Behind every great woman...is herself

Rummaging through the York Art Gallery collection again, we found a clutch of artists sometimes better-known not for their art, but for the men in their lives. Ilka Heale puts them back in the spotlight.


Hilda Anne Carline (1889–1950) was a British painter and (coincidentally) first wife of the artist Stanley Spencer. Born into a family of painters - her father was George Carline and her brothers Richard and Sydney - she studied at the Slade School of Art.


Self-portrait. p. 57 in The art of Hilda Carline: Mrs Stanley Spencer
Lincoln : Usher Gallery, 1999
In 1919 she first met Stanley Spencer at a family dinner; they married a few years later in 1925 and had two daughters. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that "the years preceding her marriage were particularly productive: she benefited from the intellectual stimulus and challenge provided by ... the gatherings at the Carlines' home ... and like her brothers she exhibited regularly with the London Group."

In 1932, Spencer started a relationship with Patricia Preece which would lead to Hilda and Stanley separating in 1934 and divorcing a few years later.

The first retrospective of Hilda’s work was in 1999, nearly 40 years after she died. A book in our York Art Gallery Collection was published to coincide with an exhibition of her work: The art of Hilda Carline: Mrs Stanley Spencer (on the shelf in the Library at LJ 9.2 SPE).

Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) painter and writer, was born in 1893, as Rosa Winifred Roberts. Her grandfather was the painter George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle.  She trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London in 1912 and showed a watercolour in her first exhibition at the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy.

Portrait of Winifred p. 41 from Winifred Nicholson by Christopher Andreae, 
(Farnham: Lund Humphries, 2009)
Ben with Jake 1927, p. 102  from same

In 1920, Winifred met Ben Nicholson and married him later the same year. But 11 years later Ben met the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and by the end of the year he had left Winifred for Barbara. Unlike Hilda, Winifred continued to paint and exhibit throughout her life, sometimes in joint exhibitions with her husband and later in group shows.

For further reading see Winifred Nicholson by Christopher Andreae (LJ 8.1 NIC/A - quarto) along with other books in the collection about Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.

Gwen John (1876-1939) was the sister of artist Augustus John but she's now probably more highly-regarded than her brother. He himself said "Fifty years after my death I shall be remembered as Gwen John's brother". She attended the Slade School of Fine Art and later studied with James McNeill Whistler in Paris.

Self-Portrait by Gwen John - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Cecily Langdale's essay in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography remarks:
Gwen John's art is consistently described as ‘private’, ‘quiet’, ‘reticent’. She herself said: ‘As to whether I have anything worth expressing … I may never have anything to express except this desire for a more interior life’... She was not a major historical force who influenced those after her. Although perhaps a minor master, she was surely an enduring one, possessed of genius.
We have a few books about Gwen in the Library (LJ 9.2 JOH) and you can see one of her paintings for yourself when the Art Gallery reopens in Spring 2015: Young woman in a red shawl is owned by York Museums Trust.

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