Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Edna Clarke Hall (1879 - 1979)

Edna Clarke Hall (née Waugh)
entered the Slade School of Fine Art
as a precociously talented 14 year old.
She was a contemporary of Gwen and Augustus John.

She married the eminent lawyer, William Clarke Hall, in 1898
and they had two sons, Justin and Denis.
In the summer the Clarke Halls would move to Cornwall
and these idyllic holidays are recorded in numerous paintings.

Edna chose watercolour because 'it captured the moment'
and I am attracted to her work because it evokes
my own childhood on the cliffs and beaches of Cornwall.

Edna had a period of mental breakdown
as she tried to reconcile the conflict
between her world as wife and mother
and her inner creative life.
Reading about this has started a train of thought
that I know other people struggle with.

How do you find the space for creative expression in a family
- and in my case, working full time -
especially if your creative work
is not going to clothe or feed your family?

Gwen John painted portraits of haunting intensity,
but lived alone after the end of her relationship with Rodin;
it must have required immense self control by Edna Clarke Hall
not to compare her work to that of the single minded Gwen John
and regret her own limited opportunity to fulfill her early promise.

How do you understand the value of your own creative work?
Edna had a distinctive, fluid, sketchy style
which was quite different to anything that her peers were creating
- where did she find the self-belief to keep painting in this style?

I don't know the answers to these questions.

I wish I did.


  1. Thank you Alice, this post speaks directly to me this morning and has lifted my spirits.

  2. That is great - these are wonderful paintings, giving a great sense that the children are also a creative impulse, no? You don't always see this while they are growing.
    Glad to hear she kept painting.

  3. I struggle with similar thoughts every day. I have no answers but I wish I did.

  4. She was really talented and hopefully sensed that about her own work.

  5. Those paintings are AMAZING.
    You brign us questions which indeed are amongst many of us, not me as I would never compare myself to such a talented woman, but in my small world I am currently struggling BIG TIME.

  6. I sigh and then I look out of the window at the questions raised in this lovely post......

  7. A lovely post Alice. Her work is so beautiful and her struggle balancing creativity with domestic life reminded me of the following quote from Winifred Nicholson:

    "There seems too little time to write anything worthwhile. All my spare time off housekeeping and mothering I spend trying to delve further, to find more. When one is young one is satisfied with a flower petal or a sparkle. Now I want more. I want the rainbow scale of the flower and the reason and the travel of the sparkle and most of all a long quiet time of intense peace and uninterrupted thought, none of which one can get. They have to put all the interruptions into the cauldron and boil them along with the rainbows that one can never catch and hold"
    Winifred Nicholson to Jim Ede.

    It seems to be a stuggle peculiar to women!

  8. Oh I wish we had an answer to that. Though I think being able to paint this well would motivate anyone. For the rest of us there's still the sense of things you do when you've fufilled your duties for the day - and often never get round to. I've always envied people who can put themselves first (not in a nasty selfish sense but by feeling they have a perfect right). And I've never managed to acquire this ability. Husband has this ability - which is why I always land up taking the car to the garage, remembering to pay the bills etc. I suppose, whilst he's more self-interestdly occupied.. As Gina said, I think it is a woman thing, but also comes from our perception of our role, and as you say giving worth to one's own creative work.

  9. Goodness, I can identify with this. I really can.

    I has never heard of her - thankyou for educating me - again. Her work is so simple and cartoon-like in places but that's what makes it so appealing.

  10. my mother had a similar breakdown for the same reason..

    and so a woman thing... a female struggle ..and one all of us here seem to identify with..

    and now I want to read more about Winifred Nicholson thanks to Gina

  11. AnonymousMay 26, 2010

    These are so lovely -- and I have no answers but those are certainly good questions.

  12. If you figure it all out, would you please let me know? For a while now, I have been satisfied with letting my mothering BE my creative expression, but it's not really working any more. Looking for a good map...

    (or maybe just a good nap)

  13. oh dear. Times have moved on... but not that much. We're still asking ourselves the same same same question.

    Oh dear.

  14. definitely some thoughts to ponder on!

    One small step at a time and one day you look back and it all seems to make sense for that period of your life and some other questions will be challenging your mind.

    Live in each moment and be grateful for every second of 'our time' that we can achieve and know that we are always doing the best that we can at the time and that we are our own worst critics.

    Thank you for sharing :-)

  15. Your post has stopped me dead in my tracks.

    Thank you for the introduction to this artist.

  16. Hello, I found your blog this morning through Lynne's (dove grey reader)and I can see it willl be one of the first I will read in the mornings.

  17. One of the main reasons for her mental breakdown was the death of Edward Thomas at Arras in 1917....It's not known whether they had a full relationship but the poetic excerpts from both of them offer compelling proof. Her beauty is timeless and I was particularly astonished at a photo taken in 1894, which could have been taken yesterday it was so contemporary looking.....See 'Now All Roads Lead To France - The Last Years of Edward Thomas'

    Dermot (Ire)

  18. Sensitive and gracious on Edna. She features in my novel about Edward Thomas, A Conscious Englishman, publishing Feb 2013, and in my blog


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