Chapter 2. Stay-at-home painter

What was Ethel doing in these years? Maybe she was considered the not-so-clever member of the family, for she was short-sighted and perhaps hard of hearing – she was certainly becoming deaf in her forties. As a young woman she was described as ‘handsome’ rather than ‘pretty’ like her sister Alice. She grew to about 5’6”, of slim build, with brown eyes and her dark hair parted in the middle and drawn back into a bun. She says in her autobiographical note: ‘During these [thirty] years she accepted the earth as it was and did all the approved womanly things.’ Her siblings, she says, recognised her ‘meek old-fashioned qualities’ and that she was happy enough to stay at home, and this gave them licence to leave home. Her first romance as she describes it sounds like a girl’s crush during her convent schooldays: ‘She loved a young priest who loved his God ardently, who sang the Mass to Him with ardour and a throb of pain. She went to listen to this throb of pain when he chanted at Vespers “Thou art a priest forever…” ’

The Moorhead family, 1895. Rupert, Alice and Ethel in front with parents George and Margaret behind. Photograph copyright Martin Emmison

Some time after she was thirty and living with only her aging parents ‘there was another suitor – a short stout man with the square jaw of a strong man and a serious air of oriental voluptuousness. His oriental eye melted into hers and told her he loved her – but the words he spoke were commonplace and she knew that he lied. When she saw him some years later the oriental eye was bleary and he was creased like a mummy.’ (Ethel herself wore well and in middle age was frequently assumed to be ten years younger than she was.) Finally, she fell for an ‘unattainable’. ‘She went a long journey to forget him, and she remembered him until she came to Venice and there she forgot him…’ It does not seem that Ethel was inclined to high romance. What she was interested in, clearly, at this point in her life, was art, and she had a champion in the family.

Her dream came true. At the age of 29, Ethel left home, as her siblings had done before her, and went to Paris to study art. Alice, who did a great deal of the family mothering neglected by their actual mother, had decided that Ethel should have a chance in the world just as the others had enjoyed, and now that she had settled into her G.P. practice she was able to help. Ethel had always been good at painting; now she should have an opportunity to study it properly. Nobody else in the family as Ethel records, thought much of the idea, ‘but they would let her indulge in that low streak. Even her father’s enthusiasm stopped short at that, and her mother was disdainful. But Cissy [Alice] said she should go, and saved money and sent it to her regularly.’ Ethel went, with an older friend, to Paris, at that time considered the cultural capital of the world. She must have been really excited after all those years of domestic work and small town socialising, and a different country would have been no problem for her, given her early background.

Many cultural threads connected Paris to Edinburgh in the period that straddled 1900. In her study of the cultural connections between Edinburgh and Paris in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Sian Reynolds [i] has counterpointed Paris’s thriving, bohemian artistic scene with Edinburgh’s reputation as ‘a staid, climactically bracing, Presbyterian and puritanical city, bristling with well-frequented churches, and peopled with ministers, lawyers, academics and doctors,’ No, ‘Morningside was never likely to be mistaken for Montparnasse.’ Nevertheless, something new had started – a cultural awakening known as the Belle Epoque. Painting was one of the strongest links between the two countries. Patrick Geddes of Dundee University was well known for his networking, and his ‘summer meetings’ in Edinburgh were attended by many French luminaries, including women. Add in the Paris Exhibition of 1900, a focus for many Scots, and it can be seen how mutual links were growing. Paris certainly appealed to daughters of the middle classes who were enjoying a little freedom for the first time, and fancied training and then perhaps living there; in fact young Scottish women art students were among the first to travel abroad for an education. Scots artists had their own artistic heritage but they also absorbed the influence of French painters such as the later Impressionists and the Fauves, an avant-garde style which sometimes clashed with the ideas of the Establishment.

So this was where Ethel arrived. The most mentioned art school attended by Dundonians seems to have been the Academie Julian; perhaps it was expensive too. Ethel and her friend enrolled at Whistler’s Academy.

James McNeill Whistler, an American, had himself studied in Paris as a young man. He had arrived in Paris in 1855, rented a studio in the Latin Quarter, and quickly adopted the life of a bohemian artist. He studied traditional art methods for a short time at the Ecole Impériale and at the atelier of Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre. The latter impressed Whistler with two principles that he used for the rest of his career: line is more important than colour and black is the fundamental colour of tonal harmony. He lived mainly in London, at the peak of his career in the nineties. But after falling out with the Royal Academy of Arts he and his wife Trixie moved to Paris in 1892, where he felt welcomed by his many artist friends, After six years Trixie fell ill; they returned to London, where she died. Now in his sixties, he returned to Paris and opened his art school in October 1898 [ii]

Whistler’s academy, the Atelier Carmen, was one of several academies and studios in Paris at the time. He had handed over £200 for the business of starting up to an ex-model of his, Carmen Rossi, then in her late twenties. He set the fees at 50 francs a month, payable three months in advance, with no profit for himself, but Carmen was more of a business woman and on the quiet she made the students pay double. All candidates were required to submit a specimen of their work; the studio was ‘not for beginners’. The forty places were soon filled up by men and women from USA, Britain, France, Germany and even Russia, all attracted by Whistler’s reputation. However, when they arrived in the studio, situated in the narrow Passage Stanislas, they were greeted by a young sculptor who read a letter from Whistler saying he’d come once they had settled in. He was by that time 64 years old and not in good health.

Whistler believed that art could not be taught and that to try was ‘shocking, useless and the encouragement of incapables’; his intent was to teach ‘the scientific application of paint and brushes’, and to provide the setting where a born artist could develop their talent and ‘see for themselves’. Finding the true colours for the wished effect was of first importance, after that ‘the execution is left for the spare moments.’ He taught only oil painting, not etching, lithography or even watercolour or pastel. He thought that one learnt to draw by painting, not by drawing first, and his instruction concentrated on the use of the palette where, he said, the painting was created. He valued a capacity to place a subject in its space, to give that setting depth, to ‘look for the line of movement always’. All these instructions came as a surprise to the students, for they were very different to the formal teaching at other studios. After his first visit Whistler had separated the classes for men and women, and the men especially grew rebellious at not being taught how to win a competition. When he did turn up his presence and his demonstrations held, as one student recorded, an almost magical quality, but his visits became increasing erratic and fewer and the number of students dwindled. Carmen became ill in the summer of 1899, and the whole enterprise was held together only by the efforts of a young student superintendent. The following May the Academy moved to the Boulevard Montparnasse and there was no class for men; Whistler himself became too ill to come to the studio at all. It finally closed in April 1901. Whistler died in London in July 1903.

Ethel worked furiously to make the most of her time there (at most between October 1898 and April 1901) A memoir from those days is interesting. One student was Augustus John’s sister Gwen, and when he commented that he thought his sister’s work showed character Whistler retorted: “Character? What’s that? It’s tone that matters.” A few years later Ethel’s paintings were praised for their fine tone. [iii]

Ethel is also said to have studied under Mucha, though there is no firm evidence for this. Alphonse Mucha was a Czech artist whose style gave birth to the term ‘art nouveau’. He came to Paris in 1887 when he was twenty seven and studied at the Academie Julien, sharing a room for a while with Gauguin. By the end of the century he had held two one-man exhibitions and gained a six-year contract for posters with Sarah Bernhardt, and won a Commission from the Austro-Hungarian government for the Paris Universal Exhibition. In 1900 he was working on an art nouveau interior for Geo. Fouquet’s jewellery shop and writing two books on decorative arts. He went off to USA in 1906. No doubt he would have been glad to earn more by doing some teaching. Scots artists had their own artistic heritage but they also absorbed the influence of French painters such as the later Impressionists (Monet and Cezanne were still going strong) and the Fauves, an avant-garde style which sometimes clashed with the ideas of the staid Establishment. The Universal Exhibition of 1900 was predominantly Art Nouveau style; no doubt Ethel would have visited if she were in Paris then.

After she returned from Paris Ethel came to Dundee a few times, probably staying in Lochee at Elmwood, the house of her friend Miss Janet“Denny” Oliphant, a fellow artist she very likely went with to the Atelier Carmen, or at least met there. Miss Oliphant was the niece of a popular Edinburgh novelist and historical writer Margaret Oliphant who had taken on the support of her brother’s family. She was four or five years older than Ethel, and had already been given an extensive training in art (some of it in Paris), financed by her aunt. (She was sister to Madge Valentine, a dear friend of Mary Lily Walker, who comes into this story later.)

In 1900 Ethel’s parents moved to Dundee. Edwardian Dundee was a city of two very different social classes – the rich flax and jute mill owners and the grindingly poor folk who worked for them. A report by Dundee Social Union at that time revealed that 13-year-old schoolgirls weighed seven kilos less than their (average) English contemporaries, that 65% of houses were below compulsory London standards and that 25% of houses had no toilets, not even shared ones. Whereas the rich were staggeringly rich. One member of a mill owning family, Miss Baxter, established Baxter Park along with her brother and sister, gave generously to the Congregational church and its overseas missions in New Guinea, founded University College with a donation of £140,000, and still had quarter of a million to leave in her will. There were at least ninety churches and plenty of “good works” for middle class women (especially) to become involved in.

The Moorheads rented a house at 20 Magdalen Yard Road, high above the railway lines, looking out over the Tay to Wormit. Though not a very large house there would be room for the boys to come on leave – and how their parents must have longed to see them – and they would be living near their older daughter Cissy whose GP practice was just a five minute walk away, and now that Ethel had “had her fling” she should be at home to help her mother, whose health was failing. There was enough space, too, for Margaret’s ever-expanding collection of antiques and curios and old prints, and George Alexander did nothing to stop her although he was uneasy about the expense.

Rupert, who had qualified that year, moved with his parents. So did Ethel, but she and Miss Oliphant also set up their studio in The Arcade, running a portrait painting business. Alice had been in Dundee for six years by then, living with Dr Emily Thomson at 93 Nethergate until 1901, when the two moved to 4 Tay Street. Arthur was in China, helping to put down the Boxer Rebellion. As for George Oliver, he was caught up in the Boer War. He had married two or three years after he qualified, to Euphemia Brown, and they now had two sons, George Brian aged 8 and Sidney Patrick aged 6 and were living in Molteno, Cape Colony. George Oliver was ‘commandeered’ by the Boers, but they weren’t interested in Euphemia and she was sent back to Britain, and in 1900 came to stay at Magdalen Yard Road, where her third son Rupert was born in November.

Molteno, April 1900:

 Dearest Mama and Papa, You must be wondering why I have not written to you lately. The truth is there have been troubled times here. Our years in Klerksdorp and Vryburg were peaceful and prosperous, and when we left the Transvaal and moved south to Molteno six years ago we had great hopes that my practice would grow and we would settle down for good. But then came the Raid and the skirmishes in ’85 and ’86 and increasing unrest; I really feel that Sir Arthur Milner is not capable to be British High Commissioner at The Cape. Kruger’s ultimatum (what an arrogant man he is) last October was the last straw. Even though we live here in The Cape the Boers began eyeing us in the streets, and Euphemia has been most uncomfortable. Just yesterday our neighbours the Groots turned their backs when she entered the grocer’s. The British Embassy is saying that non-nationals should leave, if only for their own safety. So I’m writing to you to say that I am making arrangements for Euphemia and the boys to return to Britain, and I trust you will be happy for them to stay with you in Dundee. As soon as matters resolve themselves here I will, of course, bring her back here. I cannot say that my sentiments are entirely on the side of the English government, as I can see the Boers’ point of view. They have been here a long while – they feel it is their land. Of course, everyone knows that the gold and diamonds in Transvaal are the big attraction! My friend Pieter has been hinting to me that my duty lies with my patients and their families.

Your son, George Oliver Moorhead  (Author’s Note)

There is an interesting article by George Oliver which can be read in more detail in ‘A Tourist Guide to the Anglo Boer War’ by Tony Westby-Nunn, describing his experience as a doctor for the Boers. In October 1900 he was in Talana, northern Natal, at Thornley Farm, in the thick of the battle there. (Co-incidentally, it was fought near the mining town of Dundee, and called “the Battle of Dundee”.)

The young family’s arrival must have caused quite a stir.

Dear George

They are here, all safe and sound. The two boys were very bedraggled and shy and Euphemia was exhausted and, I have to say, uncertain. She is, after all, almost a stranger to us, and you have not kept much in touch. But of course Papa was delighted to meet his grandchildren at last. George Brian started to give a little bow, but Pa swept him off his feet in a big whiskery hug. “Welcome, welcome! And this is my grandson, named after me – a grand family tradition! And here’s Paddy – what a big boy you are for six!” Mama, is not really well enough to get up much just now, but we sat Phemie down beside her and they spoke together. Cissy has said she will call very soon to keep an eye on Phemie; she is so near her time. And then our good Julia bustled in with loaded trays of tea and sandwiches which the boys eyed with as much polite restraint as they could muster until Papa shouted jovially “Sit down, sit down, tuck in!” and they promptly did.

So now they are all in their beds and I have time to write this note to you. Do, please, write often; we are all anxious for you.

Ethel  (Author’s Note)

20 Magdalen Yard Road – ‘Abertay’ – was a large house, but it was divided, with the Tyrell family occupying 20a. The Moorheads had a live-in domestic servant, Julia Barrett, aged 30, from Forfar. The street itself was highly respectable, with the retired and widowed James Caird (a jute magnate) living at Number 8. On the opposite side of the road lived a Miss Spreull, guardian of five Johnston children, with an elderly sea captain as lodger. There are no extant records of the two boys attending a local school either Protestant or Catholic – could Miss Spreull have taken on the education of all the children? I could find no record of when Euphemia and the boys returned to South Africa.

Ethel and Denny Oliphant kept their studio in The Arcade at 4 King Street for fifteen years. This street (no longer in existence) ran north to 107 Victoria Road and hosted a variety of businesses selling umbrellas, books & bibles, pianos, pharmacy, and later car hire. [iv]

Dundee Graphic Art Association had been going for ten years and was obviously highly regarded; its president was Stewart Carmichael. It had its own club rooms at 104 Nethergate, which were open to all, but it seems the men were something of a clique, especially the Celtic Revivalists. ‘The Ladies have the exclusive use of the rooms on Friday from 10am to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am till 6pm.’ Were they, one wonders, not welcome at other times? The annual turnover for the society in 1900 was about £150; pictures in exhibitions were priced mostly in single figures, though a few were as much as £40; it was lamented that only £35/11/- went to exhibitors. However they did better in 1902 when its spring exhibition sold pictures worth £166 or more: Ethel became one of 30 ordinary members (i.e. a professional artist) [v] and Miss Oliphant one of 63 associates. They kept their memberships at least until 1909. (There were also 17 honorary members, all men.)

Ethel exhibited for the first time in 1901 – in fact she was invited to contribute a landscape to the Centennial Exhibition. There were seven of her pictures on show out of a total of about two hundred. If we are to believe the press her work captivated Dundee. In April The Courier noted her ‘several notable and vigorous pictures, especially in portraiture’, Piper o’ Dundee described her as ‘an artistic new woman’, [vi] while the Dundee Advertiser reported: ‘Ethel Moorhead, who exhibits here for the first time, is a distinct acquisition to the Graphic Arts Association.  Her pictures are unquestionably the gems of the collection from an artistic point of view.  Three of them are studies of heads, worked out in a manner which suggests Parisian training – careful drawing, subdued colour, and that indescribable glamour which artists call ‘tone’. In the Portrait of a Lady she has treated with great success the difficult problem of ‘grey upon grey’, the lace drapery on the figure coming immediately upon the neutral grey of the background. She also adopts the method, followed by Sir Frederick Leighton and Bastien Lepage, [vii] of allowing the texture of the canvas to show through the pigments.’

“What about Ethel Moorhead’s work?” asked journalist Marguerite in the Evening Telegraph’s ‘Afternoon Tea Talks’; “First class, of course, and all the artists rave about them, especially the study in grey in the inner room. But of course, when you know the model it makes a difference.” Ethel often painted her father, especially after her mother died in 1902. She was, the Celtic Annual averred, “a most refined and distinguished artist”. Denny Oliphant’s pictures do not get a mention.

It is interesting to note how Ethel priced her pictures. In 1901 three had price tags – 2, 35 and 10 guineas. In 1902 none were priced. From 1903 to ’05 she only showed one (unpriced) picture. Five pictures appeared in 1906, two of them moderately priced at £1/1/- and £2/10/-. Next two years: nothing priced. But then in 1911 she asked ten guineas for Study of a Girl’s Head, fifteen guineas for A Girl in White and £31/10/- each for Little Girl and The Ransom. This was her last show with the Graphic Arts Society; perhaps she was trying to rustle up some cash ready for her move to Edinburgh. She was much bolder in her pricing for the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, where she asked £16, £25, £32 (in 1912) and £70 for her four pictures.

Dear Lizzie

I came to Dundee last week with Mama to visit my grandmother Isabel, who has been very indisposed. Happily she seems to be recovering, so I have some time to explore this city. And yesterday I had a most exciting outing. Do you remember the Moorheads who used to live opposite us in Wilton Mansions? They moved to Dundee, and Miss Moorhead has taken up painting in a big way, and yesterday was the opening of the annual Graphic Arts Association exhibition and she very kindly took me with her.

It was a very grand affair; I was glad I had worn my new pearl grey. Ethel (she said to call her Ethel) was splendid in a black three-quarter silk coat edged with gold embroidery. She was the belle of the ball. We were greeted almost as soon as we arrived by the President, Mr Stewart Carmichael, with his wife on his arm. He beamed, and plucked at his beard (a little tic he seems to have), and he is clearly pleased for Ethel’s triumph today in spite of the fact her pictures were attracting more attention than his own. I had not realised she was such a fine artist. Ethel congratulated him on the exhibition, then introduced me – “My friend, Miss Cicely Barr from Glasgow,” and Mr Carmichael swirled his beautiful fawn cape almost flirtatiously at me, asking how l was enjoying this “luminous” occasion and how long I would be staying in Dundee. I just wish I could stay longer! Anyway, Ethel went across to study Mr C’s painting “The Minstrel” with a very knowledgeable eye, saying “I particularly admire your brushwork, here, on the folds of his coat.” (Gosh! I was learning fast!) And then a bell tinkled and afternoon tea was served, but we still saw all her pictures and met other quite famous artists – Mr Spindler, Mr Grieve, Mr Alex Roche are the names I remember. What a day! So kind of Ethel; I hope we may persuade her and her parents to visit us back in Glasgow.

Your best friend, Cicely  (Author’s Note)

In 1902 she was well represented with five pictures at the annual Graphic Arts exhibition. The Dundee Advertiser reported: ‘Attention has been called on several occasions to the intelligent and well-studied work shown by Ethel Moorhead at various Exhibitions throughout the country. She has five pictures here, all of which are worthy of high commendation, despite a few technical blemishes. The two most remarkable of these are Portrait of Brigade Surgeon Moorhead, a good subject well executed, and Study for a Group, a mother and two children; A Peacock Feather, showing a girl holding a plume in her hand; and The Tulip, a similar idea. These are all wrought out in dark tones, and at once attract notice by their strength of colour.’ The Courier was even more enthusiastic: ‘In the way of portraiture there is perhaps nothing finer than Brigade Surgeon G. A. Moorhead by Miss Ethel Moorhead, for it is a triumph of art, whether regard be had to the intellectual light on the face, with its tinge of sadness, or the manipulation of the hands and the hair and the pose of the head.’ And all this before any attention was turned to the paintings by the then president, Alec Grieve, who got – ‘a posthumous portrait which looks life-like’. She exhibited again at Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts (The Ransom and Reflections) and also had a portrait hung in the Royal Scottish Academy: The Conspirator, featuring an auburn-haired youth with a sinister expression.

Ethel Moorhead, 1904. Photograph copyright Martin Emmison

The 1905 annual exhibition opened in the evening instead of the afternoon. Ethel was not mentioned in the reports, though there was a passing reference by sculptor McGillivray who opened the show to “…the Whistler faction, whose special shibboleth was that blessed word ‘atmosphere’” (laughter). Frank Laing was evidently one of this faction, as was the artist Edward S. Hodgson, (though the latter had left Dundee ten years earlier). Both took a minimalist approach to their etchings.

In the spring of 1902 Ethel’s mother died of heart disease. Arthur hurried home, but was too late to say his goodbyes. Ethel wrote: ‘In death Margaret Humphry’s face was exquisite and had the serene smile she had worn when dragging her family around the world. She had never belonged to them – the old Huguenots and the quests had had her….’ In latter years Margaret and George Alexander, with their entirely different interests, had apparently run out of things to say to each other and it was very much their interest in their children that held them together. Nevertheless her death made him depressed, which was unusual for him. ‘The two Huguenots [his wife Margaret and oldest son] had not made him feel inferior as they did the others – he loved his wife too much and though George was not his favourite he liked the banter and irony that was his mother’s. His happy Irish heart was something that all could reach; there was nothing remote about it and Cissy the eldest daughter had it too.’

Ethel, her father and Rupert moved to Pitalpin House in Lochee, where they stayed until 1907 while their future home was being built for them. Their final move then was to ‘The Weisha’ in Hazel Drive in the west end of Dundee. The Weisha is a big white house with a definite look of a colonial house built in the foothills of India. There were plenty of rooms for the family, should they come home for a while. Then there was a big long room filled with Margaret’s treasures, where the old Brigade Surgeon would sit for hours. Many windows lined the south facing wall and a small door opened out onto a terrace where they ate many of their meals, with long branches of the fir trees ‘close, intimate and full of great feeling’. The architect had wanted to cut the trees down, but Ethel and her father loved them. Indoors when the fire was lit the dog and cats would spread out in the red glow, and there was a little low window where you could watch the sunset. There was also, of course, Ethel’s studio; this had a Chinese character from the loot Arthur had sent home from the Boxer Rebellion. (He claimed to have bought it from missionaries, the first looters on the scene.) George Alexander was a patient sitter and really encouraged Ethel in her painting, including the new Fauve style she was developing. Ethel wrote: ‘He would mount the throne and sit until Pine Tree [the dog] got bored and disturbed the sitting or one of the clocks had to be wound up. It was in the studio we had the thrills when I found the new way. In those moments Pine Tree scented a new discovery too, but when the frames and glass fell on him he got disheartened.’

The Weisha, Dundee

So Ethel looked after her father, and painted, exhibited all over the country [viii] and started to become interested in the campaign for women’s suffrage, and tried not to think too much about her father’s illness and his inevitable death. She sent her more conventional paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy, and had three exhibited in 1911. She also exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (4 paintings), the Aberdeen Artists’ Society (3 paintings) and the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.

Her friend Denny Oliphant had persuaded her to serve on the committee of Lochee Day Nursery, which opened in Flight’s Lane in 1906 (-1910). She also worked as a volunteer with Mary Lily Walker who ran Grey Lodge settlement in the Hilltown – a very active and forward-looking establishment which ran a variety of clubs, and pioneered health visitors, lunches for new mothers, and other services. Miss Walker certainly roped in a large number of middle class ladies to help. Ethel was on the rota for the baby clinic. Cissy and Emily Thomson were involved too, with Emily, a close friend of Miss Walker, helping to start Eliot Road Women’s Hospital and acting as its first Medical Officer when it opened later in 1913 or thereabouts. Cissy also served briefly on the Parish Council 1908-9. But she was not in good health; for the past two years she had “become closed-in … she was fading”.

Dr Hamilton Langwill (whom Cissy would have known when they were both ‘top of the class’ medical students in Edinburgh) had become a widower and he now turned to an old friend. He proposed to Cissy, she said yes and they were married on 16th July 1908. The wedding was held in St Andrews Cathedral, Dundee, with Ethel and Rupert as witnesses. But Ethel was not happy with this marriage. It is impossible to know whether she disapproved of Hamilton being a Protestant but she would have resented her dearest Cissy being only a second choice. (He married a third time later on.) She knew her sister was not well, also she very likely was angry that Cissy was being taken away from her career, her partner and her friends. Most of all she knew how much they, Ethel and the old man, would miss her.

By this time (the Medical Register says 1910 but its entries are often a bit late) Rupert had finally left home and moved to Batheaston near Bath, as doctor to the Blathwayt family. Colonel Blathwayt had retired from service in India in 1882 and bought Eagle House, where he pursued his naturalist interests. His wife is remembered for her generosity and kindness. They had a son William and a daughter Mary, who was a mouse of a girl until she met two suffragettes and became an ardent and assiduous supporter of the cause. Rupert was popular in Batheaston, said to have been kind and generous, often refusing payment from a poor patient. But we may surmise that he and Ethel did not see eye to eye, so she probably did not miss him much. In 1908 he is said to have described the Suffragettes as “female hooligans”. Mrs Blathwayt tartly replied that the hooligans were the ones who glared at [the suffragettes] as if they would murder them. Rupert is probably the brother who, after the suffragette window-smashing in 1912, Ethel says, “cut her off with a shilling”.

Rupert was known to like the whiskey (‘Tullamore Dew’ perhaps), and would advocate moderate consumption. A keen follower of horse racing, he was appointed official surgeon at Bath Racecourse. Sometime after 1904 he bought a car, an open tourer, in which he was chauffeur-driven. So this was a comfortable position and a pleasant life, though he was kept busy by the truly remarkable capacity of the whole Blathwayt family for illness. They all kept diaries, and the recital of symptoms occupies many pages. [ix]

Ethel was left alone with her old father and the animals. They had two cats, mother and son, ‘The Panks’ and a mongrel dog ‘Pine Tree’. Pine Tree was evidently quite a character. “He was mottled brown and had smooth hair, his size and shape were wrong and he had not a short thick tail like his mother but a long flexible one useful for his melancholy moods… He was self-willed and obstinate, and ruled the home with a rod of iron. …and he was jealous of the younger Pank, who was a lovely black velvet cat. When young Pank sat on the knees of the old man to be stroked he had a ruse for getting him off. He barked furiously to be let out and when the door was opened he dashed out barking furiously so that young Pank would dash out too to see what was going on’. Actually Ethel writes more about her pets than she does about her siblings! But she did miss her mother, and when Cissy died in childbirth in June 1910 it was heart breaking. The baby survived, and was christened Margaret. Ethel always felt it was Dr Langwill’s fault that Alice died, as she was old for having a first child and not in good health. She wrote an obituary for her in Wizard of the North ending “…. Her kindly manner & pleasant disposition made many friends alike among sick & poor, and deep regret is felt for her loss.”


[i] Sian Reynolds. Paris—Edinburgh: Cultural Connections in the Belle Époque, Ashgate 2007

[ii]  Ronald Anderson and Anne Koval, James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth, Carroll & Graf, New York, 1994

[iii] Henry John, Augustus’ son, was published in This Quarter

[iv] Photo in Dundee Local Studies Library, SP5:130

[v] Graphic Arts Association rule book

[vi]  8/5/01

[vii] French Realist Painter, 1848-1884

[viii] Dictionary of Scottish Art & Architecture – Peter McEwan 1994: Ethel was a “Dundee painter of portraits & figurative studies; moved to London c.1916, to Dublin c.1918 and Arbroath c.1920. Exhibited RSA (8) Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (4) Aberdeen Artists’ Society (3) and Liverpool (1) from Pitalpin House, Lochee”.

Dictionary of Exhibitors 1861-89 – Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, comp. R.Billcliffe

Dictionary of Victorian Painters – Christopher Wood 1995 – “Floreat(?) 1901-1920. In 1901 invited to contribute a landscape to Dundee Centennial exhibition.  Exhibited 4 times in Glasgow & 8 times at RSA. . Once each at Walker Gallery, Liverpool & New England Art Club.   Exhibited London 1916, Dublin 1918”

[ix] ‘A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset’ – B.M.W.Dobbie Ralph Allen Press