Helen Allingham: Figure Subjects

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Posted 30th January 2018

Helen Allingham is one of the most familiar and well-loved of Victorian artists – in 1890 she became the first woman to be admitted to full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society and her work was highly acclaimed by leading contemporary critics, including John Ruskin. Despite this success there have been few exhibitions dedicated to her work.

Our exhibition, Helen Allingham, will seek to reassert the reputation of Allingham as a leading woman artist and as a key figure in Victorian art.

Figure Subjects

Allingham's early watercolours feature large central figures set against idyllic rural landscapes. Shaped by her work as a graphic illustrator, this early approach was influenced by the leading artist Frederick Walker, under whom Allingham had studied at the Royal Academy.

Confined to small-scale, manageable dimensions, these early genre scenes adhere to the limitations placed upon women artists at the time. Capturing the predominantly female sphere in and around the rural cottage home, they celebrate Victorian ideals of domesticity and womanhood. Allingham's ability to negotiate the limitations placed upon her as a female artist enabled her to achieve critical and commercial success.

Work in Focus

Helen Allingham, Harvest Moon , 1879, watercolour. Private Collection

A harvester returns from a day of labouring in the fields in this rare example of a male subject. Still holding his scythe, he turns to admire the rising moon. This bucolic scene was inspired by the work of artists Frederick Walker and George Mason.

Exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society in 1879, the title of this work is taken from William Allingham's poem 'The Wayside Well':

Mirror to the Star of Eve
Maiden shy and slender
Matron Moon thy depths receive
Globed in mellow splendour.