Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Dame Ethel Walker – A Sensitive Portrait

Ethel Walker, Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa, 1920, Tate, UK.

Women Artists

Dame Ethel Walker – A Sensitive Portrait

Summer is on her way out the door, signalled by darker nights and chilly mornings. But before we bid her farewell, let’s take a look at one more beach painting. The image above is Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa by Dame Ethel Walker.

“The biggest Sapphic beach party in Western art” is how art writer Alex Pilcher describes it! The huge 6 foot by 12 foot painting tells the story of Nausicaa, a key figure in Homer’s Odyssey. Nausicaa brings her hand maidens down to the river estuary to picnic, play and wash laundry. There they find the ship-wrecked Odysseus. In most paintings of this scene, heroic Odysseus takes centre stage, aided and worshipped by young nymphs. But here he is a background note. This is primarily a painting of women, by a woman, celebrating the female form.

Dame Ethel Walker
Ethel Walker, The Bathers, c. 1910-20, Tate, London, UK.

The graphite, ink and watercolour image above (The Bathers) is fascinating. There are sections where the surface of the paper has been torn away to create texture (look at where the sea breaks on the shore). And on the left, two figures on a separate piece of paper have been added to the group of nude bathers.


Born in 1861 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ethel Walker’s paintings were Impressionistic in style. Walker is best known for her studies of women – both figure studies and portraits. In these she seems to capture perfectly the mood and temperament of the sitter. She met the artist Clara Christian when she was just 19, and the two lived, studied and worked together.

Dame Ethel Walker
Humphrey Spender, Dame Ethel Walker portrait, 1938, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Walker famously painted a portrait of the young Barbara Hepworth, who went on to become one of the most famous sculptors in the world.

Dame Ethel Walker, Barbara Hepworth as a teenager, c. 1920, The Hepworth Wakefield, UK.

She also painted Vanessa Bell, one of the Bloomsbury set.

Dame Ethel Walker
Dame Ethel Walker, Vanessa, 1937, Tate, London, UK.

In her recent novel Winter, Ali Smith mentions Ethel Walker. She says “she was a painter of landscapes and portraits so renowned that there’s practically no municipal collection in the United Kingdom that doesn’t have something by her in it.”


How is it that an artist of such talent, with such a wealth of paintings produced, is virtually unheard of? Well, we know, don’t we? It’s because she was a woman. And she painted women in a gentle and sensitive way. Oh, and she was a lesbian too. All clearly rattled the fine sensibilities of the male art history club.

However she did receive recognition in some ways – in 1938 she was made a CBE and in 1943 she became a Dame. Ethel Walker died in 1951 in London, but she left us a fine collection of intimate and moving portraits of women. Something I for one will continue to celebrate.


Candy’s remote, rain soaked farmhouse clings to a steep-sided valley in rural Wales. She raises sheep, chickens and children with varying degrees of success. Art, literature and Lakrids licorice save her sanity on a daily basis.

Comments

More in Women Artists

  • 19th Century

    Artists and Industrial Revolution: Images of the Changing World

    By

    The Industrial Revolution brought fundamental and irreversible social changes. But what was its influence on art and artists? Changing Times, Changing Themes Even though depictions of rural labor remained frequent, industry, as an important part of the reality and people’s life, became a more and more...

  • 20th century

    Passing Time with Klee: Demonstrating Temporality in Visual Art

    By

    Paul Klee was a “musical” painter, not least because he chose the violin and bow before brush and easel. Klee’s father was a music teacher and his mother a singer, which had a profound effect on his approach to painting.  Fugue in Red (1921) is one...

  • 20th century

    Tina Modotti. A Woman of Her Time

    By

    Tina Modotti is a photographer whose path parallels the great moments of 20th-century history. Her way of making art is a testimony to the world around her and her eye on it. Emigration to the States Tina Modotti was born in 1896 in Italy to a...

  • 20th century

    Make Everywhere Our New York: Keith Haring Exhibition to Inspire Liverpool Millennials

    By

    Why do Keith Haring’s works still matter in 2019? With Brexit approaching the deadline, Tate Liverpool welcomes the first major exhibition in the UK of Keith Haring. Here are some highlights at the exhibition that Liverpool millennials think are inspirational at this critical transitional point. Go...

  • 20th century

    The Largest Mural on Earth

    By

    Early Fall, for students around the world, means one thing: back to school, back to writing papers, and exam preparations. For students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), it means back to Ciudad Universitaria, the beautiful complex of modernist buildings, planned by a group...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy