Helen Allingham, “Harvest Moon,” 1879, watercolor, private collection

In England, Watts Gallery will soon be the first gallery to publicly exhibit important works from the oeuvre of Helen Allingham — the first woman to be admitted to full membership in the Royal Watercolor Society in 1890.

Hard to believe that Helen Allingham has yet to receive a major public art gallery exhibition, but that’s all about to change on November 21, when Watts Gallery will present just that. On view through February 18, 2018, the exhibition will “seek to reassert the reputation of Helen Allingham as a leading woman artist and as a key figure in Victorian art,” the gallery writes. “Bringing … rarely seen works from private collections together with important paintings from public collections, the exhibition will demonstrate Allingham’s extraordinary talent as a watercolorist and will examine how she became one of the most successful creative women of the nineteenth century.

Helen Allingham, “Feeding the Fowls, Pinner,” watercolor, Royal Watercolor Society

“Having moved to London aged just seventeen, Allingham trained at the Royal Female School of Art and the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. By 1870, she was pursuing a professional career as a graphic artist and children’s book illustrator, becoming the only female founding member of The Graphic, a new illustrated weekly magazine. Illuminating Allingham’s early career, the exhibition will display an array of graphic works, including the illustrations to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd when first published as a serial in the Cornhill Magazine.

Helen Allingham, “William Allingham,” 1875, watercolor, Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

“Following her marriage to the renowned Irish poet William Allingham in 1874, Allingham began to focus on working in watercolor, producing vivid depictions of rural England. As the boom of industrial development continued to threaten traditional rural life, Allingham’s art captured unspoiled landscapes and historic cottage architecture in exquisite detail; she was passionately concerned for the preservation of the English countryside. In 1886, she became the first woman artist to be awarded a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society, entitled Surrey Cottages. Her depictions of Shere, Witley, Haslemere, and other villages across the region will be included in the show. Many of these picturesque timber-framed cottages can still be identified today.

Helen Allingham, “The Little Path, Kitchen Garden, Sharston Manor, Cheshire,” 1920, watercolor, Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

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

Helen Allingham, “Lord Tennyson,” 1890, watercolor, Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

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

Helen Allingham, “Our Primrose Wood, Brook, Surrey,” 1913, watercolor, Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

“The exhibition continues Watts Gallery Trust’s program of exhibitions devoted to pioneering women artists. Guest curated by the pre-eminent Allingham scholar Annabel Watts, it offers an unprecedented overview of the artist’s work. It will be accompanied by the publication of a new edition of Annabel’s book on Allingham. Drawing on extensive research, this publication seeks out the actual cottages painted by Helen Allingham a century ago, comparing how they look today with the original watercolors.”

To learn more, visit Watts Gallery.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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