The notable art of watercolours

Redhill, August 1876 by Sissy Waley [MS 363 A3006/3/5/4 page 37 1]

Redhill, August 1876, by Julia Matilda Cohen [MS 363 A3006/3/5/4 page 37 number 1]

For any young woman to consider herself accomplished, according to the snobbish Caroline Bingley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, she required the following skills:

“…a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages….; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions…”

Such accomplishments marked out women as belonging to a certain class and were part of what made them marriageable. Drawing and embroidery were part of a conventional education for young women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and manuals such as Bowles’s Drawing Book for Ladies were produced to provide images for copying.  It has been suggested by some critics that encouraging women to copy from already-existing works of art was a way of constraining originality, thus ensuring that women artists remained amateurs rather than professionals.

Watercolour of view in the garden at Northcourt, 18-- [MS 80 A276/5]

View in the garden at Northcourt, 18–, by Lady Gordon [MS 80 A276/17/5]

As July is World Watercolour Month, we look at some examples of watercolours produced by women held within Special Collections.

Watercolour of garden just made at Northcourt, 1843 [MS 80 A276/17/3]

Garden at Northcourt, 1843 [MS 80 A276/17/3]

The Gordon family collection (MS 80) contains some fine examples of watercolours of the family home and garden, Northcote on the Isle of Wight. These are the work of Julia Isabella Louisa Bennett, Lady Gordon (1775-1867) and possibly also by her daughter Julia Gordon. Lady Gordon was an accomplished artist, remembered as one of J.M.W.Turner’s few known pupils, who also studied with David Cox and took lessons from Thomas Girtin. Other examples of her work are held at the Tate in London and in National Trust collections.

Pride of India, Cape Province, 1932, by Charlotte Chamberlain [MS 100/1/3]

Pride of India, Cape Province, 1932, by Charlotte Chamberlain [MS 100/1/3]

Charlotte Chamberlain was a member of the Chamberlain family of Birmingham, one of seven daughters of the industrialist Arthur Chamberlain. She was a graduate of Newham College, Cambridge, and of the University of Birmingham, the foundation of which her uncle, the politician Joseph Chamberlain, had played a leading role. On the death of their father in 1913, Charlotte and her sister Mary moved to the New Forest and they both became closely involved with the development of and notable benefactors of what was later to become the University of Southampton.

Red gum, Cape Province, 1932 [MS100/1/3]

Red gum, Cape Province, 1932, by Mary Chamberlain [MS100/1/3]

A member of one of the prominent Anglo-Jewish families, Julia Matilda Cohen née Waley (1853-1917) married Nathaniel Louis Cohen in 1873 when she was 20 years of age. The Waley Cohen collection (MS 363) includes Julia’s sketchbooks for the period 1874-81 and 1895.

From Beddgelert [MS363 A3006/3/5/4 page 37 number 2]

View from Beddgelert, June 1875, by Julia Matilda Cohen [MS363 A3006/3/5/4 page 37 number 2]

The earlier sketchbook was an album given to her as a repository for her sketches by her Aunt (Elizabeth) and Uncle (Jacob Quixano Henriques) in September 1874 to mark her reaching her majority. It contains sketches of places she visited around Britain and Europe including: Perthshire, Scotland; Windsor Castle, Chichester and Bournemouth, England; North Wales; and Simplon, The Tyrol, Domodossola, Venice, Verona and Lake Como, Italy.

View from Cricceth Castle, 1878, by Julia Cohen [MS 363 A3006/3/5/4 page 45 number 2]

View from Cricceth Castle, 1878, by Julia Matilda Cohen [MS 363 A3006/3/5/4 page 45 number 2]

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