Lilian Edmonds, artist
Hilary Roadley with information supplied by Colin Lees & Ancestry (Pam Johnson)
When Lilian Edmonds was born on 22 Jan 1869 in Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire, her father, Henry, (Staff Surgeon RN) was 51, and her mother, Augusta, was 42. She was their youngest child. She had five brothers and two sisters. Her father died in 1871 and her mother in 1872.
Her great niece Pam Johnson nee Edmonds recently told us: Poor Lilian had a sad childhood. She was only three when both her parents died within months of each other. The parents were only children; grandparents had died so there were was no extended family to look after them. The children were well provided for by their father and the older children were sent to boarding school. The executors had placed the two little ones with a widowed relation (Mrs Granger and family at Denbigh House, Lower Addiscombe Rd, Croydon). She, however, died herself a few years later as did poor little Philip (1867- 73). However, her daughter, a schoolteacher, looked after the sisters until Florence was old enough to take care of Lilian now aged 12 years. Three of her brothers came out to Australia. My father Cyril who was in England when WWl broke out and stayed with his aunts giving their address when he applied to join the Navy. He and brother Frank were the fifth generation of Edmonds to go to sea. Poor Frank I think had a lonely life. The other brothers all had families in Australia and New Zealand and died there.
Then Lilian lived with one of her elder siblings as she grew up. In 1881 she lived with her elder sister Florence (B:9 Jan 1858 Bath; Head of family age 23) and brother Frederick (age 18 Apprentice Bio Eng.) in Lambeth, London. In 1891, age 22 she still lived there with Florence (age 33 living on own means) and brother Henry (age 26 a physician & surgeon).
By 1901 Lilian lived by herself, on her own means in Wandon Rd/Watford Rd, Fulham, London, her occupation as an artist (painter), at home. Her studio was in Chelsea (Ancestry). She was still recorded as a painter/artist and art teacher in 1911& 1913 and lived on her own account at Grosvenor House, The Ridgway, Wimbledon. In 1918 Florence & Lilian were living in Dudley house, 26 King’s Ave, Clapham Park, London (Ancestry).
Move to Harston
Lilian joined the Cambridge Drawing Society in 1922 so must have moved to the area by then from London. The Society records didn’t begin until 1928 and showed 1928 – 1932 her address was given as Camping Close, Harston (now No 46 Royston Rd, facing the Green). She lived there with her brother Francis Victor and sister Florence, both single like Lilian and living on their own means. They rented the house from the Greene family (bought 1920) who lived at Harston House. Francis (a clerk) died there on 1 Jul 1931 leaving over £1035; Lilian his executor.
Lilian had a bungalow built in 1932 in Button End, Harston. She called it East West as it lay along that line. It is now called Thyme Cottage. Florence, her sister, died 20 Sep 1935 in Fulbourn Mental Hospital but was of Button End so may have lived with her there some of the time. There is a photo of Lilian and Florence at East West sometime between 1932-1935. However, on Ancestry, Florence appeared to have had a letter to a Cyril showing she lived opposite the Green in 1934. This would have been Camping Close House.
Cambridge Drawing Society records show Lilian was living at East West in 1937 but by 1938 she was recorded, along with Josephine Mason another artist, as living at the Weaving rooms, The Green (now No 42 Royston Rd); stables adjoining Camping Close House which had been converted into a residence around the mid-late 1930s by the Greene family of Harston House. In 1939 she had her studio, though, at 4a Bridge Street, in Jordan’s Yard. Polly (Mary) Greene of Harston House was also an artist so they probably knew each other well. Polly had left London reluctantly and moved to Harston with her brother and sisters in late 1890s so it is likely that she had a previous London connection with Lilian.
Lilian was recorded in Electoral Registers as living back in East West (bungalow), Button End, Harston in 1945 but still with her studio in Jordan’s Yard 1946-52.
Lilian died 30 March 1952 at the County Hospital, Cambridge at the age of 84 but was recorded as of Jordan’s Yard, Cambridge.
Her art career
May 1897 she exhibited two paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts, Picaddily, London according to a family connection on Ancestry.
Colin Lees (Archivist at Cambridge Drawing Society) has provided detail about her career in Cambridge:
Unlike her contemporaries, Gwen Raverat and Polly Greene, Lilian was not a prolific exhibitor, rarely showing more than two or three pictures at any show and occasionally she didn’t show any work at all: there’s nothing listed for her in 1929, for instance, or 1935.
Interestingly, her pictures were always among the most expensive in any given exhibition, almost certainly a measure of the quality of her work – the Committee had a say in the pricing of works. In 1924, she exhibited a Madonna and Child for a whopping £60.0.0 – by far the most expensive exhibit that year. There’s no record of whether or not it sold.
She seems to have painted a range of subjects including flower paintings, landscapes and urban scenes. But portraiture was clearly a special interest for her and most portraits exhibited with the Cambridge Drawing Society were not for sale, which suggests they were done as commissions.
The catalogues rarely give the medium in which a painting was executed but from the scant evidence available, it does seem that Lilian worked mostly in oil.
Here’s a list of the pictures Lilian exhibited, according to our incomplete records.
1924: (1)Madonna & Child (2) Reverend W. & Mrs Teape* (3) Portrait of Mrs Conybere
*This may be William Marshall Teape of St John’s (1882-1945). The Teape Lectures were established from a posthumous endowment by Teape and managed by the Teape Trust. According to Wikipedia these lectures continue to the present day. They concern the relationship of Hindu and Christian thought.
1925: (1) Peasant Woman of Provence (2) The Rest of the Way (sculpture) (3) Public Analyst on ArtUK website.
The museum of Cambridge has this portrait picture painted by Lilian (an art teacher at The Perse School) of James West Knights 1854-1929, when he was Cambridge Public Analyst. Also exhibited in 1928.
1926; (1) Cotswold Hills (2) Lt Col Wherry, MCh, FRCS ** (3) Miss Annie Pertz
**The Cambridge Colleges own the portrait picture painted by Lilian of George Edward Wherry (1852-1928), an honorary Fellow of Downing College and Consultant Surgeon at Addenbrookes as well as surgeon in WW1. On ArtUK website.
1927: (1) Vaudrey Mercer Esq (2) Wandering Minstrels
1928: (1) The Analyst (2) ?
1930: (1) Portrait of My Brother
1931: (1) Madonna & Child (Sculpture)
1933: (1) Dahlias (2) Landscape at Harston
Another portrait of ‘a young boy in Eton collar’ was painted by her in oil and for sale in 1935.
Another picture is of Master Edward Cooke.
1936: (1) Winter (2) Mrs Magnard (3) Madonna & Child
1937: (1-3) Seagulls (4) Old Harston
1938: (1) Portrait of Violet Thurston (2) The Market at Grasse, France
1939: (1) A Worker (2) The Riviera at Grasse, France
Cambridge Daily News of 19 May 1939 noted her exhibiting along with other artists in Cambridge and judged her ‘the Riviera near Grasse’ a pleasant picture.
1940: (1) Summer on the River (2) River Sketch
There were no exhibitions during the war years, except for a small show held at a member’s studio on Madingley Road in 1943, at which Lilian exhibited a portrait of a nurse in Civil Defence uniform and a painting entitled Chestnut Avenue
1946: (1) Portrait of a Nurse (perhaps the same picture as the one shown at Madingley Road in 1943)
1947: (1) Portrait of Mrs Papworth (2) Miss Grace Morley (3) Reflections
1948: (1) Dawn (2) Cotswold Farm (3) Cornish Sea (Oil paintings, not watercolours as I said in my previous mail).
1949: (1) The Bridge of Sighs
1950: (1) Gladioli (2) Chrysanthemums
1951: (1) Portrait of Tony
1952: Three pictures exhibited in memory of Lilian: (1) Chrysanthemums (2&3) Portraits.
A booklet on Harston’s All Saints Parish Church history notes that a relief sculpture on the east wall of the South Aisle was created around 1933 by Lilian called Flight into Egypt – Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus escaping King Herod’s soldiers. The white figures are seen in relief against a slate grey background. The style resembles the frieze designs of John Flaxman RA (1755 – 1826). Flaxman had begun as an artist working on decorative figures for Wedgwood.