyone has a resigned look, like they know something is coming and they can't stop it, they just need to survive it and hope for a miracle.  Fresh on the heels of famine, with scarcely enough food to feed everyone anyway, the quest for miracles becomes understandable and completely at odds with Victorian England's thundering passage to the Modern World. Like Lib, the audience is complacent, looking down at the 'backward' countryside that could believe in the impossible to the point of destruction, but when the truth is revealed it is not what you expect and possibly even more terrible. Perfect for those who like a bit of supernatural in their Winter, but I thoroughly recommend the book as you will not see the twists and turns coming. 

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue is available everywhere, no doubt with a lovely new tie-in cover, and the film of the book is available now on Netflix.

Friday 11 November 2022

Henrietta Emma Ratcliffe Rae

I have recently become interested in married couples where both are artists.  What must that dynamic have been like?  How did it work and what sacrifices needed to be made? What always makes me feel like an idiot is when I find two artists who I already knew about and they turn out to be married.  To be fair, although I knew of Ernest Normand, I didn't know very much about him so it is unsurprising that I was oblivious to the fact he was married to the subject of today's post, Henrietta Rae...

You tell 'em, Henrietta!

Anyway, Henrietta Rae was a ridiculously busy and talented artist, who battled the rampant sexism of the artistic world and became known as Mrs Ernest Normand (despite being more famous than her husband).  Born in Hammersmith in London in 1857, her artistic parents provided lessons of hard work and enjoyment in their subjects.  Her mother was at one point a pupil of Mendelssohn and her father, a civil servant, was also honorary secretary of the Whittington Club, a literary club for gentlemen on the site of Dr Johnson's favourite pub in Arundel Street, West London.  Mrs Rae, faced with seven children and not enough money, trained her children in music. Her plan was that Henrietta, her youngest daughter and third youngest child, should become a singer; the other girls learned musical instruments but Henrietta couldn't manage that.  Unfortunately, she had precious little talent for singing too.  One of her older sisters showed a talent for art, so their uncle, Charles Rae, who had been a pupil of artist and illustrator George Cruikshank, gave her artist materials and exercises to do.  Little Henrietta showed an enthusiasm for that, but little apparent talent, but nevertheless stuck at it.  Using his influence, Charles Rae got Henrietta into Louisa Gann's School of Art in Queen Square. Being a school for young ladies, there was no life drawing (the horror) and so Little Henrietta used to sneak into the boy's school art classes where you could see nudey bits and had to be frog-marched back into the girls's classroom. 

Azaleas (1895)

After Miss Gann's School, Henrietta took herself off to the British Museum to draw from the antique (as they say) with a view of competing with her fellow students for a coveted place at the Royal Academy school.  She supplemented this with an evening class at Heatherley's School of Art, where she was the first female student. While studying, she had many well-known artists as her rivals and companions, including Simeon Solomon, Thomas Cooper Gotch and Blair Leighton, also Ernest Normand, whom she married in 1884.

Mariana (c.1905)

If ever you feel you will never achieve something, Henrietta Rae should provide some inspiration to you as it took her a reported five times (at least) to get into the Royal Academy.  This fact is relayed in wonderful euphemistic terms in contemporary interviews and books on her and her work. However, with heroic levels of perseverance, attend the RA she did in 1877 and there she studied under Herkomer and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exhibiting her first RA painting in 1881, a 'fancy head placed on the line' (which is the best hanging position) as reported in The Magazine of Art (1895) before making a bit of a splash with Lancelot and Elaine (1884), described as 'large and important' by The Queen journal and 'a bit silly' by everyone else who has ever had the pleasure of seeing it...

Lancelot and Elaine (1884)

I don't know where to start, other than to really not comment on that helmet.  I mean, really.

More importantly, Henrietta got married, which is far more important than having a major work in the Royal Academy and so the newspapers could start calling her Mrs Ernest Normand.  Well, thank goodness for that. The couple moved to Holland Park, close to Lord Leighton and Val Princep, who were always popping round with helpful advice and mentorship which Henrietta either absolutely loved or found a touch patronising, depending how you read the commentary on this situation.  At one point she threw Val Princep's hat in the boiler fire, so I think some of the advice was not always welcome, but the couple loved their neighbour enough to call their first born son Rae Princep Normand. Their daughter Florence, or Fanny as she was known, was born in 1892.  Interestingly, Henrietta does not seem to have done what many female artists with kids did, which is have an official professional photo taken with her children or include them in her art.  

By the 1890s, Henrietta Rae's art was being taken very seriously, especially in pieces by women journalists.  In the 1895 piece in The Magazine of Art, H L Postlethwaite proposed that Henrietta and Lady Butler both deserved to be members of the RA because of their contribution to art. Henrietta's 1891 piece Miss Nightingale at Scutari (1854) became an instant hit with the general public and reproduced repeatedly for an adoring public, becoming fondly known as 'The Lady with the Lamp'. The Madonna-like veil and glow to Florence Nightingale gave a biblical quality to the Crimean scene, almost forty years after the fact.

Miss Nightingale at Scutari (1854) (1891)

Arguably, the point where she was seen as a real contender was around 1894 on the exhibition of her work Psyche at the Throne of Venus...

Psyche at the Throne of Venus (1894)

This is an absolute whopper of a picture at 12 feet by 7 feet. It has to be said that the public adored this really pretty picture but a fellow (male) artist, not realising who she was, stood beside her on varnishing day at the RA, looking at Psyche which had again been given an advantageous hang - he complained 'How they can give a thing like that the line and sky mine, I'll never know!' It was so huge she couldn't even fit it in her studio to work on so borrowed studio space from neighbour William Richmond. The work has fourteen female characters and was received with love from public and critics, although it was mentioned that Venus was not as menacing as she should have been, but then I have to say that Henrietta also painted one of the most adorable Hylas and the Nymphs I have seen too...

Hylas and the Nymphs (1910)

Yes, they will all kill you, but I'm not sure we're angry about it.  Same goes for her sirens...

The Sirens (1903)

Yes, they will lure you to your death but I'm not sure you'd mind. Anyway, as you can imagine, Henrietta became massively popular with her winning combination of pink naked bits and delightful subjects. I must admit that I've never written about someone who had so much written about them by their contemporaries and it is interesting to see how much emphasis is placed on her status as a married woman ('Mrs Ernest Normand') but when her husband does appear in her interviews, such as The Sketch article 'A Chat with Mrs Ernest Normand' from 1894, they are seen as equals, colleagues rather than a couple, telling tales of their work, not family, life. Even the photograph of them together is of the hanging committee at Liverpool, where they both served.

Ernest and Henrietta are seated on the left

The couple moved out to Norwood, closer to Henrietta's family, where they had an enormous studio built but when the couple received commissions to paint vast canvases for the Royal Exchange, the problem came with how to assail the height.  Normally, a painter would have a scaffold to climb, but the Normands came up with a more unusual solution by having to cellars carved each end of the studio, forming deep trenches with stairs leading down to them.  The canvases were then lowered into the trench enabling the artists to climb up and down to paint.

Completed by 1905, it had to be worked on for years before due to the sheer size of it, eighteen feet by 12 feet.  Following this commission, the Belfast Yacht Club requested a portrait of its commodore, the Marquess of Dufferin...

Henrietta, the Marquess and the portrait (1901)

Incidentally, Lord Dufferin collected books and liked to request a copy of an artist's favourite book for his collection, complete with a sketch inside it.  Henrietta donated a copy of William Morris's Earthly Paradise complete with a sketch of Venus from her Psyche Before the Throne of Venus, which she had taken from Morris's poem.

The Right Honourable Thomas Sinclair (c.1914-16)

For an artist who produced so many beautiful, colour canvases, you would be forgiven by looking at ArtUK that she had specialised in blokes wearing robes, but therein might hold the key as to why she is not better known these days.  Henrietta had a good line in portraiture which undoubtedly paid the bills but not many of her public-pleasing creations seem to have made it into public collections in the UK, an exception being this one...

Roses of Youth (1906-7)

Well done to Scarborough Museums and Galleries on having that extremely pink canvas in their collection. Otherwise, I think her best known work in a public collection is easily this rather shadowy piece in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool...

Ophelia (1890)

As paintings of Ophelia go, this is remarkably restrained and concentrates on not just her madness but the response of those around her, which makes a change from 'pretty girl and river'. I love the tension in Gertrude's arm - no-one ever talks about Gertrude, who obviously feels responsible for the entire pickle. I wrote a piece for A Level on the agency of Gertrude as I was quite outraged and a teenager. Poor old Queen. Anyway, I love how theatrical this piece is, it looks like a painting of a performance and is markedly different from Henrietta's other 'boobs and flowers' paintings. I love that the West Somerset Free Press calls Ophelia in this painting 'witless but still womanish' (which is written on my business cards) and many papers hail it as the painting of the year. The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 1906 called it the best known of all Ophelia paintings, in a piece about Millais's Ophelia which is a bold stance indeed.

Spring's Awakening (The Snow Maidens) (1913)

It is interesting in the few things you can read about Henrietta now (she has appeared in a few modern books on Victorian women artists, naturally) her role as a feminist is hailed.  Her retention of her maiden name for painting, despite the repeated reference to her as Mrs Ernest Normand, and her separation of her private life and professional life is striking for a woman of any period. The fluff piece written in the 1903 The Sketch has no images of her children nor very much mention of them, even in the many photographs included. However, in Professional Women Upon Their Professions from 1895, a book of conversations between Margaret Bateson and various 'professional women' including Henrietta, the artist is remarkably downbeat and unfortunately realistic about women in art.

'"I must tell you," she wrote, "that I can never consciously hold out the flattering hopes of success for women in art that most people seem to expect from me. I have seen so many hundreds of girls start in the race with more than the average meed of success in the preliminary stages of art tuition, only to fall short entirely when opposed by the difficulties of original creation, that I have come to the conclusion that the sex generally labours under the disadvantage of some curious inability to rise above mediocrity in art..."'

Blimey, that doesn't feel particularly feminist and the proof Henrietta gives is that women drop off the face of the earth after they graduate art school.  She gives no quarter to the pressures of womanhood, of being a wife and mother, in Victorian society, or any gender bias from critics or patrons.  Margaret Bateson says that she believes women would succeed in art if they cared more, but obviously they don't.  Yet again I am left thinking that feminism has really changed over the years...

You'll be relieved to hear that Rae Prinsep Normand came through the First World War, I always worry about anyone of fighting age in 1914.  Anyway, he became a coal contract manager and died in the 1950s.  Florence lived on until a very impressive 1989.  Ernest and Henrietta died in the 1920s, Ernest first in 1923, then Henrietta in 1928, both leaving impressive sums of money in their probate.  They are buried together, with Rae, at Brookwood cemetery.  The question is, as Henrietta was so well known in her life time, written about widely and even had a biography written in 1905 (available for free here) why is she so unknown now? Undoubtedly the lack of her works in public collections is a major obstacle.  If, for example, the Walker Gallery had bought more of her commercial, pretty canvases, they would have again been hits with the public and a retrospective would have ensued. If the Tate had bought her nudey flower paintings, much would have been made of her suffragist work and modern attitude to her work-home separation, but this is not going to happen while her canvases are dispersed and unavailable.  While lacking the obvious gravitas of Pre-Raphaelitism, it shares much of its subject matter.  Possibly then Henrietta should have been in Girl Gang.  Either way, it is time for a retrospective of Henrietta Rae because she should never have been forgotten as she certainly made enough impact in her lifetime.

Alright, I'm going....

Friday 4 November 2022

My Scowling Boy!

I warn you now, this is a very cross post.  As you might have heard, I am currently researching and writing a biography on Ethel Warwick, star of this post, but while researching her, I ended up falling in love with Lewis Waller...

Lawks! Actually, I prefer this one...

If I ever write a biography of my new boyfriend Lewis, this will be the front cover image as he's so dreamy.  Anyway, I digress. The beautiful Mr Waller was actually Ethel's father-in-law, therefore of great interest to me for that reason - The Swanage Times and Directory in September 1928 reported that Ethel visited the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth to see the painting they have of Lewis Waller by John Collier...

Lewis Waller as Monsieur Beaucaire (1903) John Collier

That gorgeous (and enormous) portrait of Waller can be seen today still displayed in the gallery and it is a stunning sight indeed.  Anyway, the reason for this post was that whilst researching Ethel Warwick, with an eye for images to use in a book, I bought a collection of postcards.  It was a massive bundle of over 100 images in a tatty album and it cost me £20.  Now, I thought that if I used a few of them, it would be cheaper than attempting to find individual ones. I also counted on finding an image of Waller's erstwhile son Edmund, Ethel's first husband, who was also an actor, and Waller's wife, Florence West, who was an actress and company manager, who gave Ethel work (hence how she met Edmund Waller).  However, that wasn't all I found.  I got sucked into the world of Waller-Adoration, a much maligned fan club and an astonishingly criminal vicar. Brace yourself...

Lewis Waller as Robin Hood (c.1904)

Look at the little mice! Adorable. 

My story begins with the photo album I acquired.  Battered and rather falling apart, it appeared to be the collection of one person, who had inscribed the front endpapers of the album and some of the photographs.  Although it was faded, I could just about make out the inscription...

The inscription reads - 

Audrey M Roper Nunn
Enrolled KOW April 3, 1908
Keen Order of Wallerites
Spes Gregis

As you can imagine, I was keen to find out a bit about Audrey, but I also wanted to know what the KOW were and given that she had collected 100 postcards, I wanted to know Audrey's story with Lewis Waller.  The 'Spes Gregis' comment was also interesting - why was Lewis the 'hope of the flock'? The answers to these questions not only told me a lot about the devotion of women to a talented man, the fate women suffer in the newspaper and why Audrey needed Lewis Waller more than he could ever have known.

Lewis Waller and Madge Titherage in King Henry V (1908)

Lewis Waller (1860-1915) was one of Victorian and Edwardian Britain's most popular stage actors.  Handsome, romantic and accessible, it was unsurprising that Mr Waller would attract a devoted female following who religiously attended his performances in order to worship.  By 1907, he was arguably the biggest star of the stage, starring in and managing some of the most successful performances in London and beyond, touring all over Britain and the world. For his 47th birthday in November of that year, he suddenly received 30 telegrams wishing him well, all signed 'KOW' which utterly puzzled him.  Little did he know that Miss Amy Skelton of Streatham Common had formed a group with other likeminded men and women (mainly women, let's be honest) to meet every Monday to discuss how awesome Lewis Waller was.  They were the Keen Order of Wallerites, or the KOW and they formed the first ever celebrity fan club in existence.

Lewis Waller as Brutus (1900) Edward Onslow Ford

Being a member of the KOW had some pretty strict rules.  As Miss Skelton stated in the Daily Mirror, 'As you can see, we are not silly, giggling school-girls ... we are all old enough to know good acting when we see it, and it is the acting of Mr Waller that we admire... it is the actor rather than the man who holds us together.' Miss Skelton was interviewed in April 1908 about the KOW, interestingly just as Audrey Roper-Nunn joined their ranks and I wonder if she had read the report in the Daily Mirror. By that point, the KOW had been in existence for 6 months and generally not known to those who were not regular attendees of Waller's performances.  The group booked seats for the first and last nights of the shows but otherwise took their chances at the pit door in the queue, often waiting for up to 4 hours for a seat.  Miss Skelton was a practiced hand at this, admitting she had waited in a queue for 12 hours to see Sir Henry Irving and would do the same for Waller. Many of the KOWs had seen Waller's recent plays up to 50 times, which gives you an idea of the economic status of the women (and men) involved.

Lewis Waller in Brigadier Gerard (1906)

The Daily Mirror article was remarkably in-depth and respectful of the group and Miss Skelton was very keen to emphasise that the group were just interested in the performances rather than being groupies.  There was no 'hugging' of the stage door allowed as it was seen as bad form and would annoy Mr Waller. Waller's brother Guy had noticed some of the women who had been frequent attendees at his brother's performances and had been asked for 2 signed photographs of Waller but otherwise had not been bothered by them.  Lewis Waller himself, when informed of the group was gratified that his acting pleased them, no doubt delighted he was guaranteed seat sales. The only way the members of the KOW could be identified was the badge they wore, created by Miss Skelton from designs by her artist brother...

The badge was formed on the back of a photograph of Waller.  The reverse side featured a quartered shield, with a rose, a pansy, a fleur-de-lis and a shamrock in the 4 parts. The pansy was Waller's favourite flower, and the rose, lily and shamrock represented the 3 plays the KOW most admired, Monsieur Beauclaire, Henry V and Clancarty. The arrow across the top was for his performance in Robin Hood. Spes Gregis, written across the bottom, refers to 'the hope of the flock' and how Waller was seen by his followers. Wearing the badge, which was coloured mauve and green resulted in the ladies being mistaken for suffragettes.  Miss Skelton revealed that simply by turning the pin over to reveal Waller's portrait it enabled people to 'understand that we are women of sense and not- (she shrugged her shoulders)'. I wonder if Amy Skelton knew how the suffragettes were treated in the newspapers and therefore wished to distance what they considered quite a harmless fan club from potential ridicule.  Well, Miss Skelton, I admire your optimism but I think we all know what's coming for any woman who says anything in public, especially as the Daily Mirror had been kind enough to print her address in the piece...

Lewis Waller in The White Man (c.1908)

Less than a week later, the Daily Mirror was back for a follow-up interview and the tone had definitely changed from merely reporting something of interest to mocking. Miss Skelton was now described as the 'Grand High Mistress of the Order' and the piece reported on the KOW presence at the 100th performance of The White Man.  Miss Skelton and her friend were seeing the play for the 20th time and 'took up strong positions at the pit door at noon' in order to get tickets.  It was reported that the KOW friends had had lunch together in the line, as the report said 'on the pavement, frugally'.  In the past week, Miss Skelton reported she had received hundreds of letters and telegrams to her house as a result of the previous article.  Some had been very abusive and one weekly illustrated paper had requested a photograph of the chief members of the KOW and a photo of Lewis Waller surrounded by his adoring women, to which Miss Skelton had replied 'certainly not!'  Despite the KOW having some men as members, 6 in a membership of 55, it is the women who entirely get the brunt of the ensuing commentary.  We think that women getting social media abuse is a modern phenomenon, but how comforting to know that women throughout history have been taken to task for existing in public. How dare they!

A day later, The Daily Mirror ran a photograph apparently showing the KOW waiting at the Lyric Theatre, incorrectly identifying them as waiting to see Waller.  As reported in their own newspaper, the KOW queued for tickets but did not allow any loitering or bothering of the actors.  Also, Miss Skelton had pointed out there were not formal meetings, they met in the queue or occasionally went out to tea.  It had taken exactly a week for the group to go from enthusiastic theatre goers to groupies who lie in wait for unsuspecting actors.  The use of phrases like 'strong position' de-feminises these mainly unmarried women and gives a very particular impression of the members.  

Anti-Suffrage postcard (c.1910s) emphasising strength of unloved women

The same week, Punch magazine congratulated the Daily Mirror for 'unearthing' the KOW because, as they reported, 'if these suburban theatrical cults extend we shall expect to see other symbolic adornments on feminine bosoms in the various pit crowds.' On April 11, nine days after the initial article, Amy Skelton disbanded the KOW under increasing mockery and abuse which continued even in the article about it. Miss Skelton had recalled all the badges she had made, although some members refused to send them back.  An unnamed (and I suspect, fictional) member was approached for comment which ran as follows - 'we are devoted to Mr Lewis Waller - the actor, mind you, not the man - and the members attend on first nights and other occasions and take every possible advantage of applauding him.  We think he is just perfect - the actor, of course, not the man.'

The repetition of Miss Skelton's original assertion that they were interested in the actor, not the man is used here in mocking, patently calling out the women for lusting after Waller.  Also interesting that the claims of disruption start here, that the women applauded Waller's every move and disturbed the play with their clapping and stamping.  These claims are repeated in various books on theatre and reading Amy Skelton's account of their modest fanaticism, it's hard to imagine these middle-class ladies of really letting themselves go with wild abandon in the theatre.  However, these claims affected how others spoke of Waller and the fact he had such a following might have meant he was not taken seriously as an actor.  However, I would argue his good looks and obvious popularity bred jealously.  If you are pretty and popular, you obviously can't be legitimately good at your job, apparently.

Postcard from Audrey Roper Nunn's collection with the below written on the back

'Waller, you darling! Why do you wear striped cuffs?'

So, the KOW was disbanded in 1908, therefore the newspapers would have forgotten all about them, right? Of course not, because much like some sort of mythical creature, the KOW refused to die! Women were still allowed to leave the house and appreciate things and so the newspapers were on hand to ridicule them.  

The Bystander magazine reported on 22 April that Lewis Waller had purchased a Rudge-Whitworth bicycle in order to escape the fanatical grasp of the KOW.  The fact that Rudge-Whitworth had famous clients already, such as Princess Victoria, and that cycling was very fashionable, they had probably given him the bike in order to claim him for the brand, but that is not the point. He was obviously going to use the bike to avoid his fans.  Let's hope the lady in the above advert isn't a KOW...

Lewis Waller and Valli Valli (so good they named her twice) in The Duke's Motto

In September of 1908, during the run of The Duke's Motto, The Bystander reported how it was 'a feast for Wallerites' and the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News commented that the performance had received an 'enthusiastic Wallerite response'. There was even a report of a KOW wedding between Augustus Camplin Smith and Janet Northam in 1909.  That means there are only 5 KOW men left on the market, ladies! However, the wording is somewhat unclear - do we assume they are both members, hence the KOW wedding headline, or is it just Janet, as the Daily Mirror refers to the KOW as 'lady admirers'.  Part of me suspects that it might just be Janet who was a KOW and the news piece is because one of the appalling lust-fuelled spinsters plaguing Mr Waller has managed to get married, look! I might be extremely pessimistic in my view of newspapers but I suspect that is the case.

Oddly, despite the disbanding of the KOW in 1908, comments in the newspapers continued, increasingly at Waller's expense.  Waller was a handsome actor who played very physical, commercial parts - The Civil and Military Gazette in October 1908 commented of his performance that 'the whole piece is a festival of Waller and swordplay in which the acting of Miss Sybil Carlisle etc goes almost unnoticed.' Sorry Sybil, you just aren't as exciting as Lewis Waller and his sword.

Lewis Waller in Bardeleys the Magnificent (1911)

Having the KOW to blame for when a play was not successful must have actually been a bonus. The Bystander reported that the Wallerites enthusiastically embraced Bardeleys the Magnificent but had not liked the more serious pieces or the contemporary pieces Waller had put on over the year.  His performance as the villain in Butterfly on the Wheel, a divorce drama, in the April of 1911 had not gone down well with audiences who could not believe him as a villain (although probably might believe they would commit adultery with him).  1911 proved to be a very trying year for KOWs (if they even still existed as a group, which is doubtful) as the Daily Mirror reported that Airmen were ousting actors as the new heores.  The opening of a flying ground at Hendon had seen groups of women gather at the gates in order to see their new 'favourite idols', the airmen.  The women were reported as being 'well to do and socially well known' which is very reminiscent of how Amy Skelton and her crew were seen, and in the article it said that several of the women were recognised as KOW - 'Judging by the postbags of the various 'airpilots' at Hendon, it seems that a good many KOWs are now worshipping at the shrine of the airmen.'

Rachel Ferguson (1892-1957)

A final nail in the coffin of the KOW came in 1923, years after Lewis Waller's premature death in 1914.  The author Rachel Ferguson reported that she was proud never to have been a KOW and 'gorge rose (and rises yet) at the exhibition women of thirty and over made of themselves about Wednesday and Saturday Gods.' There is so much wrong with the sentiment that Rachel Ferguson expresses that I'm not sure where to start.  Women of thirty and over are allowed to lust after people, thank you very much. Well done on doing the work of the patriarchy, Rachel, which is a puzzling stance for someone who is now seen as a feminist hero.  This generalised, cheap-shot journalism made me angry because of the story of the KOW I got to know.  Say hello to Audrey Roper Nunn...

Lewis Waller, from Audrey's collection

Written on the reverse - 'You are a scowling boy here!'

When I received Audrey's collection of Waller postcards, I didn't intend to look into her life, but you know me, of course I did.  I really only expected to find a middle-class lass who enjoyed going to the theatre and in a way, that's what she was. As I said above, I suspect she read the article in the newspaper and became a KOW, either officially or self-diagnosed (both are valid), allowing her long-held adoration of Mr Waller to form the collection of cards.  On the reverse of a lot of them she records when she attends the relevant performances, but my favourite card, above, has the phrase 'you are a scowling boy here!' on it.  It is now common in the Walker household to be referred to as 'my scowling boy!' as a term of affection.  Audrey was born in 1888 in Sutton in Cambridgeshire.  Her father, Douglas, was the son of a very well-regarded JP and was in the church, ordained as a deacon in 1882 and a priest in 1883, so the family moved around a lot. I don't have a photograph of Audrey, which is a great pity. However, I do have a few of her father.  This is not a good sign, I warn you now...

By 1900, the Reverent Roper Nunn was bankrupt and had to auction off his belongings to pay his creditors.  In 1903, he was 'defrocked' for theft, but continued to find work as a priest and continued to steal, getting caught and charged in 1909.  It had been noticed that at each of the churches he had worked (and those in the vicinity) money and belongings would go missing.  Mr Justice Lawrence who tried his case at the Essex Assizes said that he had 'lived a life of disgrace, and it was impossible to imagine a worst offence.' Douglas went to prison for 3 years.  He had been encouraged to reform his life but when he was released, he started stealing once more, getting another year in prison in 1914 and another in 1918. 

Now, I'm not one to gossip, but there was also an incident in 1897, when the Reverend ran over and killed 75 year old Amos Cornish, while on a tricycle (Douglas, not Amos). It had all happened one night after Roper Nunn had been visiting his brother, and he had managed to plough down the elderly gentleman on a straight piece of road - comment was made that the victim must have seen the tricycle coming so should have moved, rather than the vicar shouldn't have run over someone at considerable speed.  Given the events of the following two decades, I wonder if there was more to it, not that I am accusing Roper Nunn of being homicidal, but as he often stole from neighbouring parishes, possibly Cornish saw him and in chasing after the witness, Roper Nunn accidentally ran him over?  Probably it's all a coincidence but I am definitely having that in a book in the future.  Back to Audrey...

Lewis Waller (c.1890s) from Audrey's collection

In amongst her father's criminal activities, Audrey was finding her way in the world.  As the oldest of the five Roper Nunn children (four of whom survived infancy), she would have witnessed the family's downfall very clearly. From the rather well-to-do young lady from a very good family, by 1911, she was working as a servant for the Tebbitt family in Hampstead while her mother and her three siblings  lived in a small house in Brentford in Essex. I wondered if her move to London for work made it easier to visit the theatre or whether it was financially out of the question? In 1923, Audrey enrolled in training to become a nurse and lived her life that way, dying in Brentwood in Essex in 1972, having never married. I think it is no coincidence that the majority of her collection comes from the years between her father's defrocking and his imprisonments.  Her notes written on the back on the cards not only show that she regularly attended his performances but felt a connection to this strong, handsome hero, who was capable, honest and reliable.  From her late teens to her early twenties, Audrey followed Waller, collecting the cards, swapping with friends who collect other actors and receiving them from her brother Kenneth. I hope it made her happy because I can't imagine her homelife was easy.

Bearing Audrey in mind, reading how the KOW were talked about in newspapers and in books makes me angry.  In Hesketh Pearson's 1921 book Modern Men and Mummers he writes that Waller didn't like 'the clique of maiden ladies who made poor Waller look ridiculous in and out of season' quoting him as allegedly saying 'will no one rid me of these turbulent priestesses?' Furthermore in his memoirs of 1938, Pearson reports how Waller was known for his 'hoards of women' who formed the KOW.  I would hardly call 49 (there were 6 men, remember) a hoard, and the tales of their misbehaviour seem out of character from Amy Skelton's very dignified interview.  Other stories circulated, including one quoted in Ben Iden Payne's A Life in a Wooden O: Memoirs of a Theatre (1977) where Herbert Beerbohm Tree recalled a woman shouting 'How dare he!' at an actor who had wronged Lewis Waller's character in a play.  There is nothing to say that the lady in question (if it even happened) was a KOW but it was assumed she was and therefore one of the hoard of worshipping old maids. 

In varying publications the KOW are described as a band, an army, a hoard of young (and not so young) women whose adoration of Waller makes both parties ridiculous, however wasn't that the point of the parts he played? Waller admitted he adored Shakespeare the most, so in playing the heroes was not the point of the performance to admire him?  In the popular romantic parts he was also famous for, the fact that he was so commercially successful by being the square-jawed, sonorous-voiced manly man meant that they had long runs of performances with the KOW queuing for tickets. There is no contemporary account of the KOW disrupting performances other than applauding loudly for Waller and I have no doubt if they had done any of the other things they are later accused off, like stamping, shouting and generally being uncontrollable, it would have been in the Daily Mirror. Stories breed stories and narratives form to suit the story tellers. In the smug memoirs of the 1920s and beyond, no-one talks about the hate mail received by Miss Skelton because she said she enjoyed seeing Lewis Waller perform. A few actors comment that Waller was a great performer but could be a little overwhelming to the others on stage with him; that must have been galling if you are a co-star, especially if Waller gets rapturous applause for squashing (even inadvertently) your part and career. I read jealousy in accounts of Waller's fan club, the first of its kind and a definite forerunner for film star adoration of the 1920s. Yet again, a talented, popular but possibly flawed man is ridiculed using women (yes, I'm bringing it back to Rossetti and Fanny again, as I always do) - How can he be so great if those ridiculous women love him? And if he is ridiculous, what does that say about the women who love him?

What seems to be mocked here is female desire, especially in women over thirty and unmarried.  It is no coincidence that the mocking of the KOW happens during the years of suffragette action.  The power, desires and actions of educated, middle-class unmarried women terrified the establishment because what is it they want if not to be married? These women do not know their place! I don't know why Amy Skelton formed the KOW, or her life after disbanding the group, but it is easy to see the pleasure Audrey Roper Nunn got from her collection of postcards, during a difficult period of her life. The mocking of Amy and Audrey and the other women who dared to enjoy something designed for their enjoyment is breath-taking.  The fact that the alleged misbehaviour of a few theatre goers is entirely blamed on the KOW, that they become the 'turbulent priestesses' who ruin the life of the very man who they admire is the newspapers once more performing their magic trick of ridiculing successful men by demonising women. The Daily Mirror's astonishing manipulation of the story, the way Amy Skelton was mocked and the general dog-pile of abuse for the next decade and beyond is a sobering lesson in how our society and especially our media can be frighteningly misogynistic. 

The fact that we still trust newspapers proves that we are either ridiculously optimistic or idiots as they have repeated shown they cannot be trusted with the lives of women. As always, my message is to dig deeper, question everything and if you are a woman over thirty, I hope you have a scowling boy (or girl) who makes you happy.