Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham, 19th century watercolor
Helen Allingham was a Victorian English watercolor painter and illustrator.

Born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson, Allingham was encouraged by a grandmother and aunt, who were established artists, and took to art early on. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design and then at the women’s school of the National Art Training School (later renamed the Royal College of Art). I don’t know who Allingham studied with, but among the instructors there at the time were Frederick Walker, Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais. A more important influence, however, was likely Myles Birket Foster, an established watercolorist who painted similar subjects.

During her time in school and for a while after, Allingham took on work as an illustrator. She was among the founding members of The Graphic, one of a new kind of high-end illustrated weekly. She was commissioned to illustrate Thomas Harding’s new novel Far From the Madding Crowd, and received other noted commissions. She worked with Kate Greenaway, who would become a lifelong friend. Allingham was the first woman elected to full membership in the Royal Watercolor Society.

After marrying, she was able to let go of her illustration work and devote herself to watercolors, concentrating on domestic scenes, village life, and in particular, old thatched roof cottages. These had long been a familiar part of English village life, but were being replaced by modern structures at a rapid pace as Britain’s industrial age spread its influence to the countryside.

Allingham attempted to reproduce these faithfully, as records of architecture and a vanishing way of life, sometimes replacing modernized windows and doors with their more traditional counterparts. Critics, however, saw only bucolic scenes of country life, and categorized her work as sentimental.

There is a loosely organized Helen Allingham Society, devoted to preserving her legacy, that has a website with fairly extensive galleries (and here) as well as additional links. The images are smaller than one might hope, but there are a greater number than elsewhere. I couldn’t find much reference to Allingham’s illustration work, but I’ve listed other image resources for her watercolors below.

There is an out of print collection of her work. Helen Allingham’s England, that you may be able to find through used book sources.

4 Replies to “Helen Allingham”

  1. A number of Helen Allingham’s paintings are presented in:
    The Cottages of Britain by Philippa Drew published by Parkgate Books.

  2. Thank you for showing these lovely watercolours of Helen Allingham. I have long been a fan of hers. These beautiful scenes often belied what was actually going on in the picturesque cottage which were really run down , cold , damp and insanitary.

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