Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ethel Kirkpatrick & watercolour

What we know so far about the early training of Ethel Kirkpatrick is sketchy and but she had begun to paint in watercolours early in her career when studying either at the West Kensington Schools (which soon became the Royal College) or the RA Schools in London and then at the Academie Julian in Paris. Watercolours by Kirkpatrick are not so easy to come by and so I was very fortunate to have this earlyish watercolour Boats at rest sent to to me by Clive Christy.

It provides a number of clues, not least that her interest in maritime subjects began early on. Funnily enough, the patterns and dark colours also suggests to me the way her interest in enamalling and jewellery might have developped. The watercolour dates from 1894 three years before she took a course in jewellery at the Central School in London. It shows part of the pilchard fishing fleet at Newlyn in Cornwall. (You can see the lighthouse at the end of the pier to the left of the larger vessel).


The date is interesting. 1894 was the year Lily Kirkpatrick moved to St Ives. It's generally assumed that Lily was a member of the larger clan Kirkpatrick. They were landed people from Coolmine on Dublin Bay but Ethel had been born in London. Her father had joined the British Army, was wounded during the Indian Mutiny and eventually joined the prison service. Over the years Ethel did time at Coldbath, Exeter, Wormwood Scrubs and most notoriously at Newgate. By 1894 Captain Kirkpatrick had had a house built at Harrow-on-the-Hill near London. Curiously, a studio for his two artist daughters had not been included in the plans. Ethel and Ida soon put this right. One was built after his death in 1896. It's been suggested that the sisters moved back to Harrow after the death of Lily in 1902. I somehow doubt this. Ethel was studying weekly at the Central School during the autumn and winter of 1897/1898 and the watercolour itself was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895.

Another maritime piece follows on (made presentable by one of the members of the Ethel Kirkpatrick Society) but I  don't want readers to assume Kirkpatrick was a maritime artist, straight and simple. She may have relied heavily on boats and water for her later colour woodcuts but she also painted figure subjects. Her Cornish Floral Dance finds her working in the style of Thomas Gotch. I think she was a more flexible artist than she might appear at first glance. Basically, we still know very little about the range of her work - even the colour woodcuts, which she is best known for today. I came across a new one to me called Thames Barges only on Friday. This is why it was so good of Clive to send his image on. It extends what we know about her work. And that was what was important to her.


Nor is there a simple jump between her watercolours of boats and the colour woodcuts. The earliest woodcuts depicting sailing boats that I know of appear to date from about 1912. This date is also significant. Generally, there had been no real opportunity for British artists to exhibit their colour woodcuts until the formation of the Society of Graver Printers in Colour in 1909. Nor was Kirkpatrick a founder member. (In fact, none of the leading colour woodcut artists were in at the beginning). But the opportunity to exhibit may well have led her to interpret some of her watercolours.


But there are subtle differences between the paintings and the prints. She continues to group boats together but there are fewer of them and, by and large, they often occupy a restricted space within the picture. She didn't believe in making it difficult for herself. Virtuoso printmaking of the kind practiced by William Giles (and he was very good at it) and John Platt was not for Kirkpatrick. The outgoing fleet is fairly complicated so far as her seascapes go. But what she loses in impressiveness, she gains by way of expression. Look at the way the boats and their sails turn with the wind and the water. This is what she was about. (One of her titles was With wind and tide). She is no formalist; she describes. Her watercolour training, the way she observed and sketched what she saw, led to the later colour woodcuts that she was proud of, the ones like Early morning Venice, Mount's Bay and a blue version of The outgoing fleet, that she gave to the nation. All of the six depict boats but all the scenes are different. The poet in her was at work, from London to Cornwall to Venice. She didn't let colour woodcut become too laborious for her, she let it set her free.

[I include Hiroshi Yoshida's Morning at Abuto as Klaus refers to it in his comment below].


  1. The woodblock is wonderful, but I must say that I like the watercolour even better! It reminds me of Hiroshi Yoshida's magnificent print "Morning at Abuto" (1930).


  2. That isn't one I knew, Klaus, but the similarity is striking. It shows how much modern Japanese printmakers like Yoshida took from Western art. How much Kirkpatrick knew about Japanese art in 1894 is another matter. Fascinating cross-over, though, and thanks for pointing it out and opening up the discussion again.

  3. I also think that something I find most remarkable was that when only looking at her woodcuts, I was always struck by her use of purples to capture the early morning. When I saw the watercolour I was really surprised by the whole painting in that mauve/purple. Actually the photo doesn't do it justice, up close and in the light, the whole thing is quite stunning, and shows what a skilled artist she was.

    I only have two of her woodcuts and neither really make much use of the purples...but I can say that of the other ones I have seen and the one you posted here Charles the purple is evident in her transition from watercolours to woodcuts. I agree with Klaus, also that there is a touch of early Yoshida, who was also fond of the morning calm. I have seen one other painting by her which was also a maritime piece but it was clearly a study for a woodcut. It was all incomplete strokes and lines and very clearly done with the intention of creating a was also 1930's.

    Anyway thank you for the thoughtful contextualization Charles...once again your appraisal helps to flesh out a rather enigmatic artist who seems sadly to be largely forgotten.

  4. Mauve is her real signature. She uses it to intensify the effect and create atmosphere but underneath that Battersea Bridge aestheticism there is an observant mind at work as well. When she lost that sense of atmosphere in the late 1920s and 1930s, her work becomes more descriptive and less appealing.

    Not everyone takes to her use of mauve. Alan Guest described it as 'an unfortunate liking'. I don't know why because he had a stunning print of Greek islands, I think, which was awash with the colour, if I remember rightly. It lifts her pictures out of the ordinary and this strikes me as an Irish thing to do. They are observant but otherworldly at one and the same time. I think this is the basis of her appeal for me, at least.

  5. Census returns show Ethel ( and Ida, except for 1881 ) living at home at the time of the census for all of the census years, i.e. 1871,81,91,1901 and 1911

  6. Thanks for that, Haddock. Your census searches have been more productive than mine. My results outside London are often patchy so if you come back to have a look, could you let me know where the Kirkpatricks were in '71 and '81? I must have seen the records for The Grange but I have dozens and dozens of artists on the books.

  7. In 1871 her age was given as 2 and they were living at the wonderfully named 'Middlesex House of Correction' where, it seems, she was born. her sister Ida,4, was born in St Helier, Jersey. In 1881 they are still there but it is now called HMP Clerkenwell. In 1891 they are at Wormwood Scrubbs, in 1901 and 1911 they are at The Gables, Harrow. Her name is in the telephone directory there from 40s until 1967.
    As for Lily, nothing in any English census before 1901 where she appears in Edgbaston with an aunt...she was born 1856 Dublin and is listed as Artist Sculp.

    It is probably heresy to say, but I am not too fond of her work, altogether too 'detailed' and fussy. I have a print of Needell's The Anchorage, Bosham which seems very similar to her style.
    ...there is an artist I'm trying to collect...but if I mention him, and you post his work, I shall never again be able to afford to buy any by him.

  8. This last remark makes my mouth water... Haddock, we can assure you that noble intentions prevail among the followers of this blog, so don't hesitate to let us know who you are referring to.


  9. Well, we will overlook your heresy, and still make you a member of the Ethel Kirkpatrick Society for services rendered.

    When I found out EK's father was Captain T Kirkpatrick I searched under Thomas and turned up alot of the Coolmine Archive. This is where alomost all the family info that is circulating now came from.

    The popular name for the Middlesex House of Correction was Coldbath. I am a bit bemused by the 1967 date because I think she was long dead by then.

    Interesting you should mention Needell because Ida worked at Bosham too. So, perhaps Ethel did as well.

    As for your mystery artist, as Klaus suggests, we have no secrets on Modern Printmakers. How much the blog affects the price of prints is anyone's guess but I can't believe that anything I say would lead anyone to think people will pay such ludicrous prices. The problem is that if I pan an artist, the comments box gets filled with invective, so I can't win.

    But many thanks for your efforts.

  10. Ethel A Kirkpatrick died in 1966 at Harrow aged 97,
    Ida Marion Kirkpatrick died 1950 at Harrow, aged 83 ( probate granted to Ethel Alice and Sir Cyril Reginald Kirkpatrick ) estate £10,210*
    Lily seems to be the sister of Isabella b.1849, Caroline b. 1852 and Sarah S b. 1857...all born in Dublin; Sarah S is 'Artist Sculp' too....haven't worked out relationship to Ethel.... yet.
    Telephone books show Ethel at The Gables and later at Grove Hill Cottage Harrow, last entry 1967 which ties in with her death in 1966.

    a confusing bunch the Kirkpatrick lasses, all too busy painting and sculpting to get married

    * a price conversion site gives an equivalent value of £300,000 today

  11. Yes, I couldn't check the dates when I was answering, sorry. Ethel was wealthy. Probate was over £40,000 but I hadn't checked the phone books so what you say about Grove Hill Cottage will also go on the file.

    Lily was in a relationship with Edith Ellis (Mrs Havelock Ellis). That aside my own view is that if women artists at the time I write about wanted a career they were often faced with a limited number of options: marry/form a relationship with another artist eg Mabel Royds, Ada Shrimpton, Anne Falkner, Jessie Garrow, Lizzie Brown, Edith Lawrence, or not marry at all eg Janet Fisher, Anna Findlay, Elizabeth Keith, Marion Gill, Arabella Rankin, Mary Fairclough. Gill's ploy was specially interesting in that she followed her unmarried brother, who was a successful museum curator, from job to job (Newcastle, Edinburgh, Capetown) but continued with her own career.

    I tried in my recent post on Keith to suggest something of the relationship between her and her Japanese publisher.

  12. I have since many years a painting made by Ethel, its a watercouler paninting from 1898 named: Evening in venice. I guess it was a painting she showed 1924 in Venice. I got it after my grandfather died. He worked as a journalist and writer and i know he had a lot of contact with artist in art and movie so i guess he might got the painting from a friend or bought it himself. (in Sweden) It was just a 10 days ago i started to search infromation about the painter so i was really happy to find this page:)

    I will try to make a picture of it and put in online
    Kia Kimhag

  13. I'm glad the post was useful, Kia. I didn't know that Ethel Kirkpatrick had been in Venice in 1898. She would have probably exhibited the picture in London soon after.

    You could always send a photo to me and I would do a post.

  14. I would like to point out to all interested that Lily Kirkpatrick was not related to Ethel and Ida Kirkpatrick but came from a different family. I have covered their biographies.........................

  15. You might like to share the biographies with us in that case.

    Off hand, I don't remember the name of the castle the Kirkpatricks owned in Scotland, but Lily's house in St Ives had the same name and and Ethel and Ida were descended from the same Scottish planter stock who lived at the same castle. The Cornwall Artists Index said all this.

    People keep coming onto the blog with the same assertion without backing it up.

  16. I have inherited a lovely watercolour of Bosham, 50 cms x 26cms, signed Ethel Kirkpatrick 1890, in the left hand corner.
    Would this be the same Ethel? I also have a postcard 'Walberswick Common' signed Ida Kirkpatrick.

  17. Yes, it is the same Ethel Kirkpatrick. She was making watercolours from at least 1886. Bosham was popular with artists.

    Ida's postcards of Walberswick sometimes turn up on ebay. The sisters rented two cottages there before the first war.

    I would very much like to see your watercolour. Possibly you could send a photo to I have written up Kirkpatrick and her early watercolours for my book, but your Bosham one may be worth a mention, too. Does it have a title? She usually dated her watercolours but not the colour woodcuts.

    Many thanks for the information, anyway,

  18. Hi - searching for any info on Ethel Kirkpatrick, I came across this page... I have a lovely watercolour signed by her, entitled 'A summer's garden'. Haven't been able to find anything similar by her anywhere. If anyone is interested in seeing it, I can send a photo.

  19. There is another watercolour post to look at called 'Ethel Kirkpatrick and Isola San Giorgio'.

  20. I've just acquired a watercolour by Ida Marion Kirkpatrick. Any idea of the value of one of her watercolours?