Tag Archives: Mary McCulloch

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.

%d bloggers like this: