Helen Allingham: Surrey

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Posted 23rd January 2018

Following her marriage to the renowned Irish poet William Allingham in 1874, Helen and William Allingham moved to rural Surrey. In 1881 they took up residence in the small hamlet of Sandhills.

The county was home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals, including the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and watercolourist Myles Birket Foster.

Spending a total of seven years living in Surrey, the south east of England provided Allingham with a wealth of artistic inspiration that would influence her work for decades.

As the boom of industrial development continued to threaten traditional rural life, Allingham's art captured unspoiled landscapes and historic cottage architecture in exquisite detail; she was passionately concerned for the preservation of the English countryside. In 1886 she became the first woman artist to be awarded a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society entitled Surrey Cottages. Her depictions of Shere, Witley, Haslemere and other villages across the region are included in our exhibition, Helen Allingham - on until Sunday 18 February. Many of these picturesque timber-framed cottages can still be identified today.

Work in Focus

Washing Day at Sandhills, Witley, c. 1885, watercolour. Private Collection

In the early 1880s, Allingham's watercolours transition from large-scale figurative compositions to broader landscapes animated with smaller figures. The subjects continue to be mainly female, often occupied by everyday tasks.

With the house partially obscured behind the hillside, this simple scene is transformed into a dramatic composition. The high skyline, characteristic of Allingham's work, emphasises the expansive, sweeping landscape.