The Last Survivor of the Late Pre-Raphaelites: Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

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Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1871*-1945) died just over 65 years ago, yet her artwork remains popular today. Take a look at her paintings, and you'll see why she was the exception among female artists in her day: successful and praised by critics and fellow artists. As artist G.F. Watts declared: “I feel inclined to throw away my palette and brushes. What are my things by the side of such stuff as hers?”

1. Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale demonstrated an early skill for drawing, studying first under the art critic John Ruskin and then entering the Crystal Palace School of Art at age 17. Yet it took her three tries before she was accepted to the Royal Academy, perhaps due in part to that school's reluctance to admit females, even though they had been allowed since 1860. Her first year* at the Academy, Brickdale won £40 for her mural design in an exhibition.

2. Due to a friendship with the aviator Charles Rolls (co-founder of Rolls-Royce and the first Briton to be killed in a flying accident), Brickdale had a keen interest in “aeroplane technology.” This interest is on display in her 1920 painting “The Forerunner,” which shows Leonardo da Vinci demonstrating his model flying machine to Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este, the Duke and Duchess of Milan. In the painting, the only member of the audience who exhibits any interest in the machine is the duke's son, Cesare.

3. Brickdale is credited with reviving the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered “the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters.” According to one source, “It cannot be said that Pre-Raphaelitism is dead while Miss Fortescue Brickdale is alive – at least Pre-Raphaelite in the spirit if not in the letter, though in many points also in that.”

4. During her time, Brickdale was lucky to be successful as an artist. She worked as both a commissioned painter and a commissioned illustrator from her studio in Kensington for more than 30 years. In 1902, the same year she opened her studio, she became the first female member of the Institute of Painters in Oils. She was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society, receiving the postnominal initials RWS, in 1919, although some sources claim she was a member as early as 1903. She exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Royal Watercolour Society and even had 3 solo exhibitions at the Dowdeswell Gallery.

5. In addition to working as a book illustrator and a painter, Brickdale also designed bookplates, painted plaster figurines, and created stained glass windows for Bristol Cathedral.

* While most sources report Brickdale's birth year as 1872 and the year she won her prize at the Royal Academy as 1897, I deferred to Brickdale's obituary in The Times from March 14, 1945, which gave her date of birth as 1871 and the date of her prize as 1896.

A larger version of Brickdale's "The Uninvited Guest" (1906), shown above, is available here.

Fans should check out the collections of her art at the Art Renewal Center and Spirit of the Ages (which includes the above-mentioned obituary); her illustrations from Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1911); and her two watercolours in the Birmingham Museums.

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August 31, 2010 - 7:30pm
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