Beyond Watercolour Gardens: Helen Allingham Revisited

Part of my degree has been to do a placement at a Museum! I’m actually doing placements at three museums, because why not?  It’s a really great opportunity to see how different places work and I help to make their workload a little easier.

At the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum, I’ve been working with the collections and doing exhibition research. For this exhibit! It opened on July 6th and will run through October.



“Beyond Watercolour Gardens: Helen Allingham Revisited”, takes a look at the Victorian watercolourist Helen Allingham (nee Paterson).  She was a remarkable woman who succeeded in world that wasn’t kind to women or artists and especially both.




Allingham lived in Hampstead for almost 30 years and Burgh House & Hampstead Museum have the largest public collection of her work. Her grandson Patrick also donated a lot of personal items like her family bibles, letters and photographs.




The exhibit not only looked at Allingham but also had works and responses by contemporary artist, Rea Stavropoulos.  Rea’s quotes, works and thoughts reveal more layers to this incredibly private artist.




I was generously brought into the exhibition discussion between Rea and Becky Lodge, the Burgh House Curator.  Not only was I doing research but I helped to pick the objects displayed in the exhibit and even write some of the text panels.




My panels focused on Allingham’s early life and career.  Allingham came from an incredibly artistic family, her Aunt Laura Herford was the first woman accepted into the Royal Academy school! Herford only signed her initials on her submission and was accepted. When she arrived at the first day they didn’t believe that she was the person who made the submission, and made her draw to prove her skill.  because of that stunt, she successfully opened up the school to women.




Allingham was also a pioneer and started off as an illustrator! She worked for magazines like Cornhill and even got a job as a full time illustrator. She was, of course, the only woman on staff.  She was the first illustrator of Thomas Hardy’s, Far from the Madding Crowd.




Although she was a successful and excellent illustrator, Allingham much preferred to paint in watercolour. When she got married to the Pre-Raphaelite poet William Allingham, she gained a level of stability that allowed her to pursue the art she always wanted.




Her marriage gave her respectability and access to places that as a single, working woman, she could not have gained entry.  William was really well connected due to his correspondence with many of the so-called ‘great men’ of the Victorian Era. He counted Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and other Pre-Raphaelites as his intimates.




After their short but very happy marriage (William was significantly older and passed away after an illness), Allingham took up watercolour painting seriously.




She loved to go out to the countryside and paint the cottages and gardens of the working class.  Her work emphasised a sort of beautiful nostalgia for merry old England in a time when society was rapidly changing (much to the detriment of many of these historic buildings).




Allingham was wildly successful for her time, became the first woman elected into the Royal Watercolour Society, and financially supported her family throughout her life. She was immensely private and never remarried. She was devoted to William and edited and published some of his works and letters.




Allingham used her respectability and marriage to push the boundaries of what was acceptable for a woman, wife and mother to be doing. I admire her very much.

Thank you to Becky, Rea & everyone at Burgh House for such a great exhibit!

To see the exhibit:

Beyond Watercolour Gardens: Helen Allingham Revisited

6, July – 9, October 2016

Burgh House & Hampstead Museum

New End Square



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