Helen Allingham RWS (1848-1926)

Helen Allingham (nee Paterson) was born near Burton on Trent, the family settling in Birmingham after the death of her father in 1862. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design under Rainbach, and in 1867 went to London to study first at the Female School of Art, and then at the RA Schools. (In London she stayed with her aunt, Laura Herford, who had been instrumental in opening the Royal Academy Schools to women). Allingham's initial career was as a black and white illustrator, her first success being in Once a Week, followed by various children's books for Cassells.


By the late 1860s her reputation was strong, and she was one of the founder members of staff on The Graphic when that magazine was established in 1869. From 1874 she was a regular contributor to the Illustrated London News and the Cornhill Magazine - including Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. In that year she married the poet William Allingham, whose book The Music Masters was one of those illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelites). Following her marriage, freed from the necessity of earning a living, she turned more to watercolour, becoming ARWS in 1875 and RWS in 1891.

Mrs Allingham was influenced by the works of Fred Walker. Of her watercolours, Ralph Peacock wrote that 'Mrs Allingham claims quite a special place for herself in any sketch-survey of the work of English women painters. Few women have shown a more definitely English sympathy in landscape than she has.' She produced rustic countryside scenes, with cottages and village people, in a sympathetic style avoiding overt sentimentality. However her studies abroad, such as in Venice, seem to me to be less successful. She was also a portraitist, among her sitters being Carlyle.

Watercolours by Mrs Allingham are in the Birmingham museum. Many of the periodicals illustrated by her are still to be found in second-hand book shops.

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