M. Oliver Rae Etchings

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In making these images of some of the more picturesque Cambridge Colleges, Mabel Oliver (1868-1956, who used M. Oliver Rae as a pseudonym) was depicting her home town. Having been born in Jesus Lane, she lived in Cambridge before heading to London, to train at the Slade School of Fine Art.

During her artistic career, Mabel Oliver specialised in pastel portraits, and watercolours of rural and coastal scenes. She had a particular liking for subjects that included water, giving her the chance to show off her skill in depicting reflections.

But it is as an etcher that Mabel Oliver is probably best known. The process of etching on copper plates involves using quantities of strong acid, and Mabel Oliver had special acid-resistant sinks put in at a number of her houses.

Her etchings cover a wide range of subjects, including rural villages and country scenes, but the majority of her work features schools, and the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. As the images in this collection show, here again Mabel Oliver liked to make use of reflections where she could, with college buildings appearing in the river Cam.

Although after she married she signed her paintings ‘M. Parker’, she used the pseudonym ‘M. Oliver Rae’ on her etchings. This seems to have been a deliberate ruse to conceal the fact that she was a woman, as this might have diminished her work in the eyes of the agents who sold it, as well as among the buying public.

Yet Mabel Oliver’s etchings of Oxbridge colleges show a real talent for rendering architecture in just a few delicate lines. Their relatively small size made them particularly collectible among visitors to the two university towns, and they continue to be sought-after for their accuracy and grace.