Essex-born artist Jessie Mothersole (1874-1958) trained at University College London’s Slade School in the mid 1890s. In 1899 she began working with the artist Henry Holiday (mentioned in a previous post) as one of several “sister-artists”, as he dubbed them. Her working relationship with Holiday lasted until the end of his life.
Her interests in art, archaeology and writing seem to have coalesced during the first decade of the 20th century. She began illustrating books, starting with Charles Stuttaford’s 1903 translation of the story of Cupid and Psyche. In early 1904 she was copying tomb paintings at the ancient cemetery of Saqqara in Egypt alongside Margaret Murray and Royal Academy Schools-trained artist Winifred Hansard. Their work was subsequently displayed in Petrie’s July exhibition of antiquities at UCL. Another trip to Egypt, this time with Henry Holiday, followed three years later. Afterwards Holiday and Mothersole held a joint "Exhibition of Sketches in Egypt and other Works" at Walker’s Art Gallery to showcase the results of their Egyptian tour.
Jessie’s first solo-publication was The Isles of Scilly, their story, their folk and their flowers (Religious Tract Society, 1910), which included twenty-four of her own colour illustrations. Isles of Scilly went into at least three editions; clearly her blend of artistic and literary skill was a successful combination.
Her next book was Hadrian's Wall. In its Preface, she reveals that the trip along the Wall, the subject of the book, had originally been planned for 1914. But the War, she wrote, “…blott[ed] out all thought of work of this kind.” Eventually in 1920 she embarked for the North to walk the Wall, taking as one of her guides an early 19th century account of a similar trip made by 78-year old antiquarian William Hutton. Her tour took place several years before the Wall was listed as a scheduled (preserved) monument by the forerunner of Historic England, H. M. Office of Works. In the fourth (revised) edition of her book (1929), Jessie called the scheduling "...the greatest epoch in the history of the Wall..."
Hadrian’s Wall was originally published in 1922 by John Lane The Bodley Head. Jessie noted that “post war conditions” meant reduced scope for illustrations in the published volume, so not all of the paintings she produced could be included. It seems, then, that the exhibition was one way she could show the world – or London, at least – the full extent of her Wall-inspired work. I can only assume that invitations to her exhibition were slipped into the first batches of the book. I wonder how many of her readers went along.
Walker’s Art Gallery had been open on New Bond Street since the 1890s. The establishment of “artist’s colourman” Augustus Walker, the gallery was particularly known for exhibiting works in water-colour.* In the early 20th century, Old and New Bond Streets were noted for galleries and art dealers, and Augustus Walker’s gallery held regular exhibitions. I imagine that a display on New Bond Street, in a notable London shopping district in the approach to Christmas would have been a powerful marketing tool for Jessie as an artist and writer.
Take a walk along New Bond Street today and you’d be hard pressed to find representations of archaeology featured in the shops. But the relationship between art and archaeology is still an important one. In the past few years, several exhibitions have explored this nexus, taking inspiration from the archaeological process as well as the ancient artefacts recovered. One of my favourites was 'Nu' Shabtis: Liberation at the Petrie Museum, in which artist and conservator Zahed Taj-Eddin recreated the process of shabti making to bring these ancient Egyptian ceramic guardians into a modern context.
Holiday, H. 1914. Reminiscences of My Life. London: William Heinemann.
Mothersole, J. 1922. Hadrian’s Wall. London: John Lane The Bodley Head.
Sykes, C. S. 2011. Hockney: the Biography Vol 1. London: Century.
The Times. 1958. Miss Jessie Mothersole. Exploring Ancient Britain. April 24, p. 15.
*In the 1960s the art dealer John Kasmin built an influential white-cube gallery space on the site.