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Watts Gallery Exhibition Devoted To Victorian Water-colourist Helen Allingham

Published on: 10 Dec, 2017
Updated on: 12 Dec, 2017

This winter, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Compton is presenting an exhibition devoted to the artist Helen Allingham RWS (1848-1926).

Helen Allingham’s Feeding the Fowls. She went to Pinner in Middlesex to paint this cottage. The painting is in the Royal Watercolour Society’s collection.

Allingham is one of the most familiar and well-loved of Victorian artists. In 1881 she and her husband came to live at Sandhills, south of Witley.

In 1890 she became the first woman to be admitted to full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society and her work was highly acclaimed by leading contemporary critics, including John Ruskin. Despite this success there have been few exhibitions dedicated to her work.

This exhibition seeks to reassert the reputation of Helen Allingham as a leading woman artist and as a key figure in Victorian art. It brings together rarely seen works from private collections together with important paintings from public collections and demonstrates her extraordinary talent as a water-colourist.

Having moved to London aged just 17, Allingham trained at the Royal Female School of Art and the prestigious Royal Academy Schools.

Self Portrait, 1885. From Burgh House & Hampstead Museum’s collection.

By 1870, she was pursuing a professional career as a graphic artist and children’s book illustrator, becoming the only female founding member of The Graphic, a new illustrated weekly magazine. Illuminating Allingham’s early career the exhibition displays an array of graphic works, including the illustrations to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd when first published as a serial in the Cornhill Magazine.

Allingham’s illustration to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, 1874. The Cornhill Magazine.

Following her marriage to the renowned Irish poet William Allingham in 1874, Allingham began to focus on working in watercolour producing vivid depictions of rural England.

As the boom of industrial development continued to threaten traditional rural life, Allingham’s art captured unspoiled landscapes and historic cottage architecture in exquisite detail; she was passionately concerned for the preservation of the English countryside.

In 1886 she became the first woman artist to be awarded a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society entitled Surrey Cottages. Her depictions of Shere, Witley, Haslemere and other villages across the region are included in the exhibition. Many of these picturesque timber-framed cottages can still be identified today.

The Little Path, Kitchen Garden, Sharston Manor, Cheshire, painted in 1920. From the collection at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum.

While living at Sandhill, Allingham became friends with the leading Arts and Crafts gardener, Gertrude Jekyll, painting vibrant images of Jekyll’s experimental planting at Munstead Wood. Preparatory studies of plants and flowers are on show alongside a depiction of Jekyll’s famous South Border in full bloom.

Widowed at the age of 41, Allingham took on the sole responsibility of bringing up her three young children, pursuing a professional career right up until her death in Haslemere in 1926, aged 78.

Watercolour titled Our Primrose Wood, Brook, Surrey, 1913. From the collection at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum.

Helen Allingham continues Watts Gallery Trust’s programme of exhibitions devoted to pioneering women artists. Guest curated by the pre-eminent Allingham scholar Annabel Watts, it offers an overview of the artist’s work.

It complements a new edition of Annabel’s book Helen Allingham’s Cottage Homes Revisited. Drawing on extensive research, the book seeks out the actual cottages painted by Helen Allingham a century ago, comparing how they look today with the original watercolours.

Annabel Watts said: “There is much more to Helen Allingham’s cottage pictures than meets the eye; they represent her concern for the future of the English countryside.

“She witnessed for herself the unnecessary demolition of ancient buildings by unscrupulous landlords and her paintings serve as a permanent record of their existence whatever their fate might ultimately be.”

The exhibition continues until February 18. Click here for Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village website for more details.

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Responses to Watts Gallery Exhibition Devoted To Victorian Water-colourist Helen Allingham

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    December 10, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    I saw it on the first day. Highly recommend anyone to visit . You will be delighted you did.

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