If last week’s post about postcard photography was about the value of the close examination of photographs this week’s is about the value of curiosity. A few weeks ago we received a small packet contain a badly creased photograph and a few pages from an old magazine. They came to us by a circuitous route. A lady who had worked in a building demolished in 1971, 184 Queen’s Gate had kept them and sent them to the Bulgarian Embassy which now occupies 186-188 in the same street. The Embassy had no use for them so they passed them to the Mayor’s Office who in turn sent them to us. I looked at them and became curious:
Mr George McCulloch and his wife Mary are sitting in one of the many rooms in the house they had built full of paintings they collected. They look like a prosperous late Victorian or Edwardian couple (the photo could have been taken as early as 1894 but no later than 1907). They look grand but relaxed and a little casual. Look at Mr McCulloch with his hand in his pocket. Mrs McCulloch is wearing a smart dress but she looks comfortable enough with her feet up on a footstool. Have a closer look at her:
She’s a woman in early middle age – she would have been called handsome by her contemporaries I think with what you might call strong features and a determined expression.
Mr McCulloch liked to get behind the camera as well and he took other pictures of his wife and his art collection. Here she is in another, in front of another group of paintings.
Did Mr McCulloch intend to step in and occupy the empty chair himself?
She looks as though she’s dressed to go out but has still found time to sit down with one leg crossed over the other settling herself patiently while her husband takes his picture. In another picture she looks slightly less patient:
She stands clutching her gloves. It seems to me that she might be in a hurry to get somewhere else. There is something about Mrs McCulloch which told me that while she was comfortable enough in her expensive dresses and her grand home she had also experienced a different kind of life.
By the way I’m not entirely dead to the significance of the pictures on the wall. Just over her left shoulder is Ophelia by J W Waterhouse.
Go back to the picture of Mr and Mrs McCulloch – the central picture is the Garden of the Hesperides by our very own Lord Leighton.
For the record, George McCulloch, who had made a fortune from mining in Australia was a serious art collector who owned a number of famous paintings.
If you can spot any more well known works in these pictures let me know. I’d like to know the identity of the pictures hanging in this domed dining room particularly the one in the centre with the two lions.
Mr McCulloch died in 1907 leaving over £400,000 to his widow. These were the days when that was a lot of money. But Mary Agnes McCulloch had not always had that kind of wealth. She was born Mary Smith, the daughter of a miner in Broken Hill, Australia and had married a man named Frans Mayger. Mr and Mrs Mayger worked for George McCulloch as handyman and housekeeper in his house at Mount Gipps near Broken Hill. Frans died when he fell from a horse and Mary moved to Melbourne. But she met George again there and he brought her with him to London. They were married at the Strand Register Office in 1893.
George’s pictures were sold for about £130,000 (a disappointing figure apparently as he had spent about £200,000 amassing the collection). Mary married again to the Scottish artist James Coutts Michie, who had been an artistic adviser to Mr McCulloch. It is his name which starts to appear in Kelly’s Street Directory for 184 Queen’s Gate after 1907.
184 is the third imposing house from the right.
But we’re not finished with Mrs Mary Coutts Michie yet. During the First World War she turned her house into a hospital with 168 beds for servicemen. Several houses in the area were also converted and she ran the Michie Hospital, as it became known, herself.
Is this her in the picture below with the staff of the hospital?
It may be wishful thinking on my part but the woman in the matron’s uniform has the same determined look as Mrs McCulloch the art collector’s wife.
She was awarded the OBE for her work during the war. Her third husband died in 1919. Her son Alexander rowed for England in the 1908 Olympics and survived the Great War. In 1925 she was back in Broken Hill, donating a picture to the local art gallery.
Remember at the start of the post I told you about a creased photograph? I’ve had a try at mending the image with Photoshop:
This photograph, which I have held in my hand, is something which quite probably Mary McCulloch held in hers. She is perfectly comfortable in the sumptuous evening outfit she is wearing but she has the air of someone who could ride a horse, do housework or run a hospital if she wished and would be perfectly happy to do so.
She’s not in Who Was Who or the Dictionary of National Biography and I haven’t yet been able to find out the date of her death but for the moment my curiosity about Mary Agnes Smith Mayger McCulloch Coutts Michie is satisfied.
Coincidence: Many of George McCulloch’s artworks were bought by Lord Leverhulme, whose garden was the venue for some of Margaret Morris’s dancers a couple of weeks ago.
Quirky fact I couldn’t work into the main text: according to Kelly’s along the road from Mrs McCulloch’s house at 169 Queen’s Gate was an apartment house where a man named Edward Ittison Pronk lived. It’s a bit silly of me to find this amusing but I had to pass it on.
My thanks to Isabel who speculated with me about the identity and background of the lady in the pictures and heard the facts come out in installments.
The picture of the Michie Hospital staff comes from Wikipedia.