A detailed study of three flowering sweet pea stems. The left blossom, with a rich pink colour in its centre, has pink and blue-purple tones; the right blossom fades from a light pink to white; leaves grow only on the left stem; coiling climber growth. No background detail. Helen Allingham (born Helen Paterson) grew up in Altrincham, Cheshire, where her father was a doctor from 1849-1862. Following her father's death in 1862 whilst treating victims of a diphtheria epidemic, the family moved to Birmingham where Helen studied 3 days a week at Birmingham School of Design until 1867. Aged 17 she enrolled at the Female School of Art in London. She lived with her aunt, the artist Laura Hertford who, objecting to a Royal Academy speech by Lord Lyndhurst which referred to RA Schools being for 'all her Majesty's subjects', had entered the RA Schools by sending in a drawing in the name of L. Hertford, which was passed for admission. Aged 18, Helen enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in 1868 (opened to women a few years earlier due to the action of her aunt). At the RA she was taught by Frederick Walker, Frederic Leighton and John Everett Millais. Whilst her tuition was free, she worked as an illustrator to pay for food and rent and began work as a commercial artist full time from 1872. She married the Irish poet William Allingham in 1874 introducing Helen to his circle of close friends - Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the critic John Ruskin who would become a passionate supporter of Helen's watercolours. Like Ruskin and William Morris whom she also knew, Helen believed that art and beauty went hand-in-hand with use and practicality. Helen exhibited at the 1874 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, achieving associate status of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1875. She would later become the first woman admitted to full membership in 1890. Following the death of Carlyle in 1881, they moved from London to the small village of Sandhills near Witley in Surrey. While living in Surrey she befriended the Arts and Crafts gardener Gertrude Jekyll who bought an area of land known as Munstead Wood in 1882 which she transformed into a garden over many years, introducing garden design as art into the landscape for the first time. Widowed at the age of 41, Helen moved to Hampstead in 1888. Helen's flower studies were originally displayed at the Horsfall Museum in Manchester in a room dedicated exclusively to representations of trees and wild flowers.
support: 18.9cm x 13.4cm
Place of creation
Transferred from the Horsfall Museum Collection, 1918
© Manchester Art Gallery