Beatrice E. Parsons
A century ago she was one of the leading garden painters in Britain, with many exhibitions to her credit, and her pictures collected by fashionable society, including 30 owned by Queen Mary. Nowadays we might think her work a bit chocolate-boxy, but underneath the sometimes almost unreal, brightly coloured flowers she captures the glory days of the Edwardian border but also the smaller more ordinary gardens of the suburban middle class.
Born in 1870 she was educated at Kings College and the Royal Academy Schools. She started exhibiting at the Academy at the age of 19, and although many of her early subjects were religious or historical in nature, within a few years she had shifted to painting gardens, and in particular colourful and blowsy flower borders.
Although mainly known for these flower-filled garden scenes which became popular for greeting cards and postcard as well as for book illustrations, she also tried floral still-lifes and more general landscapes, such as bluebell woods, and even the occasional portrait.
She had a breakthrough when she showed one of her early garden paintings to Chares Dowdeswell, a London gallery owner and dealer.
The Times rather tartly said that she displayed “a dainty talent” and “treads successfully in Mr Ellgood’s steps” (More on him in a future post). The success led to a profitable and long lasting relationship with Dowdeswell and later she also exhibited with the Greatorex Gallery. Between them they hosted at least 22 one-woman shows of her work.According to her niece in a story retold in Hobhouse and Woods,Painted Gardens , he put his finger over the person she had included in the scene and asked her to paint forty figureless garden paintings which he promised to exhibit. This led to her first solo exhibition at Dowdeswell’s Gallery on New Bond Street in 1904, and it was virtual sell-out.
Queen Alexandra and particularly Queen Mary were great fans, and visited many of the exhibitions, often buying pictures for the royal collection. In 1910 for example Queen Mary bought a painting of delphiniums in a Bournemouth vicarage garden