Women Artists: ‘Painting Days At School of Art Are Perfect Bliss’ (1892-1914)

I originally gave this paper at the Women’s History Network Conference, Southampton, September 2005

 ‘Painting Days at School of Art are perfect bliss: the manuscript diary (1892-1914) of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, art student and craft worker’.

This paper is based on the manuscript diary of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, the first entry in which is for 1 January 1892 and the last for 25 January 1914. I bought the diaries a few years ago, at the time giving them merely a cursory glance and registering only that the world they depicted was one that appealed. At odd intervals I have undertaken some research into the life and work of Sarah Madeleine Martineau and now think that what the diaries reveal is of some general interest.

the Martineaus' house at 122 King's Avenue would have been very similar to this, no 103. (Image courtesy of  Ideal Homes: A History of the South-East London Suburbs)

The Martineaus’ house at 122 King’s Avenue would have been very similar to this, no 104. (Image courtesy of Ideal Homes: A History of the South-East London Suburbs)

She was born in London at 4 South Road (later 122 King’s Avenue), Clapham Park, on 2 May 1872, the final child in the family of David Martineau, the senior partner in a firm of sugar refiners and a leading Clapham Liberal. David Martineau’s grandfather was a brother to the father of Harriet Martineau and Dr James Martineau. In 1856 David and his wife, Sarah, settled in South Road, in leafy Clapham Park. The Martineaus’ house and its immediate neighbours have been demolished, making way for tower blocks, but it was then quite new, was large, double-fronted and detached, set well back from the road, with stabling, and grounds ample enough to include a tennis court.

The Martineaus were Unitarians and with another South London family, the Nettlefolds of Streatham Grove, Norwood, were pillars of the Unitarian church in Effra Road, Brixton. The Martineau family comprised four sons and four daughters, the eldest child, Daisy, being 16 years older than Madeleine. Of the Martineaus’ sons, two married Nettlefold sisters; Unitarians tended to stick together. Although enjoying an active social life the younger Martineau daughters do not seem to have attended many formal parties or dances. Of the daughters only Daisy married; Lillie, Lucy and Lena (such were the diminutives by which they were known) probably lived together in the family home, certainly until the 1940s, and then either together, or near each other, in south London, for the rest of their long lives. At the 1891 census besides members of the immediate family there were also living in the house a cook, a parlour maid, two house maids and a 20-year old cousin, Charles Worthington. Lena possibly had a tenderesse for Charlie; she always mentions any little attention she received from him, but in 1895 he died suddenly – the relevant entry reads: ‘Charlie, the sweetest man that ever lived is dead. He died on Christmas day..’

David Martineau’s sister, Mary, who lived close by with their mother, can be spotted as a member of many of the women’s causes of the day, for instance signing the 1889 Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage. Lena Martineau and her sister Lucy, who was three years older, had been boarders at Roedean school in Sussex, which, recently founded, was much favoured by the daughters of the wealthy non-conformist middle class. When Lena begins her diary in an exercise book in January 1892 one of the first entries relates that Barbara Shore Smith, who had been a contemporary at Roedean, had come to stay and in May 1892 Lena and Lucy went to visit Barbara, then at Girton, staying in lodgings near the college. Lena must have been well aware of all the feminist causes of the day, but, although writing her diary through the years of the main suffrage activity, makes no comment whatsoever on any aspect of the woman question. It must also be mentioned that in the entire 22 years covered by the diary she only mentions one book. On 23 February 1893 she wrote, ‘Have been reading a book called ‘Mona Maclean, medical student’, & think it splendid.’

Perhaps Lena was uninterested in the written word but her free-thinking, prosperous, well-educated family set great store by art.  Lucy and Lena were clearly given every encouragement to practise any aspect of art in which they were interested. Thus apart from visiting friends, playing tennis, taking what seem exceptionally long walks and bicycle rides, and helping with bazaars and garden parties, Lena seems to have been fully occupied with attending art classes and visiting galleries. There were prominent role models very close to home. The two daughters of Dr James Martineau, Gertrude and Edith, together with their sister-in-law, Clara Martineau, were all working artists, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and at the Dudley Gallery. Their work now sells well – a watercolour by Edith Martineau sold for over £3,500 in 2005. The Martineaus were committed visitors to art galleries. For instance in the diary’s first year, on 22 April, Lena wrote, ‘Lucy and I met Papa at the private view of the Old Water Colours. It was very hot and full, but a good many very nice pictures.’ I am afraid that Lena’s criticism of the art that she took such care to see rarely rises above this level of comment.

In her new diary on Friday 8 January 1892 Lena Martineau wrote: ‘Art School began again on Monday, but we did not go till Tues. I have a side view of the girl so shall soon have done it..’  The Art School that she and Lucy attended was Clapham Art School, in Vernon Road, Clapham High Street, which had been founded in 1885 and was associated with the Government Schools at South Kensington – students were expected to take the Government examinations. In January 1892 Lena was taking drawing and painting classes, which she very much enjoyed, writing on 3 February ‘Joy! Mr Nightingale [the headmaster] told me that I am to begin painting my next head’ and on 21 February the entry that gave this paper its title ‘Painting days at School of Art are perfect bliss!’. In May she sat exams in the Life and Antique – ‘Given the choice of faun or the discobolus, we did the latter’. In July she heard that she had passed the exams, both 2nd class.

After a summer break, some of which was spent sketching in Wales, Lena returned in October to Clapham Art School. Her entry adds, ‘Found that Miss Pemberton is working there now’.

Sophie Pemberton

Sophie Pemberton

From the context it would appear that Lena already knew Sophie Pemberton, a Canadian artist, just three years older, who had already studied in Paris at the Academie Julien. Her father was the first surveyor general for Vancouver Island and Sophie was living in Alexandra House in Kensington, which had been built to house women music and art students and to where she often invited Lena for tea. It was – and remains, though much altered – a rather glamorous hostel, replete with terracotta panels and intricate Doulton tiles and picture panels.

In May Lena took Life and Still-life exams. Of the latter she wrote ‘the group was a top hat and two oranges on green baize!. Got home in time for some tennis’. On the 29th there was the recurrence of a problem that plagued the art school, ‘I went to the Art School but finding no model returned – & had my hair cut.’  I suspect that Clapham School of Art did not meet Sophie Pemberton’s standards because she instigated a move to Westminster School of Art in Tufton Street, Dean’s Yard, where, by October, she, Lucy and Lena were enrolled. As with the Clapham School, Westminster followed the South Kensington regime. It is worth noting that Lena chose to attend such a school, where the syllabus was geared to an examination system, rather than one of the many art schools established to cater for the ‘ladies’ market.

Of Mr Loudan, the principal instructor at Westminster and a portrait and genre painter, Lena remarked ‘Very squashing, makes me scrape out but does not say much’. On 7 December she wrote ‘Today Mr Loudan was very crushing to me’. However she persevered happily, the following March reporting that  ‘Our new model on Monday was a boy and on Thursday Mr Loudan praised me for better colouring and came twice to me’.  That May she again sat the Life and Antique exam. All this intermingled with much gallery visiting; Venetian pictures at the New Gallery, a visit to Herkomer’s studio to see the work of some of his Bushey students (‘Very good some of them’.), and to the Guildhall (‘splendid exhibition’). She returned to Westminster Art School in October and on the 4th recorded ‘Lucy and I went to town today for the summer sketch criticisms at school of art. Mr Loudan presented me with £3, as third prize for the year’s composition sketches. Delightful surprise..’

In the autumn of 1897 Lena and Lucy travelled over to Park Walk, Chelsea, to visit the complex of the Stanley Studios, where Sophie Pemberton was based. Sophie’s star was on the ascendant; that year she had exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Unfortunately there was no studio available there, and with Ethel Le Rossignol, a school friend with whom they proposed to share and who much later became a practitioner of spirit-channeled art, Lucy and Lena embarked on a search.  By the end of November they had found a studio, at a rent of £35 a year – and were very pleased with it. They had fun arranging to move in, buying things with which to decorate, including a new stove and oriental rugs. Lena hired models and also arranged for family and friends to sit for her. The studio gave the sisters an opportunity to invite round their friends, in a way they probably did not do at home. On 6 March ‘Barbara Nightingale came to tea at studio yesterday’. [Barbara Nightingale was the same person as Barbara Shore-Smith – there had been a change of family name.] In April Lucy had a picture accepted by the Royal Academy, Lena describes the subject as being 3 parrots; the exhibition catalogue gives it the title ‘Red, White and Blue’. The picture was sold to a Captain B for 7 guineas.

In 1899 and 1900 Lena continued working from the studio, concentrating on pictures to submit to the Royal Academy. However they were all rejected or crowded out. In the summers, with Lucy and Ethel Le Rossignol, she took sketching lessons from professional artists, the first year in Mayfield in Sussex and the next summer at Brockham Green in Surrey. In November 1900 she returned to the Westminster Art School, taking lessons in modelling from life.

She also began to learn metal repoussé, possibly at the Westminster School – her diary is not entirely clear on the point. Lena was following the spirit of the times. There had in the last five years been a definite upsurge of interest in craft work. Lena, however, quickly gave up this class in order to attend a modelling design class at St John’s School of Art and Science at New Cross, where a Mr Miller and a Miss Jean Milne, who had been fellow students at Westminster, were master and assistant mistress. Lena placed the receipt for the course (10/- for the term ending 12 April) between the pages of her diary and began modelling a door knocker.

However, for whatever reason, at the end of the term she did not continue at New Cross, but went over to Chelsea to investigate the modelling class at the South West Polytechnic in Manresa Road. She duly joined that class and ‘settled to join the handicraft studio for metal repousse on Tuesday afternoons’. In May she sat a Modelling Design exam, which she passed 1st class, and a Life exam and was awarded a book prize in the National Competition work at South Kensington for her ‘head of Papa’. The National Competition was run by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of the Council on Education and several thousand students from art schools around the country competed for the prizes.

In October Lena began classes again, taking a modelling life class at the Manresa Road Polytechnic and one in modelling design at St John’s. She was also doing metal work, perhaps at the polytechnic. I think she must have given up her studio some time before this and in November (1902) when she decided to make a commitment to metal work and bought a muffle furnace, she made her workshop at home in the harness room. In December she went over to Whitechapel to the Sir John Cass Institute ‘as I think of going there for metal work and design after Christmas’. The Sir John Cass Institute had only opened the previous June so Lena was obviously well aware of developments in the field of craft education. She then left the St John School of Art at New Cross and in January 1903 ‘started work at the Sir John Cass Technical Institute’. The head of the Arts and Crafts Department was Richard Llewellyn Rathbone, Harold Stabler was teacher of drawing and design, Gilbert Bayes was teacher of modelling, and there were also teachers of jewellery and enamelling.

Lena took the enamelling class on Tuesday evenings, jewellery on Wednesdays and design on Fridays. During the day on Tuesdays she still attended modelling classes at the Polytechnic.

'Walberswick Marshes' by Bertram Priestman (courtesy of BBC - Your Paintings)

‘Walberswick Marshes’ by Bertram Priestman (courtesy of BBC – Your Paintings)

She continued with these classes until the end of the summer term and then went to Walberswick with Lucy to take sketching lessons from Bertram Priestman. She returned to the Cass in October and found that Jean Milne was also now working there. Among her fellow students were Violet and Frances Ramsay and Thalia How. She attended the Cass for all three terms that year and returned to Walberswick in September for two more weeks of sketching with Bertram Priestman.

When she returned to the Cass in October 1904 she learned that she had received a book prize for a figure she had sent up to the National Competition. She once again rented a studio, this time in Tachbrook Street. Lena was now established in her jewellery making; a pendant she had made was given to Barbara Nightingale as a wedding present as she embarked for India to marry  ‘a Mr Stephens’. In her studio she began modelling a bust of her father and began another happy round of studio teas; Jean Milne and Thalia Howe were among the guests. She continued at the Cass throughout 1905, receiving a prize for metal work at the end of the year.

Catalogue of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1906

Catalogue of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1906

In January 1906 she had at least two pendants accepted for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries. One of her pieces was described in the Exhibition catalogue as a necklace and enamel pendant and was priced at £2 12s 6d. There was increasing organization in her area of the art world and in April she notes the first meeting of the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society and in May that she had ‘applied to join a new club called the United Arts Club.’ The Studio reported that as ‘it is hoped the club will become a recognised medium for effecting sales, it was of importance to establish at the outset the standard of work which will entitle members to the privilege of having their work included in the quarterly exhibitions’. Lena was accepted as a member.

In June the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society held its first exhibition and Lena noted in her diary ‘One of mine is to be photoed for the Art Journal’. In fact the December 1906 issue of the Art Journal includes both a silver necklace and a copper and enamel candlestick by Madeleine Martineau. Among the other pieces photographed were a copper tea caddy by Jean Milne, a pendant each by Thalia How and Violet Ramsay and a brooch and a necklace by Harold Stabler.

In November 1907 at the Cass annual show Lena exhibited two jewel cases and a metal fruit dish with a figure pedestal.  In December she received a prize from the Cass Institute, the book selected being a copy of Lewis Day’s Enamelling. In May 1908 she ‘took up a case of jewellery to agents for Liverpool exhibition’, in November she was exhibiting at the Sir John Cass society show and also sent a case of jewellery to a show in Cambridge. At the end of the month she ‘took a case of jewellery to the United Arts Club and another to the Lyceum Club’. From the Cambridge show she received a first class certificate.

She does not mention if any items were sold from these exhibitions. In February 1906 she had noted that a ‘pendant I sent to show at Alderley Edge has 2nd prize and is sold to Katherine Greg’ and that from the Cass show in November 1907  ‘one thing of mine was bought, a copper clasp’. In February 1909 came her first commission. The relevant entry reads ‘I have been to Club today to meet lady who wishes for a gold medal to be made for the poets club to award the best poem’. The lady was a Mrs Higginbotham and the Club was the United Arts. Lena began the medal on 11 April and delivered it two months later. She had not been working at it all this time; she had enjoyed a two-week holiday in Italy. However on 20 July she received ‘ a rude letter from Mrs Higginbothom this morning refusing to take the medal, and saying it is not worth more than 15/- to a guinea!. Tho all 18ct gold with pearls and enamel.’ Lena reported the matter to the Club who arranged for her to make an appointment to speak to Mrs Higginbotham in person.

Harold Stabler

Harold Stabler

However Harold Stabler advised her not to go but to write. The matter ended with Mrs Higginbotham returning the medal to her. There is no mention of her ever receiving another commission. She kept busy in the autumn, exhibiting jewellery at an exhibition in Dresden and at the Cass society’s annual show.

In January 1910 she took a case of jewellery and an epergne to the New Gallery for display at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition and two cases of jewellery to the Society of Women Artists. She is noted as an exhibitor in the catalogues of both exhibitions. Her work shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition included a gold pendant and chain, entitled ‘ St Cecilia’; a gold necklace, a gold enamelled pendant and a gold necklace with tourmalines. For what it is worth it so happens that in the copy of the catalogue held by the British Library Lena Martineau’s pieces have been annotated in the margin in pencil. There are very few other markings – Cobden Sanderson’s books are so marked – and the impression is that the holder of the catalogue walking around the exhibition had approved of her pieces. There is no indication, however, of whom this visitor was.

In February 1911 she won 1st prize in the competition organised by the Studio for the design for a necklace pendant . The prize was 3 guineas – and, of course, her name was published in the magazine. In June when the Studio reported on an exhibition organised by the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society it mentioned that ‘the jewellery included a dainty gold necklace by Miss Martineau’. Then on 24 November her father died. For whatever reason after this she made very few diary entries and the diary ends, at the bottom of the final page of the book, on 19 March 1914. I do not know if she carried on with her diary beyond the final 1914 entry. Until November 1911 entries had been made quite regularly and contain far more detail than I have been able to include in this paper.

Moreover, in the few 1913 and 1914 entries she makes no mention of any artistic endeavour. However, a (February, I think) 1914 article in the Studio ,‘Some Examples of Modern English Jewellery’, is illustrated with what the magazine says is ‘a small selection of recent work by artists whose productions are familiar to exhibition visitors’. Among the artists so recognized was S. Madeleine Martineau, with an ‘enamelled gold pendant with four pears, wreath and bird repousse’.

Lena's pendant - second row far right - illustrated in 'The Studio', 1914

Lena’s pendant – second row far right – illustrated in ‘The Studio’, 1914

As the Studio describes the work illustrated in the article as ‘recent’ it is likely that this piece was less than three years old, – that it was in fact made in the period after the last mention in her diary of her jewellery work. However, when the next Arts and Crafts Exhibition was held in 1916 Lena Martineau was not an exhibitor, although Violet and Frances Ramsay, Jean Milne and Thalia How all were. This would seem to be reasonably definite proof that she was by then no longer part of the arts and crafts scene.

But life has odd quirks. It was because the bird piece had been photographed for the Studio that when it was bought c. 1973, as part of a collection, by a dealer specialising in art nouveau jewellery, he was able to identify its maker. As Lena Martineau only died in 1972 – aged over 100 – my surmise is that the piece, along with others in the same collection, had remained with her all her life and had formed part of her estate. Once the dealer was able to identify this piece, others in the same collection were attributed to her.

Lena's bird pendant as illustrated in V. Becker, 'Art Nouveau Jewelry', 1985

Lena’s bird pendant  – top left – as illustrated in V. Becker, ‘Art Nouveau Jewelry’, 1985

Around the same time, interest in arts and crafts and art nouveau jewellery was developing, and two books by Vivienne Becker, Art Nouveau Jewelry and Antique and Twentieth Jewellery: a guide for collectors, drew on this art nouveau dealer’s stock of photographs for illustrations. A few facts about Lena Martineau’s life were surmised, mostly incorrectly.

It is not my contention that Lena was a feminist icon, a forgotten heroine. What is interesting about the life revealed in the diary is its very ordinariness. She had no struggle to receive her art education; her family backed her in her attendance at classes, in renting studios, and by sitting for her. Her diary reveals how much freedom a young woman – 20 when it opens – had in following her inclinations in this direction. There is nothing in her diary to suggest that she felt thwarted or discontented in any way. Moreover, whether or not she deserves the accolade, Sarah Madeleine Martineau has now entered the canon as an arts and crafts jeweller, the presumption being, merely because she is included, that her work was exceptional. However, in reality it is only because it has been possible to identify a little of her work – although that certainly is because she was considered by her contemporaries (except for Mrs Higginbotham) as being more than competent – that she has received this measure of recognition. Her diary gives a fascinating glimpse into the life behind the pendants.
Sarah Madeleine’s Manuscript Diary is now held in the collection of The Women’s Library@LSE.

 Copyright

All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

 

 

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