Helen Allingham began to paint old cottages and farms in the Surrey countryside from a desire to record their picturesque appearances before they were permanently altered by restoration or demolition. She was one of a wide circle of contemporary artists and writers, such as Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) and the Pre-Raphaelites, who sought to preserve scenes of simple, pastoral life in their works. Her nostalgic, subtly romanticised scenes of cottages and country people were already extremely sought-after in her lifetime and continue to be the most popular of her works today.
Helen Allingham visited the Isle of Wight a number of times during the 1880s and early 1890s. Her association with the island was the result of her husband William's admiration for Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), with whom he had been acquainted for some time. When the Allinghams moved to the Surrey hamlet of Sandhills in 1881, they found themselves living barely six miles from Tennyson's house at Blackdown. The poet had another house at Farringford on the Isle of Wight and William longed to receive an invitation for the family to visit Tennyson there. He even went to the extent of arranging family holidays in nearby Shanklin. When the invitation to Farringford finally came, it was too late for William, who died in 1889, but Helen and her children accepted gladly and their visit was a great success. Helen returned frequently to Farringford and the surrounding area, seeking out picturesque cottages and buildings, such as that in the present watercolour of Hook's Farm. The farm has unfortunately now been demolished but is here preserved for posterity as Allingham intended.
We are grateful to Annabel Watts for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.