Henrietta Rae (Mrs Ernest Normand) was born in London, and started painting at the age of 13. She studied at the Queen Square School of Art, and in 1874 at Heatherley's School of Art and in the British Museum antique galleries. After enormous persistance (6 or 7 attempts) she was able to enter the Royal Academy Schools, and won a 7-year Royal Academy scholarship. She proceeded to become one of the best-known Victorian artists, exhibiting every year at the Royal Academy from 1881, and having a place of honour at the Exhibition of 1894 for her magnum opus Psyche at the Throne of Venus, a 12ft x 7ft composition of 13 women. Regarding this picture, the Magazine of Art commented that
"This large canvas deals prettily with the prettiest of all the tales of mythology, and the scene selected is the most dramatic... The scene illustrates that so beautifully pictured by Mr William Morris in The Earthly Paradise: Story of Cupid and Psyche"
She married the orientalist and historical painter Ernest Normand in 1884, and they shared a studio in Holland Park Road. They were friends of G. F. Watts and Frederick Leighton, and Rae was especially influenced by the opinions of the latter.
Henrietta Rae's speciality was classical subjects, and she often tended towards the melodramatic, as in Marianna (1892) and Apollo and Daphne (1895), with good figures and drapery rather spoiled by looking too posed. She also did a lot of nudes - a favorite subject of her husband's also - including a voluptious Summer (1896), Sirens (1903), Echo (1906) and Roses of Youth (1907). Often the girls in her pictures look typically Edwardian, with shortish black curly hair, much as she herself did. Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1897) is a very Pre-Raphaelite picture, with Isabella embracing the pot in a mournful fashion. As well, Rae had a large portrait practice in Northern Ireland, as she regularly visited Belfast.
Rae's Ophelia is in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. A genre picture called Doubts showing a courting couple in the style of Marcus Stone is in the McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand. A sketch for The Sirens is in the collection of the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath. Various portraits are apparently in Belfast City Hall (2 Lord Mayors), the Belfast Harbour Office and the Ulster Museum.
Top of page