Women of the Golden Age of Illustration: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
“…The decorative illustrator has usually literature to illustrate, and a commission to be beautiful and imaginative in his work. He has the opportunity of Rossetti, the opportunity for significant art.” 1
In the edition of The Times of March 14, 1945, the following obituary appeared:
A Versatile Artist. Miss Fortescue-Brickdale RWS, painter, modeller, and
designer of stained glass, and black and white artist died on March 10th
as briefly announced in our columns yesterday. She was the last survivor
of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters, who though – or possibly because -
they did not come into personal contact with the original Brotherhood,
carried some of their principles to extremes. Her nearest affinity was with
the late Byam Shaw, in the period of his “Love’s Baubles”, and she was at the
height of her reputation about the same time as he.
It was the allegorical side of Pre-Raphaelitism that Miss Fortescue-Brickdale
inherited, and her work was distinguished by brilliance of colour and great
fidelity to detail. One of her most successful pictures “The Deceitfulness of
Riches”, is crowded with detail of patterned garment and fruiting trees. As
the title suggests there is often a moral of symbolic meaning behind her
pictures. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, youngest daughter of the late
Mr M. I. Fortescue-Brickdale, barrister of Lincoln’s Inn was born in 1871. She
studied at Crystal Palace School of Art, and at the Royal Academy Schools,
where in 1896 she won a £40 prize for her design for the decoration of a
public building. Her first appearance in a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
was made the following year. She continued to exhibit there fairly frequently,
her contributions including several portraits.
Her pictures were also seen at the Royal Watercolour Society, but the highly
wrought nature of her work kept her from being a prolific exhibition artist.
Decorative illustration was her natural bent, and typical works of hers were
“The Forerunner” in which Leonardo da Vinci was depicted showing his model
of a flying machine to the Duke of Milan, and “The First visit of Simonetta”. For
the first British Empire Exhibition in 1924 she painted the reredos in the
Chapel of Remembrance. She is represented in the permanent collection of
Liverpool, Leeds, and Birmingham.
As might be expected from the character of her pictures with their brilliant
colours and sharp drawing, Miss Fortescue-Brickdale was successful as a
designer of stained glass, and there is a window by her in Bristol Cathedral.
In his English Pre-Raphaelite Painters, Their Associates, and Successors in 1910
Percy Bate says that she should do much in the future to exemplify the still
living force of Pre-Raphaelitism. Whether or not that prediction was fulfilled,
she deserves to be remembered for her consistent fidelity to the tradition.
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is often cited as the “last” of the Pre-Raphaelites, carrying on almost single-handedly the Pre-Raphaelite dream, though with the reserve that she carried on in form, not always in spirit. According to Simon Houfe4 “She represents the last phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, her highly detailed and meaningful little pictures are crammed with medievalism and moral sentiment. She was the ideal illustrator of legend and particularly for those expensive coloured gift books of the 1900s where her bright colours and haughty figures were set off to advantage on the ample pages.”
“Meaningful little pictures” seems curiously dismissive, and the author hints that “those” expensive coloured gift books of the 1900’s were an extravagance and in some way atavistic, and indeed nowadays Eleanor herself is more often than not summed up as the “last” member of the movement. “It cannot be said that Pre-Raphaelitism is dead while Miss Fortescue Brickdale is alive…” The phrase is from The International Studio, Volume 45, November 1911-February 1912. She is portrayed as reluctant to leave a world that in reality had long ago faded like an old watercolour, last actor to leave the stage, long after the applause had turned first to silence and then indifference. Even her obituary in The Times insists: “She was the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters, who though – or possibly because – they did not come into personal contact with the original Brotherhood, carried some of their principles to extremes.” While this may have been the world from which she departed, into what world had she come, when she was a young artist, full of promise and ambition?
Typical is this assertion from “Studio Talk”, published in The Studio, Volume 20, Issue 87, in June 1900:
“As an assertion of what women can do in art, the exhibition at Earl’s Court this year is quite worthy to be taken seriously. It shows very adequately the many directions in which the feminine capacities are progressing under the influence of modern ambitions and present-day educational facilities….”
The article proceeds to list a few notable names, and details another section of the show, dedicated to painters who depict women, concluding: “… As there is, besides, a great number of examples of those crafts in which women excel, the show is clearly acceptable as a sincere effort to fix the place that women should occupy in the modern aesthetic movement.”
The message is plain, if not acceptable to our ears: women can be tolerated as artists, as long as they confine themselves to suitable aspirations, but their real place is in the sitter’s chair (preferably profitably occupied with crocheting or embroidery). Should they wish to risk becoming painters, the conclusion is clear enough:
“Our age has produced a great many women who are painters, but very few painters who are women. The charm of womanliness in art has not been appreciated by the gifted fair, so they have wasted their time and impaired their talents by attempting to be manly. Here and there a great exception has been found, like Madame Morisot in France, and Lady Waterford in England, but the exceptions are very few….”
Another article in The Studio5 goes on: “The art gallery in the Woman’s Exhibition at Earl’s Court is of no little importance as a place where the latest developments in feminine conviction about aesthetic questions are adequately illustrated. It provides what is perhaps the most complete assertion of women’s accomplishment in art that has as yet been made in this country, and gives exceptional opportunities for estimating the value of the effort made by what is called the weaker sex to help in artistic undertakings. The collection brought together includes not only pictures and water-colours, but also black-and-white drawings for illustrations, pastels, etchings, and designs of various kinds; and, besides, a few examples of modelled work are shown. A great deal of what is displayed or exhibited is, as it is apt to be in women’s work, merely expressive of a capacity for imitation, and reflects both in intention and manner the performance of masculine artists of more marked individuality; but there is, as well, an appreciable proportion of really original production in which true feminine qualities of invention and handling assert themselves….”
Even clearer: ”…it is always foolish to imply that the art of women should resemble the art of men. Each should be instinct with the charm of sex, each should be the complement of the other. But in our own time, somehow, most of the women-artists have tried their best to be masculine, while not a few of the men have turned out effeminate work. It may be useless to protest, but this kind of work is sterile, it has no future; the world soon wearies of it, and turns with joy to those men who put manhood into all their pictures or statues, and to those women whose art is charmed with their own natures.”6
These were the decades of the “fin de siècle” world of art, the world into which Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, a young woman of barely 20 years of age, would determinedly step.
Paintings by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
1. “The Gift that is Better than Rubies”. Dated 1899, an early example of Eleanor’s penchant for depicting her angels with coloured wings, the benevolent spirit stooping over the newborn infant here however showing a quiet grace far removed from the mischievous cupids who would appear in future portraits.
2. “The Pale Complexion of True Love”. This was Eleanor’s first major work, permitted by the prize money for her winning design of a decorative lunette at the Royal Academy in 1897. The painting was exhibited there in 1899, its title taken from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It”, Act III, Scene IV, Corin to Celia: “If you will see a pageant truly play’d, Between the pale complexion of true love, And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain, Go hence a little….”
3. A colour-print of the picture “Chance” appeared in the April 1901 edition of The Studio. Writing at length in the July 1901 issue, Walter Shaw Sparrow (1862-1940) focused on this watercolour in his chiding critique of Eleanor’s competence.
4. “A Knight and Cupid before a Castle Door”. 1900. The cupid in this watercolour, startlingly adorned with crimson wings, is the keeper of the keys. Perhaps the knight is taking note of the scattered coins and bones about the castle steps, wondering if the same macabre fate awaits him within.
5. “Time the Physician.” One of Eleanor’s first oil paintings, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1900.
6. “In the Springtime”. The shimmering silken folds of the woman’s dress amidst a pale carpet of bluebells lend a lightness to this painting which was apparently included in one of the exhibitions at Messrs Dowdeswell’s galleries in London, from 1901.
7. “The Deceitfulness of Riches”. 1901. The quote used in The Times for Eleanor’s obituary was the concluding sentence of an extended comment by Percy Bate (1868-1913) in “The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters, their Associates and Successors”, published in 1910, not quite a decade after the painting was first exhibited: “Noteworthy work is at present being done on the most rigid Pre-Raphaelite principles by Miss Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, who, in such pictures as “The Deceitfulness of Riches”, achieves a notable success in a most ambitious style.” The painting was reproduced in black & white, its richness rather lost in comparison with the vividly colourful original.
8. “Today For Me”. Another painting from 1901, which appeared (again as a black & white reproduction) in Walter Shaw Sparrow’s “Women Painters of the World, from Caterina Vigri, 1413-1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the present day.” (Hodder and Stoughton, The Art and Life Library. 1905.) One of several works by Eleanor illustrating Chapter III, “Modern British Women Painters” by Ralph Peacock (1868-1946). The caption noted that the original watercolour was “in the collection of Miss Evans”. In September 1888 Charles Fortescue-Brickdale had married Mabel Beatrice Gibbs, whose brother Joseph Arthur was an acclaimed cricketer of his generation. Having moved to a manor house near Cirencester in 1892, Joseph had also become an author of several books. Still in print today, A Cotswold Village, or country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, contained a note in the preface, dated September 1898: “I am indebted to Miss E. F. Brickdale for the pen-and-ink sketches…” (The title page of the book simply says “With Illustrations”; the book also includes photographs.)
Gibbs himself was to die suddenly, at the age of only 31, the following year. The words and drawings evoke the genteel pursuits and drowsy summer days of rural life in late-Victorian England. The illustrations are competent and unremarkable – unless you remember that they are done by a young art student – and as yet offer no significant indication of the wealth of gorgeous imagery that was to come, when Eleanor turned her hand to more illustrious texts. The following year, she illustrated Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe; ten line drawings done for a modest edition published by George Bell & Sons, London. The drawings are signed E F-BRICKDALE and are dated 1899.
At about the same time as Eleanor made her entry into the world of book illustration, she had already tried her hand at the popular art of the bookplate. This was an area that was broadening beyond the traditionally armorial designs of the past, to encompass more imaginative motifs. A number of well-known artists had already produced attractive work in this field. Illustrious names in the world of late-Victorian art such as Charles Robinson, Robert Anning Bell, John Byam Liston Shaw ~ even Aubrey Beardsley and the Belgian Fernand Khnopff ~ had already graced the libraries or more modest collections of the cultured classes.In a Special Winter Number of The Studio issued for 1898-99, the magazine’s co- founder Gleeson White (1851-1898) wrote a feature on “Modern Book-Plates and Their Designers”. In the section on British Book-Plates, Eleanor secured the following commendation: “Miss E. F. Brickdale, a young illustrator of conspicuous promise, shows in the designs for Charles Fortescue Brickdale, Grace Elizabeth Gladstone, and Ada Mary Devenish Walrond, not merely pleasant fancy, but distinct effort to break away from the formal rectangular shape, so long deemed essential. The rather gruesome device on the last named, with its mysterious motto, seems unduly sombre, although book-plates are the happy hunting ground of grisly skeletons. But the merits of these designs far outweigh their shortcomings, and it is evident that Miss Brickdale is likely to become as popular in this field of design as in others where already she has scored notable successes.” The mention was only marred by the apparent exclusion of the “gruesome device”, left tantalisingly open to the reader’s curiosity, as the rather more conventional design for the Ex-Libris belonging to Eleanor’s brother Charles seems to have been the only one included by Mr White to illustrate examples of her work.Eleanor exhibited her work at the Royal Academy from 1899 onwards, an oil painting every year until 1908, and with diminishing frequency after that date, until her last contribution in 1932. In 1899, Charles and Walter Dowdeswell commissioned Eleanor to produce a series of watercolours in view of an exhibition. She delivered 45 paintings over the following two years, which were exhibited at the fashionable Dowdeswell Galleries in New Bond Street in 1901. The show, entitled “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of”, was apparently greeted by mixed reviews, not in least for the erroneous quote from Shakespeare. (The catalogue made no mention that E. Fortescue-Brickdale was a woman, and a young woman of 29 at that.) Despite the dubious critics, the exhibition was a frank success: all but two of the watercolours were sold.By 1902 she had acquired a studio in Holland Park Road, opposite Leighton House, where she exhibited in March of that year. This address was to be her base for the remainder of her artistic career. (The building was damaged by bombing during WW II.) The same year, she was admitted as the first female member of the Institute of Painters in Oils and continued to exhibit regularly. Parallel to this, she pursued a career in book illustration and periodicals. She also designed items for Liberty & Co. A ”Studio Talk” article in The Studio, September 1904, makes mention of her designs and enamels.7
Paintings by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
1. “The Ugly Princess.” This picture, dated c. 1902, was seemingly inspired by a short and sorrowful poem with the same title by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), about a woman rejected who then unwillingly became a nun. The last two lines of verse: “I was not good enough for man, And so am given to God” were apparently quoted in the exhibition catalogue at the time.
2. “The Poet”. An unusual watercolour dated 1903, where the subdued colours that define the travelling medieval minstrel and the maiden who opens the door to admit him, are unexpectedly offset by her possession of a finely draped pair of wings.
3. ”They Toil Not, Neither Do They Spin”, also from 1903, would appear to be Eleanor’s observation on an excerpt from The Gospels: Matthew, Chapter VI, verses 24-33: “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.” The complacent-looking lady in the foreground seems more absorbed in her own artificial finery than in the rose whose perfume she carelessly contemplates, in contrast with the drably-dressed servant in the background.
4. “Love and his Counterfeits”. This painting from 1905 was included in Eleanor’s second exhibition at Messrs Dowdeswell’s in June of that year. It is said to illustrate the following text, written – perhaps by the artist herself – on the back of the picture:
“Love and his Counterfeits. When a girl’s soul awakens and she opens the door of her Heart’s Castle to receive Love, at first she will not recognise him. First, she will see Fear and think him to be Love. Fear, in craven armour of black, with no coat of arms or badge to mark his family. But by Fear, Love may come. Then she will see Romance, being now in love with ‘being in love’ – Romance, the Boy on a Bubble with a Castle of Dreams in his hand, and Birds and Roses about him. He leads Ambition, who shall stir the girl to think he is Love himself – Ambition, very hot and eager, riding upon Pegasus, the winged Horse. After them is Position, whom she may take for Love; but truly she is in love with Appearance, Prestige, Importance, Riches, Place, all his Train, and this is borne by a Cupid. Now she is stirred by Pity, thinking whom she pities she loves – Pity with the Cup of tears with three handles, that many may drink. Then she perceives Arts, a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness and a mask for love. Arts paints a wound upon him and sings that it is real. To Love he is not henchman, nor cousin, but enemy. Behind him goes Flattery with a mirror, so she is wooed by vain words. Then Gratitude comes with the smoke of memory, and she will think she is faithless if she does not love one who has been kind. Now, at last, after her emotion, her assault by gifts, mirrors, riches, tears, dreams, phrases, memories, comes True Love, empty-handed, to take and win her Heart’s Castle.”
While it is tempting to read an amorous deception of Eleanor’s own into the choice of subject, nothing permits the viewer to surmise that it is anything other than a carefully planned allegory.
5. “The Lover’s World”. 1905. The picture was described as follows in the catalogue for the 1989 exhibition “The Last Romantics” at the Barbican Art Gallery in London: “A charming work from the second of the three exhibitions which the artist held at the Dowdeswell Galleries, 160 New Bond Street, before the First World War….”
6. “The Little Foot-Page”. This painting was shown in 1905 at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition. It illustrates a memorable scene from the Scottish ballad of “Burd Helen”, where the heroine is cutting her costume and hair, to disguise herself and her pregnancy and follow her seemingly cold-hearted lover on foot as he travels on horseback. Eleanor must have been familiar with “Percy’s Reliques”, an eighteenth-century collection of old poems and ballads, which apparently included this popular folk-song. The chapter dedicated to Percy’s work in “The Cambridge History of English & American Literature in Eighteen Volumes”. (1907-21). “The Age of Johnson” (Vol. X), commented that: “Percy’s ‘Reliques’ were much more closely related to the Middle Ages than Ossian was; they revealed the proper medieval treasures of romance and ballad poetry.”
7. “The Uninvited Guest”. Dated 1906, Eleanor appeared to be making a mordant remark on a marriage contracted for reasons of wealth and status, rather than Love who bound and flightless, looks on powerlessly. The lavish procession – the bride resplendent in her gorgeous gown – contrasts strikingly with the simplicity of the semi-naked figure of the title. Eleanor’s earliest paintings onward were frequently notable for their moralistic tones and titles, presumably reflecting the strong spiritual principles that were apparently so important a part of her life.
In 1905, she contributed seventy black and white illustrations to an edition of Tennyson’s Poems published by George Bell and Sons. Another exhibition was held at the Dowdeswell Gallery, with the same title “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of” in June, once again to mixed reviews. Her painting “The Little Foot-Page” was exhibited the same year at the Royal Academy, and in 1906, she presented “The Uninvited Guest”. The former, which captures a poignant scene from the Scottish ballad of “Burd Helen”, further displayed her aptitude for portraying nature with exceptional precision and delicacy, no doubt drawn from her contemplations of tangled stem and trailing foliage in the verdant hedgerows and woodlands of Gloucestershire. Also from 1905 is “The Lover’s World”, one of her few specifically fairy subjects, very much in the spirit of the Edwardian era. (Peter Pan was first produced the year before.) In 1906, Methuen published A Child’s Life of Christ (the first of seven editions), with eight watercolours.In 1909 she contributed ten colour plates to Beautiful Flowers and How to Grow Them, by Horace J. & Walter P. Wright. (She was one of ten artists commissioned to provide ten illustrations each.) Her own depictions stand out in the simplicity and beauty of their botanical accuracy, as well as their stylish presentation on the page. She had, in fact, already been remarked on and recognised for her competence in this artistic category, as early as 1902, when an “exquisitely realistic…study of a rose bush” was reproduced in Volume 26 of The Studio in August of that year.
Paintings by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
1. “Youth and the Lady”. From 1900, this painting seems a wry early comment by Eleanor on vain hope and female vanity. At the age of twenty-nine, she must have already believed that the ephemeral first flush of beauty was not enough. This was the only coloured illustration featured alongside several of her works reproduced in black & white for Chapter III, “Modern British Women Painters” by Ralph Peacock, in Walter Shaw Sparrow’s study of “Women Painters of the World”, already noted from 1905.
2. “Romance”. Whilst a winged lute player serenades a fair lady and her lover seated on a lawn, close beside them sits a wistful cherub contemplating a fairy ring. A kneeling knight unfurls his gleaming banner, but silent and almost concealed in the background, a solitary figure in somber garb looks on.
3. “Spring and Autumn”. The apple-cheeked cupid who symbolizes the bright beginnings of Spring is embraced by a mellow and bountiful Autumn, amidst a harvest of ripe fruit. The fresh clusters of leaves give way to those withered and fallen about her feet. The painting here is apparently set in its original mount.
4. “The Blush”. This portrait, with a cupid’s wing casting delicate rosy tints across the girl’s complexion, uses the feathers as a frame for her face. The overall delicacy of the design is continued in the daisy chain, the dainty lace of the girl’s dress, and the flowers and tiny figures woven into her cascade of golden curls.
5. “Time and Immortality”. Details are elusive for this watercolour, which was apparently first exhibited in 1905, possibly part of Eleanor’s second show at the Dowdeswell Gallery. The winged figures of the title provide a framework for the scene; somber “Time” appears to be lowering the tableau’s disturbingly sightless Everyman into a roughly-hewn grave, whilst luminous “Immortality” attempts to raise him up. Two unearthly visions appearing with poignant clarity at the moment of passing.
6. “An Introduction”. Christopher Wood, in his book “Fairies in Victorian Art” describes this painting thus: “Deep in a wood, a young girl…in medieval -looking dress, encounters three gnomes. The senior gnome is introducing one of his companions, who bows deeply, removing his hat. The scene is set in a brilliant Pre-Raphaelite style landscape and observed with remarkable fidelity.” This was one of the illustrations chosen for a chapter entitled “Lesser Fairy Painters”, alongside “The Lover’s World” of 1905.
7. “Petrarch’s Laura at Avignon”. Eleanor painted this portrait of Laura, the lifelong love of the Tuscan poet Petrarch, as she might have looked when he first saw her in the Church of St Clare (at Avignon) in April 1327. Although Eleanor pictured her as a young woman in round and rosy-cheeked health, it is however likely that Laura’s later demise in April 1348 may have been grimly linked to the Black Death. It is debatable whether the jewel-bright anemones at her breast were a deliberate choice on the part of the artist, for in the Victorian language of flowers these signified “forsaken”.
8. “Lady Macbeth”. In 1901 Eleanor’s illustration of this subject for the Archibald Constable editions of Shakespeare was greatly admired. The sketch shown here appeared to be a gift, signed and dated March 10th 1908.
9. “Mary For All Generations”, or “All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed” as Eleanor herself referred to the painting in a letter dated February 1929 to her brother Jack (exhibited as part of the 1972 Ashmolean Museum retrospective of her work, in Oxford). Essentially practical, she wrote: “…a great many of my dearest friends have been sitting for the heads in it, which saves me a lot [of money].” The title is taken from The Magnificat (English Book of Common Prayer version), and the completed painting was apparently presented to St George’s church in Kensington.
10. “Interior, Milan Cathedral”. This was apparently painted between 1910-1930, illustrative of the times Eleanor spent travelling in Europe.
11. “The Guardian Angel”. In 1910 Eleanor executed the original painting as a memorial for her friend, the aviation pioneer Charles Rolls (b. 1877), who had died in an accident during a flying display near Bournemouth in July of that year. He is represented in the predella, between Leonardo da Vinci (the “forerunner” whose designs depicted the early dreams of human flight, and whom Eleanor would later portray in 1920) and the doomed Icarus. In a heavy gold frame, the painting stands at the foot of the stairs in the historical and imposing Avington Park, Hampshire, once the home of Rolls’ sister and her husband. The “Overseas Club” magazine dated June 1919 carried the following advertisement for The Medici Society (Christmas Cards & Calendars): “Eleanor F. Brickdale’s new picture – “The Guardian Angel” [an allegory of the Airforce]. Uniform in size and character with her latest published work, and as fine in colour as in conception. Colour-surface 15 by 8 inches. Mounted prints 7s. 6d each: 300 Artist’s Copies (signed), £1 1s. each.”
Eleanor was fortunate in her country connections, making frequent visits to friends and acquaintances outside London, notably in Lancashire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire. She also was a regular guest at her brother’s house in Newland in the Forest of Dean. Eleanor also travelled widely, principally to the south of France and to Italy, sketching and painting as she went.She provided ten watercolours for each of two separate volumes of Browning’s poems: Pippa Passes & Men and Women and Dramatis Personae and Dramatic Romances & Lyrics, published by Chatto & Windus in 1908 and 1909 respectively. In June 1909, the Dowdeswell Gallery held the third exhibition of Eleanor’s work: “Poems of Robert Browning, etc.” In the same year, the Leicester Galleries commissioned Eleanor to provide twenty-eight watercolours on the theme of Tennyson’s Idylls, which she delivered in regular batches of four at the fixed fee of 15 guineas each over the next two years. These were published in 1911 by Hodder & Stoughton in two editions: a deluxe version with 21 colour plates for 2 guineas, and a popular edition with 12 plates, which sold for 15 shillings. These paintings, along with others – 37 in total, were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, London, in the same year.
Paintings by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
1. “Head of a Tudor Girl” This oil painting was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, in London. The heraldic devices and exquisite costume detail, especially the gable headdress, reveal Eleanor’s exceptionally careful study of period components in her paintings. The possible significance of the single flower could arise from the apparent belief that pink carnations sprang from the Virgin Mary’s tears. Although consequently associated with a mother’s love, they can also be seen as a symbol of innocence and purity.
2. “The Forerunner”. Subtitled “Leonardo da Vinci showing a model of his flying machine to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his Court”. Although Eleanor was revisiting an apparent interest in aeronautics on wooden or metal wings already seen in her 1910 portrait of “The Guardian Angel”, it is intriguing that she, for all her medieval subject-matter and the harking back to times past, had actually painted a modern picture with a theme of very new-at-the-time technology (in commemoration of the early aviator Charles Rolls), then reiterated it in an unusual way further on in this work, dated 1920, by giving the theme back to Leonardo. Her tribute to two pioneers, separated by centuries. The “Renaissance Man’s” farsighted fascination with flight is beautifully depicted here in rich historical detail, recognizable in the rendering of other authentic figures of antiquity in the frame.
3. “L’Arrivée des Filles du Roi”. Variously called “The King’s Daughters” or “The Arrival of the Brides” and dated some time before 1927, this was Eleanor’s interpretation of a period in Canada’s history, between 1663-73, when about 800 women sailed to “New France” as part of plans to settle the colonies there. Within this exodus a group of women were specifically selected for the voyage and the king of France himself, Louis XIV, paid for their passage. The scene depicted here is the arrival (dated 1667) of the ladies in Quebec, to be married to French-Canadian farmers. The local dignitaries are observed gallantly greeting these women, the prospective wives (their would-be bridegrooms are not in the picture), although despite the fine clothes it is all rather reminiscent of their future consorts paying a visit to a cattle market. Perhaps the strong-minded (and unmarried) Eleanor was making a comment of her own, through the conveyance of chronicled facts.
4. “The Wise and Foolish Virgins”. With a possible date of 1930, this painting depicts a well-known parable taken from the Gospel of St Matthew, chapter XXV, lines 1-9, in which Jesus warns that all should be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Eleanor has removed the virgins from their strict medieval formalism and placed them on a swirling stone staircase, creating a true Pre-Raphaelite interpretation of the parable.
5. “My Rose, I Gather for the Breast of God”. This was part of an exhibition at the aforementioned Dowdeswell Galleries in June 1909 of twenty watercolours executed by Eleanor for the poems of Robert Browning. The catalogue pointed out that this painting was not in fact included in the illustrations Eleanor had recently completed for the books: “Pippa Passes and Men & Women” (published in 1908), and “Dramatis Personae and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics” (1909). Its title is taken from a line in Browning’s narrative poem “The Ring and the Book”, first published in 1868.
6. “Chivalry Dying of Love for the Goddesses”. In a procession led by peacocks, proud Juno walks before a war-like Minerva, gentle Venus, and abundant Ceres with sickle and a sheaf of corn, beside her ill-fated daughter Proserpina. Fair Flora follows, wild Diana the Huntress, Iris of the rainbow bridge, and hindmost, Hebe. Bearing in mind Eleanor’s preference for allegorical painting, the presence of these deities and the dead or dying knights has been interpreted here as symbolic of patriotism and sacrifice, so the moribund figures in the ditch could then plausibly be transplanted to the trenches of the First World War. This work is in the collection at Clevedon Court, North Somerset, an area that Eleanor appears to have known well, and where a number of her stained glass windows remain in several local churches.
7. “Prospero and Ariel”. This chalk illustration was apparently for an early twentieth-century edition of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, although it is unclear whether Eleanor may have completed it as a further contribution to the Archibald Constable publications of 1901. Perhaps she chose to represent the learned Prospero’s guardian spirit from part of Ariel’s speech in Act I, Scene II: “…be’t to fly, To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride On the curl’d clouds….”
8. “The Chatelaine”. The Studio edition of December 1904 included this review of a piece by Eleanor: STUDIO-TALK (From our Own Correspondents). LONDON.–“The statuette called The Chatelaine, by Miss Eleanor Fortescue -Brickdale, here illustrated, is on view at the Leicester Galleries. Made of coloured plaster, it realises a romantic and reminiscent mood, as of some figure that has moved through Scott’s novels, the lady of some castle, or the guardian, perhaps, of an imprisoned queen. The gold pattern worked upon the dress is carried out with consider-able boldness, but remains subordinate to the general rich scheme of colour that emphasises the careful modelling and arrangement of the drapery.”
Eleanor was to exhibit this work many years later at the Royal Academy, in 1939.
It was a busy year for Eleanor, who also began teaching classes at the Byam Shaw School of Art, founded by the artists John Byam Shaw and Rex Vicat Cole in 1910. An article entitled “Where to Study Art”, one of a series by the prolific Gladys Beattie Crozier in Every Woman’s Encyclopedia (London, 1910-1912) has this to say of the new institution: “A new Art School and its Ideals – Individuality and Originality Carefully Fostered by Teaching Methods. This is the newest of the London Art Schools of importance, for it was opened in May 1910, in a specially designed and splendidly fitted building, containing a set of fine studios, at 70, Campden Street, Campden Hill… It has already become a highly flourishing school, with an attendance of over forty students, and the chance visitor to the school is struck by the youthful spirit of energy and artistic enterprise which animates students and teachers alike…
To the girl art student a peculiar attraction in the teaching lies in the fact that the chief object in the course of training is to stimulate the young artist’s own originality, and by constant change of work and of models, to avoid any possibility of staleness or monotony in the daily round of work in the studios.
…In the still life and lay figure costume painting studio there is a most interesting case hung against the wall, which displays a number of dolls wearing the garb of mediaeval times. The knight, the page, the chatelaine, the serving-maid, and, last but not least, the fool are all represented. Their dresses, having been copied from prints and pictures of the day, are correct in every detail. This collection furnishes a valuable means of reference for students engaged either in planning out a set of illustrations to some romantic story whose period is set in olden days, or in composing some important picture.”
A progressive school that welcomed and encouraged female students must have enchanted Eleanor. While little survives of her life at the school, she was still teaching composition there in 1922.
Left: Advertisement for the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole Art School, Studio International, Volume 83, January-June 1922. The school logo was designed by Eleanor.
Centre: “A new Art School and its Ideals – Individuality and Originality Carefully Fostered by Teaching Methods” by Gladys Beattie Crozier, “Every Woman’s Encyclopedia”, London, 1910-1912
Right: Frieze featuring the founding members of the school
About the same time, Hodder & Stoughton published Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s Golden Book of Songs & Ballads, a clear statement that her illustrations were the focus of the book. The following year, Herbert and Daniel commissioned eight watercolour illustrations for an edition of William Canton’s The Story of St Elizabeth of Hungary. She provided eight watercolours for The Gathering of Brother Hilarius by Michael Fairless in 1913. In 1915, Hodder & Stoughton published twenty-four full-colour plates of Eleanor’s watercolours in Old English Songs & Ballads, a book which includes some of her most striking illustrations, notably the troubling “Knight and Child”, and signals, in itself, the end of an era. (These and others were shown at the Leicester Gallery in October of the same year.) The Story of Saint Christopher & Saint Cuthbert by Mary MacGregor, published by T. C. & E. C. Jack, also appeared in 1915.With the onset of the First World War Eleanor designed posters for the Ministry of Information and the Child Welfare Association. (Like many artists after the War she received commissions for memorials; her memorial to the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, commissioned in 1919, was unveiled in York Minster in 1921.) Despite the strictures the war imposed on publishing, Hodder & Stoughton remained faithful to their artist and in 1919, she produced eight colour illustrations for Palgrave’s Golden Book of Songs and Lyrics, followed by Eleanor Brickdale’s Golden Book of Famous Women, also in 1919 (or possibly 1920), proof that her name was still an attractive sales argument. The originals, plus a small handful of others, comprised her third exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in April of the same year, the year she was also elected R. W. S. Her work appeared, along with other artists, notably Willy Pogány, in Stories of the Saints in 1921.Eleanor changed her style completely, adopting a simple outline and flat colours, most probably to accommodate the printing of texts and illustrations on the same page, to illustrate Fleur & Blanchefleur in 1922, a style she pursued for the vignettes of Carols in 1925, while equally painting elaborate watercolours for tipped-in plates. 1926 saw the publication of The Diary of an Eighteenth-Century Garden and 1927 The Gentle Art, both with only one colour plate and a number of line drawings. Poor health and fading sight put an end to her career as an illustrator, though she continued to paint and produce designs for stained glass. Her “Ariel and Prospero” was unveiled in the Board Room of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in 1931.In the later years of her life Eleanor was clearly still spending a significant amount of time in the country. Charles Fortescue-Brickdale, who so evidently shared his sister’s love of art and all things medieval, recorded (in papers written for the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society during 1933 -34) the reredos she had painted in memory of their mother in “The Cathedral of the Forest”, Newland Church. Further south in the village of Chew Magna, North Somerset, Eleanor designed a magnificent stained glass window in 1934 for the Strachey Chapel, featuring the figures of St George and St Elizabeth of Hungary. Her designer’s mark was an “E”, an “F”, with the initial for “Brickdale” replaced by the emblem of a bee. She designed more than 20 stained glass windows between 1914 and 1940.As for her association with the Stracheys, they were a family long established in the district. John St Loe Strachey (1860-1927) was the editor of The Spectator and appeared to have later connections with The Cornhill magazine. In his book The Adventure of Living. A subjective autobiography 1860-1922, published in 1923, he described the family seat, Sutton Court, as standing “beside its sheltering elms and limes, with its terraces looking to the blue line of the Mendip, its battlemented and flower-tufted fortress wall, and its knightly Tower built for security and defence.” With her own vivid imagination and late Pre-Raphaelite love of richly detailed medieval imagery, it is tempting to envisage Eleanor as a fairly regular visitor to this particular Englishman’s “castle”, where, if this was the case, she must surely have found many sources of pictorial and painterly inspiration.
Eleanor’s stained glass signature
Her last exhibited work at the Royal Academy in 1939 was a coloured plaster statuette entitled “The Chatelaine”, modeled thirty years earlier. She suffered a stroke in 1938, thereafter producing little work until her death in March 1945, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. The RWS held a memorial show of her paintings later that year. A retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Ashmolean Museum in 1972.
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in her studio.
Time and time again, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale seems to inconvenience the critics of the period. In the words of the eminent Walter Shaw Sparrow:
“Again and again, in the art practice of true women, technical defects must be pardoned, not reluctantly, but with as much readiness as we excuse the errors of archaeology in the plays of Shakespeare. As an example of this in the work by Miss Fortescue-Brickdale, let me remind you of the colour-print representing a picture entitled Chance, a page of sunlight that appeared in The Studio for April. The oversight to be forgiven in this water-colour is the face that peers out from the background, just behind the raised hand of the principal figure. The composition would be much improved if that face were hidden by the leafed, tapestry-like background; and yet one is willing to be annoyed by it for the sake of the notable good qualities, like the exquisite handling of the flowing red robe, the subtle and beautiful colour, the gentle seriousness and sincerity of the general treatment, and the delicate spirit of high comedy, so fresh and yet so scenic in lightness, that gives so much charm to the pretty girl in the act of questioning Chance, as youngsters do it in the fields.”8
Sparrow chides Brickdale on her judgment, making a point of underlining her marred composition which places a face near Chance’s upraised hand, rather than a conveniently neutral swatch of hedge, ascribing it to awkwardness and inattention. He is missing the point completely. Medieval paintings abound in “awkward” juxtapositions, bits and pieces of a background figure or element peeking around foreground figures. The medieval hierarchy of rank largely subverted that of space, and this is just the hierarchy that Brickdale is depicting. To one accustomed to the language of such imagery, who would have no more trouble with the juxtaposition than distinguishing conventional narrative tricks, the two planes are distinct, though they may jostle and try the sensibilities of the modern eye. In this sense, (and perhaps Brickdale is indulging in the discretely perverse pleasure of testing the dos and don’ts of the art establishment) she anchors her pictorial values ever more firmly in an age far removed from contemporary taste, despite the refurbishing of the medieval (and the re-invention of Olde England) by Pugin and his followers. She demonstrates this facility to usurp the rules of academic spatial depiction in the wings of her imagery, never as a focus of her painting. The beautiful knight and child, done as an illustration for Old English Songs and Ballads, is the most striking demonstration of her easy disregard for convention. The landscape is so close as to appear almost as a painted backdrop, foreshortened and flattened as if by a telephoto lens, or a 14th-century painting. This willful bending of the “rules” is characteristic of Eleanor’s approach. Rather than compare the work of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale to that of her male contemporaries, it would be far more just to admit to an individual with a strong personality and a deft hand who followed her own inclinations.But, ultimately, one is willing to be annoyed by Sparrow, because for his sake he means well, despite letting the times speak through him in referring to the “technical defects” of the “art practice of true women” – perhaps he means those who are academically weak, barred as they were from studying anatomy. But then, this was a time that considered more “primitive” races as infantile, placing them in the role of children in relation to adult (read “white European”) societies. He is simply unable to free himself from the rigid conventionalities of the time, and he should be forgiven the guilty pleasure of thinking he has found a weakness to remonstrate with a patronizing pat on the back.
Article on Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in The Studio, 1901
“Solidity” is an apt term to qualify Eleanor’s work. Her draftsmanship is flawless, her grasp of space and perspective mathematical, her sense of colour spatiality irreproachable, her figures consummately academic; all in all, she is a little daunting to those who are seeking a reassuring “femininity” (read “easily identifiable academic failings”) in her work, reason for Sparrow to have pounced with such glee on any real or perceived awkwardness. She displays none of the hectic fervor often associated with the genre, and so appealing to a modern audience, so intimately do we associate tragedy with Pre-Raphaelitism.Moreover, Brickdale eschews the historical reinvention of the “medievalisers” of the day, who reveled in flowing robes, wild locks and amour à la Burne-Jones, a heady mélange of neoclassicism and medievalism as beautiful as it is historically inaccurate. She situates her own Middle Ages at the very end, for her, Tennyson’s Arthur lives in the world of William Caxton’s new press, the waning of the Middle Ages of the late 15th century. Eleanor’s historical knowledge is evidenced by every wimple and chaperon, every snug doublet and hose. It is a fashion-conscious and restrained world, one with which we are wholly unfamiliar outside the art of the era itself. No other turn-of-the-century artists, with the exception of the Pre-Raphaelites, who did reach deeply into the period, but more often to Italy than Burgundy and Flanders, made a like choice. Thus. Eleanor’s work is as difficult to “read” as the art of the period itself, subtly straight-laced and constrained, a little distant, with less of the atmosphere so appealing in Pre-Raphaelite painting. The result: “…highly detailed and meaningful little pictures …crammed with medievalism and moral sentiment.”9 An unfair judgment at best, and an unjust condemnation and dismissal of her work.As a critic of the time judiciously and not unkindly summed up in “Bookshelf” from the pages of The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors, in January 1915 (though he cannot refrain from a pique or two in passing):
“The pen of Tennyson, deeply tinged with romantic feeling, offers many opportunities for the brush of the genre painter, who falls too frequently into an error of representing the characters of the poems as belonging to some definite period, rather than to a semi-imaginative epoch, such as Doré was wont to create. While it is desirable to be as correct as possible when illustrating a work like the “Idylls of the King”, nevertheless we must bear in mind that, strictly speaking, the habitués of Arthur’s court would have been actually very different to the polished and debonnaire warriors portrayed by Tennyson. In this respect Miss Fortescue Brickdale has followed closely in the footsteps of her author, and shows us scenes from fifteenth-century life rendered in a manner reminiscent of the old missal painters and the late Mr Edwin Abbey, R. A., with the result that her illustrations in colour appear somewhat unconvincing. The most successful, undoubtedly, is the clever study of the weeping Guinevere in nun’s garb, pausing under a picturesque cloister beyond which shine the bright-hued colours of the garth. A keen archaeologist might possibly say that Miss Brickdale’s knowledge of armour is sometimes at fault, but this does not preclude the edition from being a tasteful one, which should be appreciated.”Being summarily dismissed is a danger courted in many works. Gordon N. Ray, in The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914 (Oxford University Press, 1976) states: “The artist must have been consciously archaizing in these designs, many of which seem to derive from the Pre-Raphaelite illustrations of the Moxon Tennyson or the drawings of M. J. Lawless. But the borders remind the reader that Art Nouveau has intervened.” Not only is Lawless’ work in every way less remarkable, the borders likely owe more to a printer’s apprentice than to the defining turn-of-the-century movement. The contrast is striking with Eleanor’s chapter in Illustrating Camelot, by Barbara Tepa Lupack and Alan Lupack, (D.S.Brewer, 2008), which provides a deeply considered appraisal of the same work.But, there are wider issues in an unbiased appreciation of Brickdale’s art. It is naturally assumed that any female artist who frequents a male artist is inevitably influenced by his work. Eleanor’s work is often considered to be inspired by the paintings of John Byam Liston Shaw. Upon looking closely, the relationship is not at all in evidence; in fact it would be as easy to pretend to her influence on Shaw’s illustrations. She did clearly admire his work, witness her comments on “The Queen of Hearts”, in 1896, “the first picture in which he sprang suddenly out in his own extraordinarily brilliant and original style” and “Love’s Baubles” three years later: “No one can describe how fresh and delightful it looked at the Academy. Most of the subject pictures at that time were a bit dreary, generally very ‘aesthetic’ or ‘arty’, and hardly any one of them seemed to be sincere. The picture is painted in an inexperienced manner, for he was still very young (twenty-five), but the drawing is fine and the colour full of joy and fearlessness”.10 Otherwise, we know little of their relationship. While Byam Shaw’s paintings are intricate and studied and often haunting and disturbingly beautiful, his illustration work can vary from the carefully executed to the hurried and often approximate, with unremarkable compositions and pen work that appears rushed. Both illustrated Tennyson, Eleanor’s drawings are by far the better work of the two. She clearly took her book commissions more seriously.
They do, however, show a community of spirit and shared love of medieval art. It is hard to imagine a woman of Eleanor’s determination and independent spirit being influenced graphically; it is more plausible to imagine a mutual emulation and respect, rather than simply writing off the work of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale as an adequate copy of Byam Shaw. (And, “keen archaeologists” notwithstanding, her knowledge of period armour is excellent.)Eleanor was considered unorthodox by some for her refusal to give up her artistic pretensions and find a decent husband to provide for her. (Byam Shaw’s wife, Evelyn, gave up a promising career to raise a family, although she did become a teacher at her husband’s school.) The relentless comparison of Eleanor to her male contemporaries, especially to Byam Shaw, is an ill-disguised attempt to submerge her name and subsume her creative spirit, as she was unwilling to do so herself.Eleanor was given to traveling in southern Europe, trips on which she painted and drew. The qualifier “like Ruskin” more often than not accompanies mentions of these trips. This is a curious addendum, as she apparently did not keep extensive diaries and publish books of her travels (like Ruskin) nor did she protest all the while that she could not really paint (like Ruskin). It is a grand shame, though, that she did not keep a diary, but this is a familiar regret concerning those who left primarily images, and not words.
Line illustrations by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
1. “Sir Lancelot du Lake”, 1897 illustration for “an old ballad” from Thomas Percy’s (1729-1811), “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry” first published in 1765.
2. “Isabella and the Pot of Basil” (which apparently, according to one critic*, “every black and white artist is doomed to attempt sooner or later.”), from the poem “Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil” (published in 1820) by John Keats (1795-1821).
3. “Iseult of Brittany” from an original crayon drawing reproduced in “Women Painters of the World, from the time of Caterina Vigri, 1413-1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the present day” by Walter Shaw Sparrow (1862-1940). Hodder and Stoughton, The Art and Life Library. 1905. Taken from Chapter III, “Modern British Women Painters”, contributed by Ralph Peacock. It is possible that Eleanor’s inspiration for this could have been part III of the narrative poem “Tristram and Iseult” by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888).
4. Bookplate design for Charles Fortescue-Brickdale, reproduced in “Modern Book-plates and their Designers: British Bookplates”, by Gleeson White (1851-1898), a Special Winter Number of The Studio, 1898-99.
5. “The Princess and the Swineherd”, from the fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), reproduced, as were illustration numbers 1 and 2*, in an article by “E. B. S” in The Studio of March 1898. Eleanor began to exhibit some of these drawings in the black-and-white section at the Royal Academy, whilst still a student there.
6. “Two clever illustrations to an old ballad”. “The Twa Sisters o’ Binnorie”, a tale from the seventeenth century, were featured as part of a short reference to Eleanor’s work in the “Studio Talk” section of The Studio International, Volume 21, dated November 1900. The writer made the following observation: “…As an artist in pen and ink, Miss Brickdale is already known to readers of The Studio. Her work in this medium still has a good deal to gain both in variety of tone and suppleness of line, but it is touched with dramatic feeling, and is thoughtful, strong and distinguished….”
8. “Love and Adversity”, from a watercolour drawing dated 1900, reproduced in Walter Shaw Sparrow’s article “On Some Watercolours by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale” in The Studio of July 1901.
9. Eleanor exhibited “Botticelli’s Studio” at the Royal Academy in 1922. One can only suppose how sumptuous the colours must have been, because so many works of art, both classical and contemporary, were still frequently reproduced in black & white, as this one was in “The Royal Academy Illustrated” for that same year.
10. From “The Story of St Christopher” by Mary MacGregor, published in London by T. C. & E. C. Jack. 1915.11. A Land Certificate cover designed by Eleanor. Her brother Charles Fortescue-Brickdale (1857-1944) became a highly successful Chief Registrar of Land Registry in 1900, holding the post until 1923.
Another critic takes to task her line drawing “The Princess and the Swineherd”, focusing on the pigs (too small) and the male figure’s arm (too short), while in the same breath offering patronizing compliments.
“… a few details would need modification, notably in the scale of the animals in the foreground. This trick of reducing the scale of her quadrupeds may be seen in the charming group of Hans Andersen’s Princess and the Swineherd, which we reproduce. It has no doubt been done of set purpose, but “piggies” the size of white rats require a good deal of ingenious defence when the average man in the streets raises his not unsupported objections.
Be that as it may, Miss Brickdale displays in this same drawing so much vigour, and such an admirable power of telling a story, that it would be easy to forgive her the “five little pigs” for the sake of the rest. The swineherd himself, kissing the princess with almost brutal force, is drawn (despite somewhat doubtful details of his left arm) with an enormous amount of vitality; indeed it would not be easy to find a passage in current literature which tells the story so well. He is no lay figure, no stage tenor, but an old world lover whose passion is by no means reciprocated by the greedy little princess grudgingly paying her toll of one hundred kisses for the magic pipkin with bells around the rim, bells that jingle Lieber Augustin when the water boils. Miss Brickdale may possibly have seen Mr. Byam Shaw’s delightful picture of the same subject – certain details of the costume suggest his influence; but all the same she has not given us a paraphrase of his idea, but a very adequate and delightful interpretation of the story that witches one in middle age as fully as it did in the nursery. Technically speaking, one feels that less attempt to model the flesh would be better, the convention of black and white is apt to suggest “dirty” rather than rose-red faces when too many lines are used for the cheeks and the neck. These criticisms, whether well- or ill-founded, do not affect the very high appreciation which the design merits, and it is one that will hold its own despite them.
The illustration for the old ballad “Sir Lancelot du Lake”, which is reproduced on the opposite page, strikes one as less mature. The use of solid blacks is not quite mastered; indeed. The black horse of the knight to the right is only deduced after some study as to what the patches in question cannot be intended to represent. It is always a difficult problem to mix conventions. Pure outline with solid blacks in masses as Mr. Beardsley used it, or bold outline with very little if any solid blacks in the background, as Mr. Walter Crane has so often worked it, one can accept; but here, as in a recent edition of The Faerie Queene and not a few modern designs, we are confronted with a puzzle rather than a pattern, a problem in place of a picture. The puzzle may be ingenious, the problem admirably resolved; but one prefers a picture to be a picture…”11
Many critics of the time seem to have propped up their arguments with observations of rudimentary academism (or amateur botany in the case of the basil) and left it at that, never really tackling (or at a loss to tackle) the true nature of Eleanor’s personal vision. Some reproach her for carrying on with the cause of Pre-Raphaelitism, others reprimand her for daring to “mix conventions” and ignore solid decorative traditions. Further on in the same article in The Studio, the writer mock-playfully takes her Isabella to task for a too-small pot of basil before ending with the observation that she may succeed “among the few of her sex who have managed ‘decorative’ art successfully” and “be trusted to satisfy all reasonable expectations.”
The fate of women artists of the period, it seems, was to be criticized for overt and unnatural masculinity when they attempted works of originality, and to be considered simple hangers-on and artful muses when their work was judged to be appropriately feminine. Eleanor’s drawings must have irritatingly achieved that masculine perfection of colour, form and line only allowable to the… superior sex.The strengths of Eleanor’s “weaknesses”, though, the perceptible humanity behind her unruffled academism, the person who speaks intimately of things behind the solid figures in their accomplished settings, are to be found elsewhere… in the wings of angels.
A Gallery of Angels’ Wings
1. “The Gift that is Better than Rubies”. 1899.
2. “Love’s Not Time’s Fool”, from the sonnet “True Love” by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Included in “Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of Songs & Lyrics”. Hodder & Stoughton. London. c. 1919.
3. “Love Will Find Out The Way”. From “The Great Adventurer”, anonymous seventeenth century poem. “Palgrave’s Golden Treasury”, ibid.
4. “The Angel at the Door”. Eleanor may here have been depicting the belief (possibly medieval in origin) that mendicants were Angels disguised in human form, and paupers perceived as “God’s Children”.
5. “June is Dead”. This was apparently Eleanor’s diploma work for the Royal Watercolour Society, and was exhibited there in the winter of 1915.
6. From the poem by Robert Browning: “James Lee’s Wife”, first published in 1864 and illustrated by Eleanor for the 1909 Chatto & Windus edition of “Dramatis Personae and Dramatic Romances & Lyrics”. The image evokes a line from Part II, verse IV: “Love’s voyage full-sail…”
7. Illustration for “An Epithalamion, or Marriage Song, on the Lady Elizabeth and the Count Palatine being married on St Valentine’s Day”, by John Donne (1572-1631). The happy couple in whose honour the poem was composed later became Frederick V and Elizabeth (the “Winter Queen”) of Bohemia. Eleanor’s artwork was the frontispiece to “The Book of Old English Songs & Ballads” published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1915.
8. Illustration for “A Morning Song” (from Cymbeline), by William Shakespeare, included in the same book.
9. Illustrating “The Surprise” by Sir Edward Sherburne (c. 1616-1702). Ibid.
10. For “Cupid Indicted” by John Lyly (1554-1606). Ibid.
11. “The Blush”, undated watercolour.
12. From “The Story of St Elizabeth of Hungary” by William Canton (1845-1926), published by Herbert & Daniel. 1912.
13. “Whilst Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night”, from “Carols” published by De La More Press. 1925.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Eleanor’s work is her treatment of angels.Winged angels and cupids sporting a spectrum of coloured feathers were not a creation of Brickdale’s own. As an artist/designer she would doubtless have been aware that historically angels had been represented in this way for centuries. From early Romanesque manuscripts and mosaics to the ecclesiastical stained glass designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany in churches throughout America at the end of the nineteenth century, examples abounded of these colourful portrayals. Instead of the Angelic Host alighting with softly-folded halo-white wings, they emerged in a joyous riot of rainbow colours, revealing how the artists reveled in their celestial subject, despite the frequently somber depictions required for the circumstance.The wings on Eleanor’s angels are often a riot of colour, far outnumbering those few with more drab and conventional pinions. Scarlet, emerald green, sky blue… exceptional hues for an artist who is most often reproached for her staid depictions and straight-laced figures. But, more than their plumage, Eleanor’s angels are even more unusual: most of them are earthbound.Eleanor depicted, with the notable exception of a dark-pinioned angel of Death and the angel of the Charles Rolls memorial, very few angels in flight. Instead of implausibly fluttering in midair, her cherubs perch on ladders, hide behind skirts, carry damsels across streams or even sulk in stocks. Her angels knock at doors to beg pittance, ply the tillers of boats under sail, spread or fold their wings, but rarely take to the air. They are Everyman’s angels, not so much a heavenly host descended from on high, but the new incarnations of ourselves, when our souls have achieved the purity needed to take flight, reminders that earthbound as we are, more lofty perspectives are only denied us through our own failings. Her cupids are reflections of our ambitions and fears as children: earnest, eager, inquisitive and easily reprimanded and subdued; they have nothing in common with the portly putti of the Renaissance and Baroque, and their matter-of-fact portrayal in familiar settings makes them all the more intriguing.The bright plumage links us to the “merveilleux” of the medieval mind, when the wings of the world’s stage could hold all manner of creatures and beings and marvels. They belie the subdued Tudor fastidiousness too often associated with Eleanor’s illustrative work and link her directly to the medieval painters such as Fra Angelico, Bellini, Ghirlandaio and Crivelli. Without the intervention of the centuries and the printing press, Eleanor might well have been painting in tempera on vellum with an equal sense of finely executed wonder.The angels not-in-flight link her to we modern viewers, to a sense of solid and perhaps inescapable humanity, anchored in flesh but potentially free in spirit to see art in the whole of the world, to find sense in the language of landscape and our dialogue with it. Her angels are indeed messengers (truly they are angelos in the ancient sense), but for the interior dialogue we establish within ourselves and with our world.Eleanor reserves her depictions of childlike wonder in Nature to be chaperoned by fairies and sprites, notably in “The Elfin Route made Visible by the Four-Leafed Clover”, one of four illustrations for “Legends of the Flowers” published in the 1924 Christmas Edition of The Illustrated London News, where a fairy host flutters and postures before the eyes of a wide-eyed girl. All her fairies have the wings of butterflies, moths, or dragonflies. They are spirits of Nature, not evocations of the nature of the spirit.Eleanor mixes flowers and fairies most willingly, though her imps and fays are often more akin to the denizens of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market than to the wholesome flower fairies of Lang’s Fairy Books; they bring a life of their own, rather than simply reflecting what nursery wishes we might project upon them, hints of a deeper narrative than matching pastel robes and petals. (They are very much on the edge of our familiar quotidian world; in the same manner medieval illuminators peopled the margins of their familiar texts with extraordinary and exotic marvels.) Even in these visions inspired by childhood, Eleanor evokes the incredibly rich – and often dark and complex – history of the folk of Faërie in the British Isles.Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is not so much an “inheritor” of the Pre-Raphaelite tradition as an artist two generations removed who aspired to the same ideals. Her quest, however, is an individual one, and out of step with a society obsessed with modernism. She did not so much seek to emulate or imitate the Pre-Raphaelites as to search for her inspiration in the same sources as they used. Her knowledge of the periods she portrays is not second-hand, not a mannerism, but an individual reinterpretation of an original aesthetic; her work is a personal Renaissance of ideals, not the swan song of a bygone era. It merits a renewed regard on our part to interpret and appreciate it properly. She well deserved the hard-won respect and success she undoubtedly achieved during her lifetime; she deserves to be better remembered and appreciated today.
1. English Book Illustration of To-day; appreciations of the work of living English illustrators, with lists of their books.
(Referring to the Rossetti’s illustrations for: The Moxon Tennyson. 1857.)
Chapter 1. Some Decorative Illustrators.
By Rose Esther Dorothea Sketchley (b. 1875).
London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.
2. Modern Illustration, by Joseph Pennell. [1857-1926]
(From his own introduction)
The Ex Libris Series. Edited by Gleeson White.
London: George Bell & Sons. 1895.
3. In 1902, when speaking to me in terms of unbounded admiration of Miss Fortescue Brickdale’s work, he said to me, “I feel inclined to throw away my palette and brushes. What are my things by the side of such stuff as hers.” He said he felt almost knocked over by them, the vividness of conception having been carried out so forcibly and so adequately by complete execution.
Excerpt from Chapter VII: LEIGHTON
G. F. WATTS, REMINISCENCES
By Mrs. Barrington Russell (d. 1933).
GEORGE ALLEN, London, 1905.
4. Entry for Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale in The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators by Simon Houfe:
BRICKDALE, Eleanor Fortescue RWS 1871-1945
Illustrator, painter and designer. She was born in 1871, the daughter of a barrister and studied at the Crystal Palace School of Art, the RA Schools and with Byam Shaw. She won a prize for the best decoration of a public building in 1896 and began to exhibit at the RA the same year. She represents the last phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, her highly detailed and meaningful little pictures are crammed with medievalism and moral sentiment. She was the ideal illustrator of legend and particularly for those expensive coloured gift books of the 1900s where her bright colours and haughty figures were set off to advantage on the ample pages. She was also a talented stained glass artist and designed windows for Bristol Cathedral. Her work was sometimes criticised for its confusion of black to white making outlines difficult to see and occasionally on scale ‘piggies the size of white rats need a good deal of ingenious defence’. The Studio, Vol.13, pp 103-108. ARWS, 1902; RWS 1919.
Illus: A Cotswold Village [J. A. Gibbs 1898]; Ivanhoe ; Tennyson’s Poems ; Child’s Life of Christ [M. Dearmer, 1906]; Pippa Passes [R. Browning, 1908]; Dramatis Personae [R. Browning 1909]; Beautiful Flowers [Wright, 1909]; Tennyson’s Idylls of the King ; Story of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary [W. Canton 1912]; The Gathering of Brother Hilarius [M. Fairless 1913]; The Book of Old English Songs and Ballads ; The Golden Book of Famous Women ; Fleur and Blanchefleur ; Palgrave’s Golden Treasury ; Christmas Carols ; A Diary of an Eighteenth-century Garden [D. C. Calthrop, 1926]; The Gentle Art [D. C.Calthrop, 1927].
Exhib: Leighton House, 1904; L; RA; RWS.
Colls: Birmingham; Leeds.
Bibl: The Studio, Winter No., 1900-01 p. 71 illus.; Modern Book Illustrators and Their Work, Studio, 1914, illus.; M. Hardie Watercolour Paint. in Brit. Vol III, 1968, pp 130-131; G. L. Taylor, EFB Centenary Exhibition, Ashmolean, 1972-73.
5. Excerpt from an article in The Studio, Volume 20, Issue 89. August 1900
6. Excerpt from The Lay Figure: WOMEN AS ARTISTS. The Studio, Volume 20, Issue 88. July 1900.
7. From : “The Designs of Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co.”
Adrian J. Tilbrook . Originally published by Ornament Press, London, 1976.
EFB is included in a list of Designers known to have worked for Liberty & Co. along with other well-known artists and designers of the day, including Jessie M. King and of course the aforementioned Archibald Knox.
Excerpt from the chapter “Archibald Knox. London 1897-1912.”:
[Liberty’s] policy of anonymity [of the designers used] was employed even in the case of designers/painters who had achieved some repute within their own particular idiom, and with whom the association of objects designed for ‘a taste and fashion’ conscious ‘middle class’ buying public would, presumably, have been commercially successful as in the cases of Jessie M. King…, Christopher Dresser…, Bernard Cuzner…. and Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, all of whom had designed objects for Liberty & Co.
8. From The Studio, July 1901
9. See Houfe.
10. Rex Vicat Cole in The Art and Life of Byam Shaw (1932, p. 70)
11.“Eleanor F. Brickdale, Designer and Illustrator.”Article by “E B S”, The Studio, March 1898.
A COTSWOLD VILLAGE, by J. Arthur Gibbs, John Murray, London, 1898
17 line drawings as chapter headings (The book also contains numerous photographs.)
IVANHOE, by Sir Walter Scott, George Bell & Sons, London
10 line drawings
THE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, A. Constable and Co. London
In Volume 24, Issue 105 for December 1901, The Studio ran the following review: In twenty volumes….
The chief characteristics of this edition are that its volumes are of a handy size, that it is printed in a good and legible type, and that it is illustrated by a series of drawings reproduced in colours by some well-known modern artists. The most successful of the latter are Lady Macbeth, by E. F. Brickdale, Timon of Athens by Gerald Moira…
This evidently was another early venture into illustration for Eleanor. It is interesting to note that Gerald Moira would also become known for his stained glass designs, some of which had been showcased in an earlier edition of The Studio (Volume 18, October 1899). Constable and Co. advertised these volumes thus in the back of other published works in 1902: SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. Illustrated Edition of the Works of. In 20 Imperial 16mo Volumes with coloured title-page and end-papers designed by Lewis Day, and a specially designed coloured illustration to each Play, the artists being: L. Leslie Brooke, Byam Shaw, Henry J. Ford, G. P. Jacomb Hood, W. D. Eden, Estelle Nathan, Eleanor F. Brickdale, Patten Wilson, Robert Sauber, John D. Batten, Gerald Moira, and Frank C. Cowper. The title-page and illustrations printed on Japanese vellum. Cloth gilt, extra, gilt top, gilt back, with headband and bookmarker, 2s. 6d. net per volume, or £2 10s. the set. Each volume sold separately.
POEMS, by Alfred Lord Tennyson, George Bell & Sons, London, 1905
70 line drawings: 2 bookplates, frontispiece, vignette on title page, illustration at head of each work, some (unlisted) plates, all in black & white.
This glowing praise appeared in the January 1906, Volume 36 edition of The Studio:Tennyson. Illustrated by ELEANOR FORTESCUE BRICKDALE. (London: George Bell and Sons) 7s. and 6d net. ~ It may justly be claimed for the charming Endymion series that it is the best illustrated edition of the British poets that has yet appeared, and the new volume certainly shows no falling off in attraction. The publishers are to be congratulated on having secured the services of Miss Brickdale, for she has shown herself thoroughly in touch with her theme and fully worthy to rank with her predecessors, W. Heath Robinson, Alfred Garth Jones, Robert Anning Bell and Byam Shaw. With the last-named she has been, from the first, in close sympathy.
Understandably proud of this approval, Messrs Bell’s Books made sure they capitalized on it by including the first part of the piece in their future advertisements. A 1910 entry in the section extolling the virtues of their range of books, inserted in the “Monographs on Great Writers” series ~ in this case Chaucer ~ listed the entire Endymion range to date, preceded by the announcement: New and Cheaper Uniform Edition. Post 8vo. 3s 6d net. each. The excerpt from The Studio then appeared rather boastfully beneath.
A CHILD’S LIFE OF CHRIST, by Mabel Dearmer (Methuen)
5 colour illustrations
A review in The New York Times for December 7th 1907 informed readers that: “A Child’s Life of Christ” is told in the form of a continued narrative by Mabel Dearmer (Dodd, Mead & Co. $2.) It is a book of 300 pages, rather large print, with beautiful illustrations in color by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, and black-and-white reproductions from pictures. This book was recommended in a 1918 publication compiled by Lilian Stevenson, “Author of Amor Vincit Omnia” written reassuringly on the title page. Produced by The Student Christian Movement, London, A Child’s Bookshelf. Suggestions on Children’s Reading, with an Annotated List of Books on Heroism, Service, Patriotism, Friendliness, Joy and Beauty. (2/6d Net), was a virtuous volume full of useful titles for pious parents who, anxious to raise their offspring in an unimpeachable fashion, were presumably seeking guidance on acceptable ways to do it. The lengthy table of contents included sections on “Citizenship and Love of Country; Wonder and Discovery; Adventure and Heroism;” etc. On page 88, in a list of suitable books under the heading: “The Hero of Heroes”, Mabel Dearmer’s work had an honourable mention, advertised thus: (Methuen 4s. 6d net) For younger children. Very beautiful and reverent. With illustrations by Florence Brickdale.
PIPPA PASSES AND MEN & WOMEN, by Robert Browning, Chatto & Windus, London, 1908
Frontispiece, 10 colour illustrations
The December 14th 1920 edition of the Harvard University student magazine, “The Harvard Crimson”, included this book in their feature: “CHRISTMAS TIME IS BOOK TIME. A Select List of Gift Books at Reduced Prices.” Clarifying that it came with a decorative cover and was “illustrated in color by E. F. Brickdale”, it retailed at the “Special price, $1.50.”
DRAMATIS PERSONAE AND DRAMATIC ROMANCES & LYRICS by Robert Browning, Chatto & Windus, London, 1909
10 colour illustrations
In the section “Art Books: Travel Books and Gift Books” for December 1909 in Volume XVI of The Burlington Magazine, this appraisal was offered: ‘Dramatis Personae and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.’ By Robert Browning. Illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. Chatto and Windus. 6s. net.
As in her illustrations to ‘Pippa Passes’ and ‘Men and Women’, Miss Brickdale in the volume before us uses Browning’s poetry rather as the inspiration than the subject of her drawings. ‘James Lee’s Wife,’ for instance, gives her one design – a naked love with pink wings steering a medieval boat in which a lover and his mistress in medieval costume lie half- hidden by a tawny sail – ‘With whom began Love’s voyage full sail.’ The plate accompanying ‘Abt Vogler’ shows a cottage girl in act to descend from the scullery with a pail of water down a step ladder into the cellar she is going to scrub. The connexion? Merely the line – ‘But God has a few of us whom He whispers in the ear;’ and the expression in the girl’s eyes shows the application. These two examples are sufficient to show the principle on which Miss Brickdale works. Her drawings, as ever, are admirable in design and colour, and, save for that troublesome yellow (e.g in the frontispiece), are well reproduced. Earlier in that year, the August edition of The Studio had included in its Studio Talk columns the following evaluation: “At the same [Messrs Dowdeswell’s] galleries Miss Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s drawings, inspired by Browning’s poems, exhibited all the characteristics of her painting to advantage. They showed in many fine passages of work advancement even on previous success, and an imagination always responsive to poetical influence. This responsiveness was refreshing, since the poetic title is still adhered to in some quarters only as an adventitious interest to the actual painting.”
Apparently both Dowdeswells and the Leicester Galleries exhibited Eleanor’s original watercolours which were then to be reproduced as illustrations to books such as this one, on a number of occasions.December 1911’s number of Chicago-based magazine The Dial, “a semi-monthly journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information” produced a review in its section for “Holiday Publications”, as follows: ”Browning lovers will welcome the beautiful edition of “Dramatis Personae, and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics” issued by the Houghton Mifflin Company in uniform style with their last year’s edition of “Pippa Passes, and Men and Women”, and, like that, beautifully illustrated in color by Miss E. Fortesque Brickdale. The text of the poems is that of their first publication, with some exceptions referred to in a “Publisher’s Note”. “Saul” is omitted, as it was included in the above-mentioned companion volume. The book is an admirable pocket-volume, leather-bound and free from stiffness. The ten illustrations catch the spirit of the poems, and exhibit skill and taste.”
The poet Marianne Moore (1887-1972), who from 1925 was to be the last editor of The Dial, pronounced that: “Poetry is a peerless proficiency of the imagination.” It could have applied to Eleanor’s interpretations as much as to Browning’s verses themselves.
BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS AND HOW TO GROW THEM, by Horace J. Wright & Walter P. Wright, T.C. & E.C. Jack Ltd., London and Edinburgh, 1909 & 1922
10 colour illustrations. (Other illustrations by: Beatrice Parsons, Hugh L. Norris, Margaret Waterfield, A. Fairfax Muckley, Francis C. James, Anna Lea Merritt and Marie Low.)
The weekly journal Nature, in its issue for December 2nd 1909, applauded the book in a benevolent review: “This work will take a high place amongst recent publications dealing with the popular and fascinating art of floriculture. The authors have made a selection of the best and most beautiful flowers for cultivation in the garden and greenhouse. These flowers, numbering 100 in all, are illustrated in full-page coloured plates, which are excellent reproductions of flower paintings by such well-known artists as Beatrice Parsons, Eleanor Fortescue Brick-Dale……”
Although the work was originally published in a two-volume set with considerably more colour plates in 1909, it was reissued in a condensed edition dated 1922. The initial version must have been rather more sumptuous ~ the later one allowing only four illustrations per artist to be included. This edition was however distinguished by a beautiful Art Nouveau design on the cover.
ELEANOR FORTESCUE BRICKDALE’S GOLDEN BOOK OF SONGS & BALLADS. Hodder & Stoughton. London.
With 24 tipped-in colour plates.
The date of publication given here is approximate, as some sources suggest it to be as early as 1910 (although unlikely compared to other work of that period), or even as late as 1919. There may have been some confusion with The Book of Old English Songs & Ballads, often regarded as undated, but apparently published circa 1915 (see below). It is possible that some of the illustrations were also confused, or reproduced in both volumes.
THE IDYLLS OF THE KING, by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Hodder & Stoughton, London, New York, Toronto, nd (1911)
16 colour illustrations. (These watercolours were also exhibited, along with others, 37 in total, in an exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries [London] in the same year.)
Two reviews appeared for the paintings in the December 1911 edition of The Studio. In the section Studio Talk, the writer waxed lyrical: The Leicester Galleries have been holding an exhibition of Miss Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s illustrations to Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”. It cannot be said that Pre-Raphaelitism is dead while Miss Fortescue Brickdale is alive – at least Pre-Raphaelitism in the spirit if not in the letter, though in many points also in that. The Pre-Raphaelites held that art was exalted by choice of exalted theme, and Miss Fortescue Brickdale would be at one with them in this. It is not the commonplaces of life that appeal to her brush. Very charming in all her pictures is the refreshing sense of green fields and rivers – with a very elaborate and much-worked method she succeeds in retaining in all her glimpses of the country the sensation of a genuine and unfaded “impression”. This in itself contributes not a little to the poetry of her style in the interpretation of a great poem.A rather more reserved comment appeared in the Reviews and Notices section for that same month: “The Idylls of the King”. By Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Illustrated in colour by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. (London and New York: Hodder and Stoughton.) 15s. net. We have commented elsewhere in this number….on the drawings executed by Miss Brickdale for this edition of “The Idylls of the King,” and it only remains for us therefore to say that the reproduction of them seems to us to be very satisfactory, but we think the border used as a setting for all of them is rather too obtrusive and detracts from the effectiveness of the pictures. In other respects the get-up of the volume is excellent; the type though not large is clear and restful, and the binding at once pleasing and appropriate to the contents.Further on, in Volume 54 of The International Studio for January 1915, the book was again included in Reviews and Notices for that issue, this time in rather more favourable fashion: “Idylls of the King.” By Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Illustrated in colour by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. (London: Hodder and Stoughton.) 6s. net. – This edition of Tennyson’s Idylls with its clear, legible type, its tasteful binding, and above all its dozen charming illustrations in colour by Miss Fortescue Brickdale, will doubtless prove one of the most popular gift books of the present season. This talented artist has a host of admirers, and the theme which has here engaged her brush is one which exactly suits her artistic temperament.By 1919 a copy of Tennyson’s Idylls, illustrated by Eleanor, had found its way into the Chicago Public Library, among other places. In their “Book Bulletin” for that year, it was noted thus: “Tennyson, Alfred. Idylls of the King. Hodder $1.50.” (The purchase price being included presumably because local government felt it their solemn duty to inform the public where their funds were going.) “Highly coloured illustrations by E. F. Brickdale make this an addition to any collection.”
THE STORY OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY, by William Canton, Herbert & Daniel, London (with Dana Estes & Company, Boston, for the American edition) nd (1912)
8 colour illustrations
In the “Catalogue of books in the Children’s Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh” for 1920, William Canton was listed as the author of several volumes, including “The Story of St Elizabeth of Hungary, with illustrations by E. F. Brickdale. Although no review was supplied as such, there followed a rather sweet synopsis: “Story, as told in medieval chronicles, of the little princess who was taken from her real home when only four years old and who grew to girlhood in the gray hill castle of the Wartburg. Tells of her goodness, her sufferings and sorrows, of the rose legend of her compassion, and of how after her early death her name was enrolled in the calendar of saints.” This was a tale that clearly stirred Eleanor’s own admiration, for in future years she recurrently depicted St Elizabeth either in portrait or in designs for stained glass.
THE GATHERING OF BROTHER HILARIUS, by Michael Fairless (Margaret Barber), Gerald Duckworth & Company, London
8 colour illustrations
THE BOOK OF OLD ENGLISH SONGS & BALLADS, Hodder & Stoughton, London, New York, Toronto. nd (1915)
24 colour illustrations
Volume 66 of The Studio for October 1915 to early 1916 included this opinion of the work: “The Book of Old English Songs and Ballads.” Illustrated in colour by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. (London: Hodder and Stoughton). Paper 5s. net. Cloth, 6s net. – We have referred elsewhere to the original drawings, twenty four of which are here reproduced in colour, in connection with the exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. Very charming is the picture accompanying Ben Jonson’s “A Hue and Cry after Cupid,” and the illustration “O Love! Has she done this to thee?” to Lyly’s delightful “Cupid and my Campaspe,” and yet another, sumptuous in design and colour, “Our Lady sings Magnificat.” The poetical quality of Miss Brickdale’s work in this volume is for the most part in her delicate and very pleasing craftsmanship rather than in the pictorial ideas, which might, some of them, seem a little prosaic as illustrations to such charming lines as these here reprinted, did not the beauty of technical accomplishment fill our eyes.
The Burlington Magazine Volume 28 number 252 for November 1915 noted in its “Publications Received”; column that: The Book of Old English Songs and Ballads illust. in colour by E. F. Brickdale, broch. 5s., cl. 6s. [is] an early “Christmas” book. Miss Brickdale’s admirers will find the 24 originals of the drawings reproduced, on exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, Leicester Sq., from 2nd Oct until mid-Nov.
THE STORY OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER & SAINT CUTHBERT, by Mary MacGregor. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack; New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.
With eight coloured illustrations and black & white head and tailpieces by Eleanor.
PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY OF SONGS & LYRICS, by Francis Turner Palgrave, Hodder & Stoughton, London.
11 colour illustrations
(The bibliography of the article by Emily Hicks in the Spring 2007 issue of Illustration Magazine dates this publication from 1911; the catalogue of the centenary exhibition of Eleanor Brickdale’s work at the Ashmolean Musem in 1972 gives the date 1924.)
ELEANOR FORTESCUE-BRICKDALE’S GOLDEN BOOK OF FAMOUS WOMEN, texts by various authors, Hodder & Stoughton, London, New York, Toronto. nd (1920)
Title page illustration, 16 colour illustrations. (These watercolours were also exhibited, along with others, 27 in total, in an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries the same year.)
The Burlington Magazine Volume 36, number 202 for January 1920 carried this charming review:“The Golden Book of Famous Women” consists of selections from well-known writers concerning the heroines both of fiction and of history, ranging from Cleopatra to Mrs Gamp. Miss Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale is happiest in treating subjects of the 16th century, or earlier, and her delicate Pre-Raphaelite drawings lend an air both of reality and romance to the ladies of those distant days.
STORIES OF THE SAINTS, by Grace Hall, George C. Harrap and Company.
The frontispiece of Saint Elizabeth and the child Christ in the garden, together with “The Miracle of the Roses” illustrating the same story, were apparently taken from Eleanor’s paintings for the 1912 William Canton story (see above). Other artists whose work appeared in this volume “for children young and old” included the contemporary Willy Pogány (1882-1955) and Evelyn Paul (1883-1963), but also Hans Memling and even Fra Angelico.
THE SWEET AND TOUCHING TALE OF FLEUR & BLANCHEFLEUR: A MEDIEVAL LEGEND, translated from the French by Mrs. Leighton, Daniel O’Connor, London. 1922
37 coloured line drawings
CAROLS, De la More Press, London
Coloured line drawings and 6 watercolour illustrations
The De la More Press was founded in 1895 by Alexander Moring. It was a publisher that seemed to specialize in limited editions, frequently printed on handmade paper, of classic works such as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald’s translation, first imprint 1901), Ben Jonson (The Alchemist, 1903), and Chaucer (The Knight’s Tale, 1904). Moring apparently wanted to produce work in a manner “worthy of the craft”.
DIARY OF AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY GARDEN, by Dion Clayton Calthrop, Williams & Norgate, London
One colour illustration and 24 line drawings
“The Musical Quarterly”, a magazine founded in 1915, printed an article in Volume XVI issue 3, dated 1930, written by Eva Mary Grew (wife of Sydney Grew, editor of The British Musician, a periodical published in the 1920’s and late 30’s), and entitled “Some Obscure English Diarists and their Music”. In this she noted:“Thus we had published in England recently (by Williams and Norgate Ltd.) a book called “A Diary of an Eighteenth-Century Garden” written by Dion Clayton Calthrop; into which come a few passing musical references, though only as to music as a part of social life: “…The church choir to visit me with carols of that good King who did look out on the feast of Stephen and many others. Mighty pretty to see and to hear, with lanthorns gleaming on the snow and the cobbler playing on his fiddle.”
Although Eleanor’s contribution to Calthrop’s quaintly pictorial prose was not included in Eva Grew’s account, perhaps this particular image appealed to her when she accepted the commission, coming so soon after the illustrations for Alexander Moring.The American edition of the book, published in that same year by Frederick A. Stokes of New York, was described thus: “A Diary of an Eighteenth-Century Garden, by the hand of Dion Clayton Calthrop, with decorations by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.”
THE GENTLE ART, by D. C. Calthrop, Williams & Norgate, London
One colour illustration and 19 line drawings
This was, apparently in Calthrop’s own words, “A perambulatory book of Nature, her streams, lakes, rivers and ponds, in fact all such places where the Gentle Art may be practiced.” It calls to mind one of the most tranquil vignettes for Joseph Arthur Gibbs’ tale of Cotswold country pursuits, and Eleanor’s first foray into book illustration, back in 1898.
Frederick A. Stokes again published an edition in 1928 with Eleanor’s “decorations”. After her death in 1945, certain of Eleanor’s illustrations were republished in the following titles:
TREASURY OF BEST-LOVED POEMS, edited by Christopher R. More, Gramercy Publishing, New York
FORGET-ME-NOT: A FLORAL TREASURY, by P. Todd, Brown and Company, London
CHILDREN’S CLASSICS: LANCELOT: THE ADVENTURES AND ROMANCES, by Christine Chaundler, illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale and Thomas MacKenzie, Random House, New York
This newsletter could not have been written without the help of many people.
Thank you to Ann Carling, for her diligent sleuthing and unearthing of quotes, period articles, elusive imagery and rare titles (even discovering several books illustrated by Eleanor that have not appeared in bibliographies), her indefatigable proofreading and organizing of material and for the captions for the image galleries.
To Ruth Prickett, for sending Emily Hicks’ informative article on Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, Illustration magazine, Spring 2007, issue 11.
To Dr Mark McDonald, Curator of Old Master Prints and Spanish Drawings, Department of Prints and Drawings, at The British Museum. (For preparing and sending the magnificent “Guardian Angel” print.)
Thanks to John Takis, for kindly sending along frustratingly elusive pages from the July 1901 issue of The Studio.
To the following, for helpful interest, photographs, facts and suggestions: The Rev. Sandra Lovern and particularly Archivist Anne Griffiths at the Church of St Andrew, Chew Magna, Somerset.
Pamela Gerrish Nunn, Associate Professor in Art History at the School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Cliff and Monica Robinson for the photograph of Eleanor’s stained glass designer’s mark.
Arthur Tait at The Friends of Brompton Cemetery.
Pat Garrett & Paul Goldman of The Children’s Books History Society
The image of The Forerunner is © The Liverpool Museum. All the images reproduced here are of course the property of their respective owners.
Additionally, I would like to express a certain regret at not being able to present a fuller selection of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s work, and of a more consistent quality. Many of her books are now quite expensive (when they can be found) and online copies are often PDF files of a quality that leaves much to be desired.
Much imagery, while documented, is only available through long and complicated (and expensive) transactions – notably the intriguing “Legends of the Flowers” and many others. Of some images available, little or no information can be found. Even her date of birth is given variously as 1871 and 1872.
Very little has been recently published about Eleanor’s life and work, with the exception of a lengthy chapter in “Illustrating Camelot” by Barbara Tepa Lupack and Alan Lupack, which provides an insightful analysis of her illustrations for Tennyson’s Idylls. Strangely, she is completely absent from the otherwise excellent “By a Woman’s Hand: Illustrators of the Golden Age” by Mary Carolyn Waldrep, an overview of the female illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration.
A lavish volume of her work is grandly overdue.
Posted by John on 15/05/12