monday 7

Anna Airy (1882-1964) was a great, yes genuinely great, painter. She had five solo exhibitions in her lifetime and two after her death, in 1965 and 1985, both times in Ipswich. Since then silence; except for her extraordinary First World War paintings which are at the Imperial War Museum and were, for example, exhibited in York last year (cf. the Persephone Post for April 6th, 7th and 8th 2016). Then on April 7th this year we had Interior with Mrs Charles Burnand on the Post and at the same time today’s painting was on Twitter. For those who don’t ‘do’ Twitter, here it is again: The Flower Shop 1922. For anyone inclined to think that Anna Airy is merely a pleasant, domestic painter – stay on the Post, search for Airy (top left) and the WWI paintings will come up. Prepare to be amazed.

wheelhouse the women's life room

Jean Wheelhouse The Women’s Life Room, Royal College of Art 1933 is in the catalogue but not in the exhibition.
The artist, who graduated from the Royal College in 1933, apparently became an official government artist but otherwise nothing is known about her..

Any Morning exhibited 1929 by Margaret Barker born 1907

Margaret Barker’s Any Morning 1929 is in the Tate, which says: ‘Margaret Barker was interested in charging everyday incidents with extraordinary meaning. The quiet atmosphere of this bedroom interior is established through the ritualised movements of the woman and girl as they make the bed. This stillness is echoed in a painting over the bed, The Courtyard of a House in Delft by Pieter de Hooch.’ There is a timelessness about this painting of domesticity that Dorothy Whipple (indeed all our writers, think Elizabeth Cambridge, think Helen Hull) understood and wrote about.


Gladys Hynes (1888-1958)painted Noah’s Ark in 1919, it is now in a private collection and ‘has not been exhibited for decades’ and ‘her work is little known’ (Catalogue). It was in fact last exhibited in June 1927 and was on sale for 100 guineas. ‘The work is highly original; with its well defined outlines, clearly delineated areas of bold and vigorous colour and hard-edged imagery it shows the influence of Vorticism (Hynes was friends with Ezra Pound). The critic P G Konody also saw the influence of the Italian Renaissance in Hynes’s work, writing in 1922, ‘her assumed naivete, backed by consummate draughtsmanship, is perfectly delightful, her sense of humour probably unique among women artists’ (Liss Llewellyn). (The remark about sense of humour is faintly patronising – one can think of so many women painters who make one smile – but hey ho.)

Carline, Hilda Anne, 1889-1950; Elsie

Hilda Carline’s painting of Elsie dates from 1929. There is a piece about Hilda’s marriage to Stanley Spencer here. It includes this quote: ‘Women artists, her sister-in-law Nancy Carline believes, often instinctively follow their husbands’ styles and Hilda was no exception. “Take the portraits they both painted of their maid Elsie. One review mistakenly attributed Hilda’s picture to Spencer. Stanley himself was so impressed with Hilda’s version that he kept it with him until he died.”‘ But this is debatable. One could argue that an artist falls in love with an artist (or a writer falls in love with a writer) whose style already feels familiar to them, that this is far more common than the attraction of stylistic opposites. Look at Harold and Laura Knight or Fred and Mary Elwell or Tirzah Garwood and Eric Ravilious, or indeed Stephen Bone and Mary Adshead (yesterday on the Post).

The Cruise 1934 by Mary Adshead 1904-1995

The marvellous exhibition in Edinburgh True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s was featured on the Post from July 3-7. This week: five paintings by women. First of all, Mary Adshead’s The Cruise 1934. It is worth noting that when Mary Adshead (1904-95) painted this her eldest child was three and her second only a year – many women painters (eg. Carrington, Laura Knight, Gwen John) did not have children, yet whether an artist was a mother or not is rarely mentioned (because modern feminism, as opposed to the domestic feminism focused on by Persephone Books, does not allow this). There is a good 1950s novel about a woman artist by Parr Cooper called Hobby Horse: ‘Her life was a frenzied dash from the things she had to do to the the things she craved to do… She was a muddled, forgetful housekeeper and a disappointing painter because of her divided attention’ (p.62). Here is Mary Adshead’s obituary by Sally Hunter, who also wrote her DNB entry, in which she said understatedly ‘commissions for murals and designs flowed in, but the birth of the first of their three children inevitably brought distractions’. This fascinating painting is normally at the Tate.


And finally – a self portrait. One can imagine Etheldreda setting up the camera and rushing to pick up the book and sit down and look at it.


One is starting to feel quite sorry for Janet and Iris! Maybe there were hundreds of other photographs that have not survived, but the girls feature in almost all of those that still exist nowadays. The house in Headington was run by five servants, yet there are apparently  no photographs of them. Or of Mr Laing. Here is a complete list of the 27 extant photographs held in the archive: no servants, dogs, husbands or bicycles among them.


Janet Laing dressed in Japanese costume. The reason Etheldreda’s daughters look solemn if not sulky is because they had to sit still for so long – a minute or more – that they couldn’t hold a smile for that long.

Iris aged about eleven although it is hard to believe from her dress and shoes that this is only 1914 – the photograph looks far more modern.

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