Beatrice Parsons : Queen of the blazing border….

The Smell of Summer, 1901 Christies.com

The Smell of Summer, 1901
Christies.com

Go on admit it…you’ve never heard of Beatrice Parsons.  But believe it or not a century ago she was one of the leading garden painters in Britain, with many exhibitions to her credit, and her pictures collected by fashionable society, including 30 owned by Queen Mary. Nowadays we might think her work a bit chocolate-boxy, but underneath the sometimes almost unreal, brightly coloured flowers she captures the glory days of the Edwardian border but also the smaller more ordinary gardens of the suburban middle class.

3B5744ED-8893-43F4-AD5C-5386ACA9C400

 

 

The gardens at Abbotswood, Buxted, Sussex

The gardens at Abbotswood, Buxted, Sussex http://www.artscroll.ru

Beatrice Parsons from Hobhouse & Woods, Painted Gardens

Beatrice Parsons
from Hobhouse & Woods, Painted Gardens

 

Born in 1870 she was educated at Kings College and the Royal Academy Schools. She started exhibiting at the Academy at the age of 19, and although many of her early subjects were religious or historical in nature,  within a few years she had shifted to painting gardens, and in particular colourful and blowsy flower borders.

Although mainly known for these  flower-filled garden scenes  which became popular for  greeting cards and postcard as well as for book illustrations,  she also tried floral still-lifes  and  more general landscapes, such as bluebell woods, and even the occasional portrait.

Our Lady's Flowers

Our Lady’s Flowers

 

She had a  breakthrough  when she showed one of her early garden paintings to Chares Dowdeswell, a London gallery owner and dealer.

Garden path with hollyhocks http://www.invaluable.com

Garden path with hollyhocks
http://www.invaluable.com

According to her niece in a story retold in Hobhouse and Woods, Painted Gardens [1988], he put his finger over the person she had included in the scene and asked her to paint forty figureless garden paintings which he promised to exhibit.  This led to her first solo exhibition at Dowdeswell’s Gallery on New Bond Street in 1904, and it was  virtual sell-out.

The Times rather tartly said that she displayed “a dainty talent” and “treads successfully in  Mr Ellgood’s steps” (More on him in a future post). The success led to a profitable and long lasting relationship with Dowdeswell  and later she also exhibited with the Greatorex Gallery.  Between them they hosted at least 22 one-woman shows of her work.

This pergola was in the garden of Charles Dowdeswell at Surbiton from Calthrop's The Charm of Gardens

This pergola was in the garden of Charles Dowdeswell at Surbiton
from E.T.Cook’s The Gardens of England

 

Queen Alexandra and particularly Queen Mary were great fans, and visited many of the exhibitions, often buying pictures for the royal collection.  In 1910 for example Queen Mary bought a  painting of delphiniums in a Bournemouth vicarage garden

Parson’s first attempt at illustration seems to have been a for a book of poetry by Mrs Dollie Radford in 1897: the Times called her drawings “unequalled in merit”.  In 1910 she was one of several artists who helped illustrate Dion Calthrop’s The Charm of Gardens and in 1911 worked with  Ernest Cooke doing all the illustrations for his Gardens of England. 

The Terrace Garde, Hore Cross House from Cook's The Garden of England.

The Terrace Garde, Hoare Cross House from Cook’s The Garden of England.

 

Beatrice Parsons worked for many aristocratic clients including the Princess Royal at Harewoood, and every year between 1921 and 1929 she was invited to Blickling to paint the gardens there.

The gardens at Blickling

The gardens at Blickling Christies.com

The gardens at Blickling

The gardens at Blickling Christies.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One group of paintings depict gardens at Overstrand in Norfolk which was known as the ‘village of millionaires’ in the early part of the 20th Century.  In 1888 Lord and Lady Battersea bought property there and called in Lutyens to create a new home:  ‘The Pleasaunce’.  It is one of his earliest works and a rather surprising design to put it mildly. For a detailed architectural account see:

http://www.pleasaunce.co.uk/VictorianNotes.pdf

It was too early a project for Lutyens to have involved Gertrude Jekyll  and the Batterseas designed the gardens themselves. He was a brewery magnate and former Liberal MP, and she was a Rothschild, and both were avid art lovers, collecting Whistler and Burne-Jones amongst many others. It is a mark of her skill and popularity that it was Beatrice Parsons they commissioned to paint their splendid new  gardens.

August Flowers, The Pleasaunce, Overstrand http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/beatrice-parsons-1869-1955-108-c-x3n7hyu5qg

August Flowers, The Pleasaunce, Overstrand
Christies.com

 

Rose Garden

Lady Battersea’s Rose Garden Christies.com

The garden was romantically described in Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler’s novel Ten Degrees Backward, 1908, as the ‘Garden of Dreams’. Set on the edge of a cliff at Bythesea “it was more like a garden out of the Arabian Nights which had been called into being one night by some beneficent Djinn than a garden in matter-of-fact England.” It was “of infinite variety na d constant surprises” but characterised by its long “velvety lawns… edged with gay flowers and still gayer flowering shrubs.”  Then “it turned into a formal garden, with paved paths between square grass plots, and a large fountain in the middle lined with sky-blue tiles, as if a bit of the sky had fallen to earth and had found earth so fascinating that it could not tear itself away again.” There were “sombre cloisters veiled with creepers” before it “floated back into the sunlight”, with a sunken garden, a rosery, and “a Japanese garden of streams and pagodas” and so on and so firth until “it came at last to the very centre… a huge herbaceous border so glorious in its riot of colour ….”

http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2661/summary

Read all about The Garden of Dreams  in full at https://archive.org/stream/tendegreesbackw00fowlgoog#page/n6/mode/2up

Lady Battersea's Rose Garden Katherine Mellon Collection

Lady Battersea’s Rose Garden 

Lady Hillingdon's garden at Overstarnd Hall

Lady Hillingdon’s garden at Overstrand Hall Christies.com

 

Just down the road was  Overstrand Hall, another, slightly later, Lutyens house, built for Lord & Lady Hillingdon : she had the famous rose named in her honour in 1910.  Beatrice painted the gardens here too, as well as at the nearby Grange.

Paintings of the gardens were  exhibited at Greatorex’s galleries and the Times reviewed them favourably:

LILIES, AGAPANTHUS AND YUCCA BY A POOL prrhaps at Overstrand

LILIES, AGAPANTHUS AND YUCCA BY A POOL
probably at Overstrand

screenshot

Times 11th March 1924

 

 

Lillies at the Grange, Overstarnd

Lillies at the Grange, Overstrand Christies.com

 

 

 

 

The herbaceous border, The Canonry, Salisbury Cathedral

The herbaceous border, The Canonry, Salisbury Cathedral Christies.com

 

 

 

But while she was obviously at home in such circles she also painted newly made gardens on small country estates, cathedral close gardens,  and even some  small suburban plots, like this one in Hammersmith – which is my favourite of the works I have seen –  and which, according to the caption, “shows what can be done in a  very small space. It belongs to Mr C.Spooner, architect, and the lady in the picture is his wife, an accomplished artist.”

A London Garden in August from XXXXX

A London Garden in August
from Ernest Cook’s Gardens of England, 1911

 

Lilacs, The Laurels, Oxhey

Lilacs, The Laurels, Oxhey Christies.com

From 1907 she lived  with her 3 sisters at 63 Kingsfield Road, Oxhey, all highly talented women in different ways, and many of her paintings depict local scenes.

There was historic Oxhey Place with its chapel built in 1612 for Sir James Altham, a London lawyer and friend of Francis Bacon.

Ancient Chapel, Oxhey Place

Ancient Chapel, Oxhey Place Christies.com

 

September Roses, Hamper Mill

September Roses, Hamper Mill Christies.com

 

 

 

 

Almond Blossom, The Laurels, Oxhey

Almond Blossom, The Laurels, Oxhey Christies.com

 

 

Five minutes walk from there was Hamper Mill (sometimes Oxhey Mill) on the Colne.  And just down the road was Oxhey Grange a massive mansion built in 1876 for the Eley family

The flower garden and dovecote at Oxhey Grange

The flower garden and dovecote at Oxhey Grange Christies.com

 

 

 

 

Oxhey Grange from  Sales Brochure 1932 http://www.ouroxhey.org.uk

Oxhey Grange from
Sales Brochure 1932
http://www.ouroxhey.org.uk

Oxhey Grange from  Sales Brochure 1932 http://www.ouroxhey.org.uk

Oxhey Grange from
Sales Brochure 1932
http://www.ouroxhey.org.uk Note the heraldic beasts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many more of her pictures available on line and they help show not only the usefulness of her depictions of Edwardian flower gardens in revealing planting plans and layout, but much more ’emotionally’ why Hobhouse and Woods called her  “the Queen of the blazing border.”

A Cottage Garden in Full Bloom

A Cottage Garden in Full Bloom Christies.com

The Herbaceous Border

The Herbaceous Border Christies.com

 

 

Obituary in the Times 21st February 1955

Obituary in the Times 21st February 1955

 

 

 

 

When Beatrice Parsons died, at the age of 85, in 1955, the Times said: “As a painter of gardens in watercolour, Beatrice Parsons was probably unrivalled. Her special gift was perhaps her crisp and articulate touch in an inlay of colour which clearly defined the individual flowers without forcing them out of their context in the mass.”

The Rock Garden at Castle Archdale, 1895

The Rock Garden at Castle Archdale, 1895 Lordbelmontinorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk

 

Regrettably there seems to be very little more known about Parsons: just a short entry in The Dictionary of British Women Artists (by Sarah Gray, 2009)  which echoes the short chapter in Penelope Hobhouse and Christopher Wood’s Painted Gardens: English Watercolours 1850-1914 (1988).   I have, however,  heard rumours that a biography had been planned some years back but I have not been able to track either it or the author down….so if you know anything more please let me know.

Iris Time in St James's Park

Iris Time in St James’s Park Christies.com

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