Tag Archives: Australia

Charles Conder’s bohemian days

Conder created an Arcadia peopled by dreamy, capricious figures who lead lives of luxurious idleness. They wander at dusk on the margins of tranquil, lapis lazuli seas, of lakes cerulean under the midday haze, or dally in the shade of richly foliaged trees. Scented breezes may stir their garments, but they know neither wind nor rain. There is no harshness or violence among these privileged beings, for those who dwell in Arcadia do not suffer from privation or ambition. But there is a wistfulness, sometimes, in their glances; their laughter ceases, they seem to grow weary of their own perfection, of being without past of future. They are touched by a nostalgia for the world of real men and women, of struggle and tragedy. Such moments pass; their eyes are caught again by a seductive smile, the notes of a flute or mandolin are wafted from across the water, and their faces grow tender from the contemplation of unending beauty.

Sir John Rothenstein. (1938)

Spring by the Sea

In February 1905 the artist Charles Conder and his wife Stella Maris invited their friends to a fancy dress party at their home in Cheyne Walk.

From Conder's House plate 52

The invitations might have looked like this one Conder created for another costume party

Invitation Card plate 72

Note that phrase “disguise imperative”. Conder had created a room for Edmund and Mary Davis at their house in North Kensington decorated with water colours on silk which was featured in the Studio magazine in the same year. The writer Arthur Symons recalled the “most wonderful Fancy Dress Ball the Conders gave.”

John Rothenstein had this to say about the party:

One at least of the parties given at 91 Cheyne Walk was memorable enough to be talked of to this day. A the guests arrived at the house lit with many-coloured lanterns there was an air of tense exectancy. For weeks it had been rumoured that those most renowned for the ingenuity and magnificence of their fancy dress were planning to outdo themselves. The highest expectations were fulfilled. Marie Tempest came as Peg Woffington, the Broness de Meyer as Hamlet, Mr and Mrs Edmund Davis as a pair of poodles, Mrs Lawson as as Dutch boy, and Mrs Florence Humphrey as a Conder lady. The fan which Conder offered as prize to the wearer of the dress judged the most beautiful was won by Madame Errazuiz, a dazzling South American. This party … represented the Conder’s social apotheosis.

Conder had married Stella, a wealthy Canadian widow, in 1901 and had subsequently moved in an elevated social and artistic circle.

The masquerade 48

I first came across Conder’s name when I saw this picture reproduced in a book.

La Morte Amoreuse p68

La Morte Amoreuse – The Dead Woman in love. An enigmatic picture with an intriguing title. As I looked at more of his pictures they seemed to have the same slightly macabre quality.

The shadow p56

The Spectre, also referred to as The Shadow.

Conder belongs to the same fin de siecle world as Aubrey Beardsley, who was a friend of his. Conder contributed to the Yellow Book and to Savoy magazine. Some of his work resembles Beardsley.

A fairy prince plate 8

“A fairy prince” could easily have come out of a decadent narrative like Beardsley’s Under the Hill.

A masque plate 7

Another masque. Along with Under the Hill I was taken back to the Picture of Dorian Gray, Pierre Louys’s novel Aphrodite, Flaubert’s Salammbo, the stories of Lord Dunsany, J K Huymans’ A Rebours (Against nature). You could have had a lot of quoted passages laid before you from my immersement in fantastic literature in the 70s. This was before fantasy trilogies clogged the bookshops and once you’d read your Mervyn Peake, Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, to name a few, you had to dig deeper to find that weird frisson.

Before he washed up in Chelsea as the husband of a rich woman, there had quite a quite different side to Conder. When he was 16 years old he had been sent to Australia by his father partly to prevent him becoming an artist. It didn’t work of course and Australia actually provided him with inspiration and the company of other artists. A large part of his work features bright skies and open spaces . He returned to Europe in 1890 but remained to many an Australian artist like our friend Mortimer Menpes.

Charles Conder Rickett's Point

Rickett’s Point.

A holiday at Mentone

A holiday in Mentone. (The Australian one, obviously)

Silver sands.

On the seashore.

He combined sun, sand and a mythological air in this picture.

Charles Conder Hot Wind

Hot wind.

Conder’s relaxed life in Cheyne Walk did not last very long. He died in 1909 aged only 41, of tertiary syphillis, something his earlier biographers hint at without actually saying. Stella did not survive him by long. She died of burns after falling asleep while smoking in 1912.

Conder Stella and Florence H

Conder and Stella with their friend Florence Humphrey.

If like me you’ve never come across Conder before, there’s plenty out there to see online and even in UK galleries. One or two things in Australia too if you’re down that way. I’ve found it fascinating to go from one image to an artist’s whole life and work, especially after finding out his Chelsea connection. There’s much more  you could say but as I’m not really an art historian I’ll just end the post with another picture.

The pink dress.


Some of the images came from Charles Conder: his life and work (Bodley Head 1914) by Frank Gibson. I also used  The life and death of Conder (Dent 1938) by Sir John Rothenstein.

There are quite a few Conder pictures on the BBC Your Paintings website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/search/painted_by/charles-conder_artists

You can also see paintings in our collection there: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/galleries/locations/kensington-central-library-6950

I can also recommend  Ann Galbally’s excellent biography Charles Conder: the last Bohemian (Melbourne University Press 2003).

I went to see an exhibition by another Chelsea riverside artist a couple of nights ago, Hugh Krall. If you’re in Chelsea you should have a look. More details here.

Mr Menpes I presume

Mortimer Luddington Menpes is having a bit of a renaissance in his home country. This year there were two exhibitions devoted to his work one in Adelaide, the city of his birth and one in Melbourne. We contributed some images to one of them, and they sent us a copy of the book of the exhibition, which is where most of this week’s pictures come from. My colleague Tim and I also got an invitation to the private view. But it was a bit far to go, which was a shame. It would have been good to see the place Menpes came from. He was born in Port Adelaide in 1855 and came to England when he was 20. Although he lived the greatest part of his life in the UK there was always something of the outsider about Mr Menpes and he never lost an Australian artist’s feeling for light and colour.

Dolce far niente 1885-86 p45

“Dolce far niente” is a portrait of Whistler’s mistress Maud Franklin wearing an oriental robe.  Menpes was generally under Whistler’s influence in London. This picture, A little Shop in Chelsea is thought to be influenced by Whister’s view of Maunder’s fish shop in Cheyne Walk.

Copy of A little shop in Chelsea 1884-87

But Menpes annoyed his master in 1887 when he travelled to Japan. The influence of Japanese culture in Britain had been felt since the 1862 Exhibition in South Kensington but Whistler thought that Japan belonged to him, artistically speaking. Menpes went past the master to explore the source for himself. (He slipped away leaving a letter for Whistler and avoided a confrontation in person. This did not prevent Whistler later denouncing him)

Flower of the tea 1887-88 p63

He was able to visit the the elderly painter Kawanabe Kyosai, talk with him through an interpreter and observe him at work on a number of paintings. Menpes incorporated  Japanese style and techniques into his own work. His pictures of Japan show this influence but at the same time he retains a Western sensibility, as in this picture of two women.

Two geisha girls 1896-97

By the time of his exhibition of his Japanese pictures in London in 1888 Menpes was also a practioner of drypoint etching.

Later in life he concentrated on etching and print making.

Venice of Japan 1897

This example is called Venice in Japan.

He employed a technique of sketching pictures quickly to capture scenes spontaneously which was useful for his travels. This picture, the Woman with a Jar, is an example of his ability to observe and record a moment of everyday life.

The girl with the jar 1887-88

His travels later took him back to Japan but also further afield. This etching is a view in China.

Rich only in colour China 1907-08

This one is entitled “An old bridge in Mandalay”

Old Bridge Mandalay 1911-13

He also ventured into India, another of the trips he turned into a travel book.

Blue was the sky above us -Benares 1889-91

“Blue was the sky above us – Benares”

He also travelled to Mexico,and back in Europe visited Paris and Venice.

St Mark's piaza 1909-11

But there was also London, where he had built the Japanese House and where the river was one of the main subjectsof his work.

Below, “A distant view of the city”.

A distant view of the city 1886-89

The riverside in the heart of London, at Limehouse.

Limehouse 1886-89

Is that the Hawksmoor Church, St Anne’s visible on the horizon in this view?

Not forgetting his trips beyond the tidal Thames into the calmer countryside up river.

Goring 1909-11

Compare this etching of Goring with the coloured illustration in his book The Thames which appears in this post. (5th picture, but you won’t have any trouble spotting it)

I haven’t touched on his portraits, but he also made himself a leading exponent of that art as well. This 1920 sketch “A woman with a cigarette” , a portrait of the actress Thelma Ray, the first wife of Ronald Colman, shows his continuing ability to catch a fleeting moment.

Woman holding a cigarette - Thelma Raye 1920

But for all his other work it’s probably as “Japanes Menpes” that Mr Menpes is best remembered.

The Parasol 1887-88



The exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has just finished, so you can’t go to it now, but here is a glimpse:

Menpes exhibition

My thanks to Julie Robinson, the Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Gallery, for sending us a copy of the exhibition book/catalogue, “The World of Mortimer Menpes: Painter, Etcher, Raconteur”, a very useful adition to our Menpes collection. Now that Menpes is getting some of the attention he deserves I think we’ll hear a lot more about him. I haven’t finished with him on the blog either so you can expect to see more of his work here in the future.

If you are in Melbourne in the next few months you could try a different Menpes exhibition: http://www.grainger.unimelb.edu.au/exhibitions/  A review of it: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/voice/mortimer-menpes-and-grainger-a-shared-love-of-japan-20140807-3d9n4.html

I’m thinking of doing something way out of Kensington and Chelsea next week. We’ll see how that works out.

Mr Menpes on the river

There are several parallels between the work of Mortimer Menpes and Yoshio Markino. Markino brought a Japanese sensibility to the way he looked at London and Londoners, and an outsider’s eye for the unfamiliar sights of his new home. He was particularly fascinated by the river. This fascination was shared by Menpes who published this book, The Thames in 1906 in collaboration with G E Mitton.

00 Thames

Menpes also brought an outsider’s viewpoint to the river. Remember, he was from Australia and had been brought up in quite a different climate and landscape. So it’s not surprising that while Markino concentrated on London’s river, the tidal Thames with its bridges, embankments and fast flowing water, Menpes was captivated by the other Thames above the tide. This was still a world of country towns, lazy river pursuits and long still sunny days -that late Victorian / Edwardian summer epitomised by Jerome K Jerome’s Three men in a boat or Kenneth Grahame’s the Wind in the Willows.

Pangbourne p4

The other thing Menpes shares with Markino is an eye for the picturesque qualities of the new women of the Edwardian era. Sometimes they lounge casually under a parasol with the obligatory small dog who, like his literary ancestor Montmorency is an essential part of the crew for a river journey in a small rowing boat. Sometimes they took the oar themselves.

Pangbourne from the Swan Hotel p64

In this case it looks like the same woman, slightly sad about having to dump her companion but happy to be making some progress at last. The upper Thames had declined as a route for commercial traffic but had seen an enormous growth in boating for pleasure. There were tranquil backwaters suitable for punting.

Dorchester backwater p52

Deserted stretches, given over to wild life.

Goring p62

“Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox gone to ground.
See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water.
And a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees,
Laughing as it passes through the endless summer making for the sea.”

There were plenty of places for river sports, boathouses for the small rowing skiffs and the solitary canoeist:

Radley College boathouse p34

But the river was also a site of mass entertainment. Large gatherings of pleasure seekers attended events like Henley Regatta as they still do today. These events were attended in huge numbers by the new middle classes who had leisure time to fill and the ability to travel to formerly exclusive spots by train and river boat.

Henley Regatte p100

Along with the rowing boats in all sizes there were the giant houseboats, like floating hotels which were towed from one riverside event to another. These were the glory days of the upper Thames. The picture below is of Boulter’s Lock on Ascot Sunday:

Boulter's Lock Ascot Sunday p128

A traffic jam of river craft in the narrow waterway. Below, the area near the lock where larger  boats and  steam launches wait their turn. You can even see one of the luxurious houseboats (gin palaces as one of Jerome’s characters called them) although I doubt if could go through the lock.

Below Boulter's Lock p130

By the end of the day the crowds of fashionable pleasure seekers had withdrawn to their houseboats and inns or just made the journey home and the river was calm again.

Hampton Court from the river p178

All the different kinds of river craft had made their way to a mooring.

Rose Garden at Sonning p72

The very fortunate had a pleasant riverside dwelling to return to as the sun went down.

Streatley Inn p18

The sun hangs low in the sky and the river people are indoors telling stories about their exploits on the water.

Mapledurham Mill p66

“If I had wings and I could fly,
I know where I would go.
But right now I’ll just sit here so contentedly
And watch the river flow.”

Hambleden p102

The picture below is my favourite of Menpes’s illustrations of his river journey. A woman finds a comfortable spot and nods off on a quite summer afternoon. Her parasol slips back, but her face is still shaded by her wide brimmed hat. Her unseen companion sits quietly at the stern so as not to disturb her. Even the dog sits calmly enjoying the same relaxed moment as his human companions.

“Put on a gown that touches the ground
Float on a river forever and ever, Emily “

Sad eyed lady of the lowland

The peaceful moment lives on forever.

“The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That’s where I want to be
Flow river flow
Let your waters wash down
Take me from this road
To some other town.”


Lyrics by Roger Waters and Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) and Bob Dylan.

Everybody knows Jerome K Jerome’s Three men in a boat but for a modern day version of a river journey try one of my favourite books, Nigel Williams’ Two and a half men in a boat.

We’ll come down to the river again one day I’m sure.

Finally, thanks to Kat for all her work in Local Studies, and for her friendship.

Mr Menpes and the Japanese house

Mr Mortimer Luddington Menpes – “painter, etcher, raconteur and rifle-shot” as Who’s Who of 1901 describes him. “Recreation: rifle-shooting (not to labour that point or anything), and travelling. Address: 25 Cadogans Gardens, SW (we’ll come back to his residence presently). Club: Savage.”

MM CM630 crop

He looks like an Edwardian club man, doesn’t he? Bit of a military cove perhaps? Or the hero of a Conan Doyle story? Well he was certainly an adventurer, but there was far more to Mortimer Menpes than that. He was born in Port Adelaide, South Australia in 1855 but his family moved to London when he was 20. He studied at the Royal College of Art (then known by various titles such as the School of Art, or the South Kensington School). In London he met Walter Sickert and the two of them became friendly with Whistler. By 1881 they were studio assistants to the great man, but Menpes was the closer, even becoming Whistler’s flatmate in Cheyne Walk. Menpes was devoted to Whistler who encouraged him in his etching work. Whistler was godfather to Menpes’s first child Dorothy Whistler Menpes who was born in 1887.

I don’t know if Dorothy ever used her middle name. By the time she would have known it her father’s friendship with Whistler was over (Whistler had a high attrition rate for friends ). Menpes doesn’t seem to have born a grudge. He attended Whistler’s funeral in 1903, and wrote a sympathetic memoir of his former friend, “Whister as I knew him.”

One of the reasons for the falling out was Menpes’ trip to Japan in 1888 (My impression is that Whistler seems to have regarded the whole country and its artistic heritage as reserved for himself). Menpes became a great admirer of Japan, its people and its art. There was an exhibition of pictures devoted to his trip, which seemed to cause further annoyance to the master.

Later, he and Dorothy collaborated on a book about his travels. He told her his stories and she transcribed them. It was a method they used several times.

001 A by-canal

[A by-canal]

Without wanting to be unkind you can see that although Menpes was never in Whistler’s league as an artist he was an effective illustrator  and these pictures are well observed and evoke that old Japan  as it was being drawn into the modern world.

001 The Giant lantern

[The big lantern]

001 Daughters of the sun

[Daughters of the sun]

The really big fuss was reserved for the house at 25 Cadogan Gardens which Menpes had designed by the architect Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, “decorated in the Japanese style”.  Photographs of the interior give us some idea of the excitement the house generated.

Menpes house photo not in other sets cc

Raymond Blathwayt called it “The most wonderful house in the world” in a pamphlet with the same title. He says: “To wander through its entrance hall is as though one walked in a garden of the far Eastern world, when the world itself was in its early childhood.”

25 Cadogan Gardens Souvenir - 01

The pictures cannot quite capture the full impact of the interior. An article in The King in 1902 says: “The walls of the drawing room are an indescribable yellow which itself creates an intense physical delight…..the studio adjoining this room is in another shade of yellow almost as rich and pleasing in tone; the outer and inner halls are a beautiful green, the colour of an unripe melon, and the dining room downstairs is scarlet.” We just have to imagine the colours.

25 Cadogan Gardens Souvenir - 04

We can appreciate the impact. Japanese culture had been a source of inspiration since  porcelain had been imported from the East  but it was becoming  a major influence in fine art and design. It remained as an undercurrent as people learned more about the exotic island culture on the other side of the world.

In contrast to the positive reception for the house, Whistler described Menpes as an “Australian immigrant of Fulham who like the kangaroo of his country is born with a pocket and puts everything in it”. When, in 1898 he became president of the newly formed International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers he made sure that Menpes and Sickert were excluded. Menpes showed remarkable restraint in his attitude to his former friend: “Whistler did not mean to hurt me – he was very fond of me.”

MM and DM

Menpes continued to be a prolific artist and author. He produced a large number of pictures when he went to South Africa as a war artist during the Boer war. Dorothy once again transcribed the anecdotes he told to go with the pictures and turned them into a complete narrative. War Impressions (1903) was one of several collaborations.

World and Childen

With other collaborators Menpes wrote about India, China, Venice and Paris, many of them published by his own company the Menpes Press.

25 Cadogan Gardens Neubaten

[25 Cadogan Gardens, from Neubaten in London]

He lived in the Japanese house until 1900 when he moved to Kent. In 1907 he created the Menpes Fruit Farm Company in Pangbourne in Berkshire. He built forty greenhouses for flowers, fruit and vegetables and lived in his house Iris Court until his death in 1938. He was spared the experience of living in a country at war with Japan.

Menpes house CM629 141

I wonder what he would have made of the Japan we know today?



You can still see the exterior of the Japanese house which is now owned by the Peter Jones department store, although the interior is long gone . The fixtures and fittings were auctioned off when the house was sold in 1907.

I have a feeling there is going to be more about Mr Menpes on the blog. We could hear a lot more about his travels and his art. So let me know if this has whetted your appetite.

Thanks to Alex Buchholz and Peter Collins of Westminster Central Reference Library for loaning me their copy of Japan, and to Susie Hilmi for transporting it.

The last photograph is by the  fashion/art photographer Akif  Hakan from his gallery at Deviant Art. His work is varied and excellent but some of the images on the gallery and on his professional website are, as they say,  not safe for work, so I haven’t included a link.

Mrs McCulloch’s pictures

When I first wrote about Mrs McCulloch I knew I only had part of the story but I had little idea of how much there would be to add. Some of you left comments identifying pictures in the photographs; there was even some wild speculation about the mysterious aspects of Mrs McCulloch’s life. The best response was from David Wright of Australia who shared with me his history of the Smith family. (Just pause for a moment and think of the difficulties involved in doing genealogical research on a family named Smith.) Thanks to him and others a few of the blanks have been filled in, enough for me to want to do a second post.

The first thing to mention is the house.

A12A6238 - Copy

This was it the morning after what I assume must have been a flying bomb incident in February 1944.

The house next door has been completely destroyed but it looks like there was enough of number 184 Queens Gate left for the structure to have been repaired and inhabited after the war. This explains why we were eventually sent the cuttings from the Art Journal and the photograph of Mrs McCulloch which started me off on the trail.

Look back for a moment at one of those pictures:

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior with Mrs McCulloch seated

Mrs McCulloch with some of her husband’s pictures. Here are a couple of them:

the potato gatherers - october by jultd bastien lepage

The Potato Gatherers by Julien Bastien Lepage.

George_McCulloch by j s sargeant

George McCulloch himself painted in a relaxed pose by John Singer Sargent. You’ll also see a self portrait by Whistler in the right hand corner of the photograph.

Here is a view of the dining room again:

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior

And here are those lions I was interested in:


The Lions at home by Rosa Bonheur.

And the picture on the right:

(c) Magdalen Evans (Mrs); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The setting sun by Adrian Stokes.

When Mr McCulloch died the pictures were all catalogued for one big sale. The catalogue is here.

There are over three hundred  more, but here are some that I found interesting:


On his holidays, a portrait of Alexander, Mrs McCulloch’s son also by John Singer Sargent who went on holiday to Norway with the family in 1901.


Master Baby by Sir William Quiller Orchardson, which can also be seen in the photographs of Mrs McCulloch in the original post.

And just for the fun of it, Vae Victis by Arthur Hacker, one of those overheated semi-imaginary views of the Middle East which were popular as British tourists ventured into the Ottoman Empire.  An Alma Tadema style Ottoman Empire.

vae_victus_arthur_hacker copy

The lightly clad  denizens of this fantasy world were a distinct contrast with the overdressed (by our standards at least) inhabitants of the house in which the paintings hung as seen below.

The MCullochs with Luke and Fanny Fildes at 184

The lady sitting next to Mrs McCulloch is Fanny Fildes wife of the artist Luke Fildes who is seated on the right. Fildes was a Kensington resident who lived in Melbury Road in the artistic quarter near Leighton House. We’ll come back to him one day in his own right. The group has been posed in front of one of Fildes’ own paintings.


“An alfresco toilet.”, an everyday view of Venetian life.

Those must have been the relatively carefree days of Mrs McCulloch’s life in the art world, before her husband’s death and the Great War. The information provided by David Wright casts some light on her earlier days in Australia before her second marriage. If you remember she was born Mary Agnes Smith and had come to Australia from Nottinghamshire with her parents in 1874. She married James Mayger in 1879.

In the first post I repeated the account that she herself later gave, that Mayger was killed in a fall from a horse. However it seems that Mayger actually died of a condition related to his alcoholism. Mary and James had separated  and she left him to be looked after by her younger sister Susan and her family in Sydney. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1892. Mary remained in Melbourne and met up with her former employer George McCulloch. She and the baby Alexander left Australia in 1890 with McCulloch and went to live with him as his housekeeper in Walton Street, Chelsea where they appear on the 1891 census.

I suppose this version of events is more ambiguous and open to interpretation than the later version but you can’t altogether blame a young woman for leaving a husband who had become a drunk seeking to improve her circumstances (and those of her and James Mayger’s son) by making a life with someone else.

Mary and George were married in 1893 and went on a “grand tour” while 184 Queen’s Gate was being built. On their return they took up their life as wealthy art patrons and collectors.

Mrs McCulloch by then Mrs Michie was awarded the CBE for her hospital work in the Great War. She sold the Queen’s Gate house in 1924 by which time she was already living in Surrey. She lived to see the end of World War 2, dying in November 1945.

Let’s take one more look at her in a coloured photograph from her Australian days:


She looks to me as if she was already thinking that she still had plenty to do in her life.


Thanks to David Wright who supplied the pictures of the young Mary Mayger and the group photo (and his excellent  history of the Smith family from which I have taken the biographical information).

Thanks to Judith Finnamore of Westminster City Archives for a bigger version of the bomb damage photo. And thanks to everyone who identified pictures.

I think this wraps it up for Mrs McCulloch as far as I’m concerned. But you never know what might arrive in my inbox in the future. I still haven’t seen an image of the portrait of Mrs McCulloch by Dagnan-Bouveret which is listed in the catalogue: ” three quarter figure seated to right, her left hand resting on the arm of the chair.Three quarter profile. Green fur trimmed dress. Dark background” (1900).  Anyone know where that one is hanging?

Postscript to the postscript

David Wright came through again. Thanks David

Mary Mcculloch by Dagnan-Bouveret

Mrs McCulloch’s house

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:

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior with Mr and Mrs McCulloch seated

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:

Just Mrs McCulloch 01

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.

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior with Mrs McCulloch seated

Did Mr McCulloch intend to step in and occupy the empty chair himself?

Just Mrs McCulloch 02

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:

Just Mrs McCulloch 03

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.

Garden of the Hesperides

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.

Copy of 184 Queen's Gate interior

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.

Queen's Gate PC422 - Copy

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?

Michie Hospital staff

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:

Mrs McCulloch close up adj - Copy

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.

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