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Clubs, Cliques and Collaborations: Artistic Friendships in Victorian London
'Considering what busy people we all were...I wonder at our meeting as often as we did'. 1
Victorian artists loved clubs. While dreaming of election to the Royal Academy, the most prestigious of artistic societies, they established their own rival clubs and cliques (the Hogarth Club; the St John's Wood Clique); they organised and attended musical soirees where they mixed with potential patrons; they collaborated on artistic ventures (the Oxford Union murals) and took sketching expeditions together; they chose to live close to one another in 'colonies'; they drilled with the Artists' Rifles, sang glees together, and some sat around the Punch table every Wednesday.2
Their antics provided material for novelists, gossip-columnists and cartoonists. Thackeray depicted the artists of Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, in The Newcomes; George Du Maurier described the musical gatherings of the Moray Minstrels on Campden Hill in Trilby; Trollope drew on the Cosmopolitan Club, Charles Street, where G.F. Watts and Holman Hunt sat down to eat and drink with actresses, journalists, novelists and politicians, in writing Phineas Redux.
Some of the more unusual items in the Forbes Collection offer intimate glimpses into these multi-layered and inter-connected social and professional circles. Four tall, narrow paintings (lots 274-7) come from the palace of art created by Lawrence Alma-Tadema at 17 Grove End Road, St John's Wood. This extraordinary house was designed by an artist steeped in the classical world. Visitors walked through a loggia with a glazed roof and tessellated pavement to the entrance, with its welcoming inscription 'Salve' on the lintel. From here, a steep staircase lined with burnished brass led up to the studio; or visitors could turn left, pass through the conservatory, into the hall and the domestic side of the house.3 Here, the walls of the fireplace alcove were inset with forty-five tall narrow paintings given to Alma-Tadema by his friends and professional colleagues. 'Substantial visiting-cards [and] charming pictures,' in the words of the critic F.G. Stephens4, they were each 'painted to fill its own particular niche in the wall of the house beautiful'.5
Alma-Tadema began collecting the panels when living in Townshend House, Regent's Park (1870-86), the last ones were acquired early in the twentieth century. They represented the styles and subject-matter favoured by a cross-section of nineteenth century artists, from a small version of The Bath of Psyche by Frederic Leighton to A Javanese Girl by John Singer Sargent. A visit to Grove End Road was consequently not dissimilar to attending the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Of the four paintings in the Forbes Collection, two are by Holland Park artists, Colin Hunter (lot 276) and Val Prinsep (lot 274). An Indian Water-Carrier is one of many studies Prinsep made when he went to India to paint the Durbar celebrating the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. John MacWhirter (lot 277) was a neighbour of Alma-Tadema in St John's Wood, and Alma-Tadema's daughter Anna (lot 275) worked in her own first floor studio within the family home. Her panel of flags, 'a reminiscence of Queen Victoria's Jubilee'6, was a birthday present to her father.
Alma-Tadema belonged to the St John's Wood Art Club, which was founded in 1895 by Dendy Sadler and J.B. Burgess.7 The Forbes Collection includes a leather-bound box containing eight drawers (lot 124), a gift from the copyright committee of the club to T.E. Scrutton. Inside the drawers are paintings and drawings characteristic of the committee members, smaller examples of the 'visiting-cards' on display around Alma-Tadema's fireplace. Members of the club were linked by the location of their studios rather than by any particular style: Solomon J. Solomon's watercolour of a knight in armour standing beside his horse (a study for the full-size oil painting is also in the Forbes Collection, lot 65) contrasts with George Storey's delicate portrait of an aesthetic young lady holding a blue and white porcelain vase. Alfred East's impressionist sketch of trees beside a lake was presumably executed en plein air.
Storey was the only member of the Club who had belonged to the earlier St John's Wood Clique, founded in 1862. This group also included Storey's brother-in-law Philip Calderon, George Dunlop Leslie, John E. Hodgson, W.F. Yeames and his brother-in-law David Wilkie Wynfield, and Henry Stacy Marks. Honorary members included Val Prinsep, his cousin Eyre Crowe, George Du Maurier and Frederick Walker. They behaved more like the young knights-at-arms they enjoyed painting than artists competing in the market-place of London's art world. Stacy Marks expressed their creed in his reminiscences:
We have all of us now to work together, and do our very best, not caring who is first or last, but helping each other, so that all may come out strong. The better each man's picture, the better for all.8
The Clique enjoyed going on painting trips together. In 1866 they rented Hever Castle to serve as both lodgings and inspiration for their subject paintings. They joined the Artists' Rifles for the fun of 'bloodless field-days' and 'the delightful incomprehensibility of the manoevres'9 and they regularly visited Moray Lodge on Campden Hill, the home of the silk mercer Arthur Lewis. Here there were games of cards, smoking 'ad libitum, as one's eyes, hair, and clothes testified the next day'10, and sometimes charades, the artists dressing up as Old Master paintings. Several of their works are in the Forbes Collection.
In the 1860s, St John's Wood was closely associated with the style and subject matter of the Clique. Holland Park, on the other hand, was characterised during the same period by two houses and two artists: Little Holland House where G.F. Watts lodged with Sara and Thoby Prinsep and the orientalist palace created by George Aitchison for Frederic Leighton. However, even before Alma-Tadema moved to Grove End Road in 1886, the styles of the 'colonies' had become blurred as aritsts with very different interests moved in. Luke Fildes and Marcus Stone, for example, became neighbours of Leighton and Watts in Holland Park in the late 1870s, their studio-houses designed for work and domestic life by the 'suave and persuasive'11 architect Richard Norman Shaw. Neither was remotely interested in classical art, seeking to express rather 'the popular mind with a feeling that art can be an exceedingly paying business.'12 By 1884 a writer in the Spectator was complaining that 'we want to see less of a club bounded by St John's Wood on one side and Holland Park on the other.' 13
The emergence of a club extending from Holland Park to St John's Wood is reflected in one of the four autograph fans in the Forbes Collection owned by the painter Andrew Gow (lot 125). It was owned by the painter Andrew Gow, who in 1890 moved from a small studio close in to Leighton in Holland Park Road to 15 Grove End Road, two houses away from Alma-Tadema. Between about 1891 and 1897 he collected the autographs and signature sketches of artist-friends, presumably as and when they visted his home.
Gow's new neighbours in St John's Wood included Alma-Tadema, the landscape and animal painter Henry William Banks Davis (who lived, appropriately, in Landseer's former studio house at 1 St John's Wood Road), John MacWhirter, J.W. Waterhouse and Briton Riviere. Old friends enticed from Holland Park included Leighton, Watts, Stone and Boughton, also Millais from Kensington and Edward Poynter from Shepherds Bush. Frank Dicksee and Solomon J. Solomon both moved from west London (Dicksee lived next door to Boughton and Solomon opposite Leighton) to St John's Wood during the 1890s. The artist who travelled furthest to enjoy Gow's hospitality was Hubert Herkomer, who had built the sprawling, Lululaund at Bushey, 'a marriage of Strawberry Hill Gothick and Bavarian Art Nouveau arranged by Celtic fairies'.14
The oriental autograph fan (lot 324) brings together names from Holland Park and St John's Wood, also the worlds of Punch and the theatre, all inscribed across a painted peacock. The links are complex. The sculptor Edgar Boehm, who was the teacher and close friend of Princess Louise, helped to embellish the homes of Leighton and Alma-Tadema; W.S. Gilbert and Marcus Stone shared the same architect (Gilbert acquired Norman Shaw's 'Grim's Dyke' in the Harrow Weald in 1890); Leighton contributed one drawing to Punch (it was of his favourite model Dorothy Dene to illustrate The Schoolmaster Abroad in 1886), but he was also a talented singer, as were the Punch regulars Charles Keene, who sang 'as it were with tears in his voice',15 and George Du Maurier ('a nightingale singing in the orchard full of pink apple blossom was not as sweet')16. Keene was also a regular guest at Birket Foster's house 'The Hill', at Witley in Surrey.
The fan inscribed by George Boughton 'To Rosalie from a friend' (lot 126) is decorated with seven portraits of girls by artists including Dicksee, Alma-Tadema and Marcus Stone. W.P. Frith, soon to be seventy years old, provided 'Rosalie' with his self-portrait. But this is also a musical fan. It is inscribed by the pianist Charles Hallé, who was Joseph Joachim's regular accompanist and conductor of the Hallé concerts in Manchester, his brother William Hallé and Ludwig Strauss. Whoever 'Rosalie' was, her parties brought together the 'stars' of the day. The musical parties held by Leighton are well-documented, but the finest musicians of the period performed regularly at several houses in London. These included Alma-Tadema's homes in Regent's Park and St John's Wood; 1 South Audley Street, designed by Aitchison for the banker Stewart Hodgson and decorated with Leighton's paintings of Music and Dance; and 10 Kensington Palace Gardens, home of the industrialist Ernst Benzon.17
The linking of music, art and drama is made explicit in the largest of the autograph fans (lot 325), which is inscribed on both sides with over thirty names. The line-up of the musical and theatrical celebrities is dazzling: the violinists Joachim, Paderewski and Hallé's wife Wilma Norman-Neruda; the Italian cellist Alfredo Piatti; Henry Irving, Ellen and Marion Terry, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Several Punch artists are present, including George Du Maurier, John Tenniel (who draws his own Punch on the fan), Harry Furniss and Linley Sambourne. The Academy is represented by Luke Fildes, Alma-Tadema and Dicksee, but there are also the names of women artists, Alma-Tadema's wife Laura, Marianne Stokes (a close friend of Sambourne's wife Marion) and Clara Montalba, who moved with her three sisters between Venice and their studio on Campden Hill.
Campden Hill, Kensington, appears, indeed, to have a special resonance for the names inscribed, and provides a clue as to the fan's possible ownership. It is mentioned in Beerbohm Tree's inscription: 'I would I were at Campden Hill' and the message from Laura Alma-Tadema '11th July 1893. This is what I wish to Lucy Terry Lewis', connects the fan with a particular family who lived on the Hill. Lucy, who was born in 1871, was the daughter of Ellen Terry's sister Kate and Arthur Lewis, founder of the Moray Minstrels. She grew up at Moray Lodge on Campden Hill, close to her aunt and uncle Florence Terry and the solicitor William Morris. Ellen and Marion Terry lived further west in Earl's Court. Moray Lodge was recognised at the time not only for its position, 'one of the few remaining rustic spots in the overbuilt district between Kensington and Notting Hill' but also for the quality of its entertainments, 'a central gathering point where widely distinct circles meet on common ground'18. But the Morrises' house in Campden Hill Road was also famous for its artistic gatherings. The names on the fan reveal the coming together of individuals representing very different institutions, from Punch and the Lyceum Theatre to commerce and trade. All share a love of the arts. The fan is a miniature version of Alma-Tadema's hall of paintings, with the inscription (from Richard II) above the mantlepiece:
I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends
1. Henry Holiday, Reminiscences of My Life, London, 1914, pp.286-7.
2. See Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle, New Haven, 1999, and Giles Walkley, Artists' Houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994.
3. See Julian Treuherz, 'Alma-Tadema, aesthete, architect and interior designer', in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1996-7, pp. 45-56.
4. F.G. Stephens, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A., London, 1895, pp.15-16.
5. Rudolph de Cordova, 'The Panels in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Hall', Strand Magazine, vol xxiv, no. 144, December 1902, p.615.
6. Ibid., p.622.
7. See Giles Walkley, op. cit., p.200, for Sydney Hall's painting of the St John's Wood Art Club (National Portrait Gallery) showing Hacker tracing Alma-Tadema's silhouette on the clubroom wall while other members look on.
8. Henry Stacy Marks, Pen and Pencil Sketches, London, 1894, vol 1, p. 147.
9. Ibid., pp. 170-173.
10. Ibid., p. 186.
11. According to the architect Reginald Blomfield; see N.Pevsner, 'Richard Norman Shaw', in P.Ferriday (ed.), Victorian Architecture London, 1953, p.245.
12. T.H. Escott, Personal Forces of the Period, London, 1898; quoted by Paula Gillett in The Victorian Painter's World, Gloucester, 1990, p.34.
13. Spectator, 17 May 1884.
14. Giles Walkley, op. cit. p.170.
15. Henry Stacy Marks, op. cit. vol 1, p.119.
16. J.M. Panton, Leaves from a Life, London, 1908, p.196.
17. See Caroline Dakers, The Holland Park Circle.
18. T.H. Escott, Society in London, London, 1886, pp.164-5.