Helen Allingham (1848-1926) and Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
As a child, relatives recalled how little Helen was always drawing her surroundings whether it be the furniture in the house or the nature of her outdoor surrounds, as well. Still a young girl, her friends started a drawing club which met every month at different friend’s houses where their drawings were shown and discussed. Helen was invited and this is where she began to hone her skill as an artist.
In 1867, at age nineteen, Helen Paterson met her first artistic mentor, a Mr. Raimbach, Head of the Birmingham School of Design. He taught her to draw the human figure while taking an art course there called the ‘lifeless programme,’ as well as studying anatomy. Afterwards, he urged her to go to London and study at the Royal Academy to which she did in April of that year.
It was at the Royal Academy that Helen Paterson worked mainly in the antique school where she met Millais, Frederick Leighton, amongst others. She especially later in life never forgot Millais’ encouragement, as well as, her longtime friend painter Briton Riviere, who painted the portrait’s of Alfred Tennyson’s grown son Baron Hallam Tennyson and his wife Audrey. It was while staying with his family at St. Andrews on the coast of Fife, during the summer of 1872, where she began her first serious works from Nature.
Helen Paterson began putting her portfolio together and looking for paid work as an artist. She would work for magazines beginning with Once a Week before being discovered in 1870 by Mr. W.L. Thomas of The Graphic. She worked for The Graphic until the year 1874 when she would meet the man who would become her future husband William Allingham, well known poet and editor of Fraser’s Magazine. He was friends with everyone from Carlyle, Ruskin, Rossetti, Browning and Tennyson. They lived in Trafalgar Square in Chelsea for the next seven years until 1881.
It was during her first year of marriage that Helen Allingham sold two of her watercolor’s during her exhibition at the Royal Academy; ‘The Milkmaid,’ and ‘Wait for Me.’ The subject of the latter was of a young lady entering a cottage whilst a dog watched her outside the gate. However, it would be another drawing that would give Mrs. Allingham notoriety. ‘A Flat Iron for a Farthing’ was commissioned by Mr. George Bell to make a watercolor for one of the black and white drawings she did a few years before for Mrs. Ewing.
It was during the year 1890 that Helen Allingham was elected a full member of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colors, something unheard of happening for Ladies who were artists in their own right. She now decided to give up black and white drawing concentrating on watercolors for the time being. Being married to Allingham, gave her the ease and comfort to do so. Her last illustration ‘Rhymes for the Young Folk’ appeared in Cassell’s in 1885 published by her husband. She longed to express herself in color, the medium in which she instinctively felt she had the best chance to succeed with and that is exactly what she would do for the rest of her life. She and William Allingham were married for fifteen years until his death in 1889.They had two sons and a daughter. She continued to paint country scenes of Witley, Haslemere, and nature around her for the rest of her life until her passing after an illness she died at the home of a friend of hers on September 28, 1926, age seventy eight years old.
The House, Farringford, by Helen Allingham, Watercolor, 1890
The house, Farringford, home of Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord, Tennyson depicting Tennyson standing at the rear of his house. It is located on Freshwater Bay, on the beautiful Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.
The house, Farringford was drawn in the spring of 1890, when the lawn was covered with daisies, and the Laureate required his heavy cloak to guard him the strong April winds.
The view from Tennyson's window, Farringford, Isle of Wight,by Helen Allingham, Pencil and Watercolour
Lady Tennyson, described “her wild house amongst the pine trees:”
The golden green of the trees, the burning splendor of Blackgang Chine, and the red bank of the primeval river contrasted with the turkis blue of the sea (our view from the drawing room) make altogether a miracle of beauty at sunset. We are glad that Farringford is ours.
The Kitchen Garden, Farringford
The kitchen garden at Farringford, took its name from the flowers that were seen everywhere in the summer, especially. For example, stocks, rockets, larkspurs, delphiniums, aubrietias, and big Oriental poppies. Tennyson would visit almost daily to take the record of the raingauge and thermometer.
Garden in October, Aldworth (Tennyson's final home)
Helen Allingham, painted this in October of 1890 and even though it rained while she was painting, two umbrellas covering her, she still got soaked. She set her flowers so near the horizon with a beautiful appearance of varied hues of flowers against a background of delicate blue.
During this time of year can be seen in the painting an apple tree shedding most of its leaves, the hollyhock stems, autumnal flowers, mostly yellow, marigolds, sunflower and calliopsis.
The kitchen garden at Aldworth holds a magnificent view over the Weald of Sussex if you stand at a considerable elevation. This spot is referred to in the poem “Roses on the Terrace”
This red flower, which on our terrace here,
Glows in the blue of fifty miles away;
Green Sussex fading into blue,
With one grey glimpse of sea.It was this view that the dying Tennyson longed to see once again on his last morning when he cried, “I want the blinds up! I want to see the sky and the light!”
Lord Tennyson and his grown son Hallam promised to take Helen around Freshwater to see the various cottages so she might draw them. She returned the Easter of 1890 and true to form Lord Tennyson and Hallam walked her around Farringford along with her friend Kate Greenaway. On this walk , Helen Allingham painted two paintings: The Dairy and At Pound Green.
At Pound Green by Helen Allingham, Watercolor
A Cottage at Freshwater Gate, 1891
On this spring day apple, pear, and primrose blossoms make one, ‘Bless His name That He hath mantled the green earth with flowers.’
Here we have a woman with four children. Mrs. Allingham’s drawing of this cottage had nearly been completed on a Saturday afternoon, when a friend asked her whether she would finish it by the next day to which she replied that she never sketched in public on Sunday. On Monday the cottage was a heap of ruins, having been burnt down the night before.
Hook Hill Farm, Freshwater, 1891
This painting depicts an old farmhouse on the other side of Yar Valley to Farringford, one which Tennyson often passed on his walks. You can also see a yard and an old thatch covered barn, which no longer exists but thankfully has been captured by Helen Allingham. She painted this cottage from every side and you will notice pears, apples, lilac trees, primroses and daisies.
So there are some of my favorite watercolors by Helen Allingham that I've grown to love thanks to my research on Alfred Tennyson.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn't include some favorite portraits and other goodies.
Isn't this a beautiful book cover! A 1905 London edition.
Aldworth House, final home of Alfred and Emily Tennyson painted by Helen Allingham during her visit one year before Tennyson's passing in 1892,
William Allingham Poet and husband of Helen Allingham painted by her
Alfred Lord Tennyson painted by Helen Allingham. One of my favorite Tennyson portraits.
Historian and Essayist, Thomas Carlyle, painted by Helen Allingham. I just love this one!
Tennyson had always had a special tenderness towards animals. He was a great dog lover, and his favorite setter, “Dear old Don,” was a constant companion on his walks over Blackdown.
The dog was given to the Poet by his son Lionel in 1877. Lionel told this story, “It suddenly struck my father at midnight that the new dog might feel hungry and lonely, so he went downstairs and stole a chicken for the dog. Great was the discomfiture in the kitchen next morning as to what had become of the chicken.”