Friday 24 October 2008

Christiana Herringham 1852 - 1929

On Friday afternoon I had an unexpected email
asking if I had a painting by Lady Herringham in my office.
I didn't but I was intrigued and flicked onto Google
to find out more about her.

I discovered a woman of astonishing energy,
social ideals and artistic vision.

Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian Art Scene - Mary Lago

She was the daughter of Thomas Wilde Powell,
a wealthy patron of the Arts and Crafts movement.
In 1880 Christiana married the physician, Wilmot Herringham
and they had two sons but from 1889 at the age of 37
she became a well known and admired public figure.
The early influences of art and social justice
that were central to the Arts and Crafts movement
seem to have directed much of her public adult life.

Suffrage March

She was committed to Suffrage movement from 1889 onwards
and there are descriptions of her
embroidering velvet banners for Suffrage marches
using silk that she had brought back from India.
She was a friend of artist suffragettes
such as Annie Swynnerton who painted her sons.

Higher education for women was at a very early stage
and Christiana was a generous benefactor
of the new college in Cambridge, Newnham,
and a friend of one of the first female academics, Mary Bateson.
Her husband became a Governor of Bedford College,
the first college for women in London.

Laboratory, Bedford College

She was a talented artist and copyist of Old Masters.
Her 1899 translation of an Italian study
of the challenging technique of tempera
(which uses egg to fix paint pigments)
was very influential and led to the foundation of
the Society of Painters in Tempera in 1901.
Many artists of the time experimented with tempera
and the Society encouraged painters relearning the technique.

Madonna and Child Marianne Stokes (1907)

The late Victorian period was notable for grand schemes
to benefit the general public such as libraries and museums.
Christiana was the only woman on the committee
which created the National Art Collection Fund in 1903
with the objective of making art available to all.
Despite protests from supporters of Impressionism
the first purchase was the Rokeby Venus by Velasquez.
It seems a courageous choice for a woman of her time.

Venus at her Toilet (Rokeby Venus) Velasquez

Another of her initiatives was the foundation of the India Society
which was intended to encourage an apprecation of Indian art.
In 1906 and 1911 she travelled to India
and as part of her work for the India Society
she copied the Buddhist cave paintings at Ajanta near Hyderbad
which were showing signs of deterioration.
A number of Indian painters of the time such as Nandalal Bose
were influenced by her and she may have been the inspiration
for Mrs Moore in A Passage to India by E.M. Forster.

Ajanta Frescoes Lady Herringham

When she returned from India in 1911 at the age of 59
she began to suffer from paranoia
and spent the rest of her life in private clinics.

One of her sons died from acute arthritis as a child
and the other died in the First World War.

She was a very modern woman;
the causes that she supported
were ones that we value highly today.
It is a tragedy that she is now completely forgotten...
we owe much to women like Christiana Herringham.


RW said...

I had no idea.

Lynn said...

My goodness gracious, what some people accomplish! Thanks for sharing Christiana with us. And is it just a coincidence that you should post all of this stuff about tempera on the same day that I post photos of my child who has painted himself with tempera paints? The Bloggy Universe is a strange and awesome place...

Mary said...

I like the sound of her very much.

Isn't the face of the Madonna exquisite?

driftwood said...

she sounds like one impressive lady. The Rokeby Venus is one of the paintings currently in an outside exhibition in York that was organized by the National Gallery.

Gina said...

Thank you Alice. I'd never heard of her before but what an interesting life.

Fairlie - said...

Thanks for that. She is not completely forgotten - not while people like you exist.

dragonfly said...

I was going to say exactly what Fairlie said.

Lime Cat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Limecat said...

I wish I received such interesting emails.

I fear I am surrounded by Philistines.

trash said...

Are visionaries now thin on the ground?

Btw is it just me or does that face in the mirror not seem to fit the body in that Velasquez?

Anonymous said...

And we owe much to you for introducing us to Christiana.

Thank you, Alice.

kristina said...

What an amazing woman. And I particularly like the idea that she was the model for Mrs Moore. K x

Adrian Watson said...

I came across your blog while researching the Powell family tree. I am very distantly related to Christiana, and I was pleased to be able to read something about her life and work.