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They say behind every great man there's a great woman!

In our everyday work it is all too often that we come across accomplished female artists of the past who, on further research, are found to be documented primarily for their association with a better-known man. The recent release of the film Suffragette is a timely reminder of the sacrifices made by women in the past to enact social reform and secure the extension of the franchise to women. 

One such talented 19th-century woman was Lady Susan Vernon Harcourt (née Holroyd), wife of Edward William Vernon Harcourt, English naturalist and Conservative politician. It was through her husband that Susan travelled abroad and had rich opportunity to draw foreign sights.  

Edward Vernon Harcourt was the author of Sporting in Algeria (1859). A watercolour portrait by Susan Vernon Harcourt in our collection shows an Arab at Algiers, presumably painted whilst accompanying her husband in North Africa. She would have mixed in the leading intellectual circles of the day; Edward corresponded with Charles Darwin, with Darwin citing Edward’s observations about the colour of horses in Algeria in his follow-up work to On the Origin of the Species.

Lady Susan V Harcourt, Arab Algiers - Original 19th-century watercolour painting

 Lady Susan V Harcourt, Arab Algiers - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Edward Harcourt also wrote Sketch of Madeira (1851), a handbook to the Portuguese island (Darwin corresponded with Harcourt about the species of bird present on the island). Susan Harcourt again created fine drawings of views on the island, which were published as a book of lithographs called Sketches in Madeira and were informative of the landscapes and customs of the island:

Lady Susan Vernon Harcourt - Sketches in Madeira

We find that it is not uncommon that historically a talented female artist is found to be wife to a male artist – the mutual artistic life of such couples a conducive and productive environment for both parties. Eva Walbourn (neé Knight), active 1888-1930, is one such artist – wife to the better-known Victorian landscape painter Ernest Charles Walbourn (1872-1927).

The Artist's Wife Eva Walbourn - by Ernest Walbourn

The Artist's Wife by Ernest Walbourn

Eva gained recognition in her own right as an accomplished painter of garden scenes. She is recorded as being a wood carver, carpenter and sculptor. Before marrying she lived in Cardiff, Wales, where she was a member of The South Wales Art Society. She married Ernest in 1906, and not only encouraged her husband’s art but also often assisted him in painting the backgrounds of his larger works.

After Ernest’s death, Eva lived near Bristol and regularly exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of the Royal West of England Academy. Our collection of oils on board showcases Eva Walbourn’s individual talent. She excelled at depicting the cultivated beauty of English gardens, with an impressionistic use of colour and brushstroke, and eye for surprising composition. Her paintings are a delight of summer light and floral bloom.

Eva Walbourn, Coastal Garden - Original early 20th-century oil painting

Eva Walbourn, Garden Pathway - Original early 20th-century oil painting

Eva Walbourn, Garden Pathway - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Historically, it is evident that close association with esteemed men could bring opportunities and recognition to these women artists that otherwise could have escaped them altogether. But now it is important to revisit and celebrate their work in its own right. With news in Britain this week of proposed legislation forcing employers to publish the amount awarded to men and women as bonuses - and expose the gender pay gap - the fight for equality goes on.

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Fabulous Florals as summer draws to a close

With the nights drawing in, we are pleased to be reminded of summer and to showcase what we think is a very special group of flower paintings – take a look at our Floral Collection to see the full range. The paintings appear similar in execution but they are in fact by a variety of female artists, and they form part of our Lady Frances Mary Perring Collection.

Dating from as early as 1821, some are inscribed as gifts to Lady Perring (née Roe) from the hands of friends of similarly high standing – such as Beatrice G. Drummond of Edinburgh and Susan Broadhurst of Bath. This wonderful script on the reverse of one painting is almost as impressive as the florals on the front!

The floral still life was once a medium for moralising motifs, such as the lily representing purity in 17th-century works. This magnificent painting by celebrated Dutch artist Cornelis de Heem (which can be seen on display at Dyrham Park near Bath) shows not only the lily but overripe fruit, symbolic of the transience of life.

By the 19th century however, a widening interest in natural history and improving printing processes saw the reproduction of fine botanical drawings in books and catalogues. These artists painted with outstanding precision, in what we would now term a photorealist style. The hand-painted close-up detail on these watercolours is quite exceptional to the 21st-century eye:

        

Looking at the paintings, we time-travel back to an era predating the self-consciousness of modernism, conceptualism, postmodernism – they speak of an age when upper class females had the leisure time to devote to exacting artistic pursuits, and when realism in painting was highly prized.

Just as the photorealist painters of the 1970s used photographs as the basis for their art, it is likely that our female artists copied from popular prints of botanical illustrations rather than painting from life. See how our floral watercolour by Beatrice G. Drummond (left) resembles a print by Belgian botantical painter Pierre- Joseph Redouté (right).

                                     

Not to be dismissed as the product of women with time on their hands, botanical illustrations were considered scientifically valid – and even today the development of photographic plates has not made scientific illustration obsolete.

Remarkably, upper class women in the 19th century often published books anonymously as it was considered shameful to link a woman’s name to any commercial venture. It seems all the more important that we resurrect, admire and celebrate these women’s work anew.

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119 years to the day since the death of William Morris

“I am the handmaid of the earth,
I broider fair her glorious gown”        From Flora by William Morris

One of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain, Morris died on 3 October 1896. Morris was a fascinating figure – not least because of the way he spanned the disciplines of art, design, poetry and politics. Studying 19th-century botanical paintings as we have been recently at Somerset & Wood, it is interesting to consider them in the popular context of the "Morris Style".

The metaphor of nature "embroidering" earth in Morris’s poem Flora conveys the wonderful union of nature and decorative art as one. Furthermore, that art and nature should be brought into the home in the form of interior design is a notion that we celebrate at Somerset & Wood!

                           

Morris designed over 50 wallpaper patterns. Although initially expensive, by the 1890s they popularly furnished middle-class homes. The "Morris style" made commercially available at his shop premises in Bloomsbury, then Oxford Street, enabled the public to furnish their homes in a coordinated and fashionable way. He transformed the way in which people of relatively modest means decorated their houses - and his influence lives on 119 years after his death.

 “Laden Autumn here I stand
Worn of heart, and weak of hand:
Nought but rest seems good to me,
Speak the word that sets me free.”

From Autumn by William Morris

Morris’s sumptuous designs covered all seasons, drawing on the rich and suggestive colours of autumn foliage as well as the blooms of spring and summer. And to meditate on seasons in art is to meditate on the cyclical passing of time.

                            

 We end with a curious 19th-century pressed leaf work we have – or in this case actually pressed seaweed. The delicate translucent fronds have survived over a century, nature crystallised as art. A popular Victorian craft of which surely Morris would have approved?

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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Dismaland – Somerset’s most disappointing day out for September only!

A local day out at the nationally hyped bemusement park was an exciting novelty for us, the mixed faces braving the long queues testament to Banksy’s appeal – from Weston granny to London art aficionado.

Banksy’s controversy, whether around traditional arguments of street vs high art, or the inevitable paradox when the "underground" becomes the "establishment", is always a draw. And drawn we were, as we headed to Weston-super-Mare to check out “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”.

Once inside, you can’t shake the uncanny feeling that you are part of the show, that somehow your reactions are not your own. And of course, in taking photos – which we did, we all did, continuously – we are not objective reporter but the pawns in some great post-modem artistic video game…

     

 

Banksy has said that technical calculations mean that the event must end as planned and it cannot remain as a fixture on the Weston-super-Mare tourist scene. And that has got to be part of its attraction, its intrigue, its charm – it will soon be gone in a puff of magical Disney smoke as the artistic tide goes out, and Weston returns to the traditional seaside resort it has been for over 100 years.

Dismaland's mini golf course                                          Weston-super-Mare’s mini golf course              

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Ed Smith - Abstract Expressionism meets Surrealism in the 1960s!

We are excited to launch our group of paintings by Ed Smith (1923-1988). Check out his fantastic botanical-themed watercolours. We love the colours and the patterning effect Smith achieves, as well as the Surrealist, biomorphic quality he brings to his abstract style. These works are a visual feast of delicate line, layering and colour.

Interestingly, they bridge the styles of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. His work seems to embody both American and European sensibilities. Born in Detroit, Smith joined the Art Students League in New York. After the Second World War, he spent time in Paris, studied at the Royal Academy of Art in London in the 1940s, and showed at the Arts Council in 1948. A major Ed Smith Retrospective was held at the John Denham Gallery in London in 1991.

Smith’s palette and expressive energy resemble the an artist such as Jackson Pollock.

      

 Yet the paintings also recall the meandering ‘automatic’ drawings of the Surrealists of the 1930s – and the organic forms of works such as Joan Miro’s biomorphic compositions, Andre Masson’s undergrowth paintings or Cecil Collins’s paintings of nature and the cosmos.

        

Smith's subjects included New York bridges, abstract or surreal landscapes and architectural structures, and astute portraits of down-and-out characters – eclectic subjects and styles which tell of an interesting life!

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