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John & Katharine Maltwood Collection

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History of
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John & Katharine

Early Sculpture - Part 1: Education

This review of artistic and sculptural developments in Victorian England suggests something of the artistic climate into which the young Katharine Maltwood came in the 1890's and from which she developed. Her early attraction to the tastes and ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement stemmed, in part, from her upbringing and education.

Of the Sapsworth family, Katharine Maltwood's mother Elizabeth took an interest in literature and the arts, was fond of painting, and encouraged this interest in her daughters. One of the latter, Mary Elizabeth, went on to become a professional landscape artist and founder of the Rye Art Gallery in Sussex. In addition Katharine Maltwood's brother, Arnold Sapsworth, to whom she remained closest, became an art collector, traveller and philanthropist who won recognition for his exploration of the Amazon River.

Ladies' Cricket in front of Moira House
Ladies' Cricket
in front of Moira House

At Moira House, where Katharine Maltwood received her formal schooling, the approach to education was both unorthodox and progressive. Founded by the pioneer Charles Barlow Ingham in 1875, the school was dedicated to the ideas of women's emancipation and to giving girls the opportunity to fully develop their intellectual and creative potentials. It was decided that the school should be for girls because "at the time we began, boys had so much advantage girls had literally none; they were cramped, narrowed, treated in a piteously puerile way, in many cases their wonderful possibilities deadened or warped for the whole of life ..."13

Charles Ingham firmly believed that the function of education was "the unfolding, the equipping and the co ordinating of the completed individual in everything which is distinctively human."14 He founded his theories on the principle expressed by Francis Bacon, "Nature is commanded by obeying her laws." Thus at Moira House he was anxious to avoid the current "degrading, arbitrary incentives" common in schools such as examinations, marking systems, prizes and punishments and the use of rules and regulations and to replace them with "the natural incentives which arise from within the child." These he enumerated as filial duty, personal responsibility, ambition, inspiration from great examples in history and literature, respect for the honourable in conduct and perfect and beautiful in workmanship.15

In the curriculum an important place was given to world history, mythology, poetry and literature and the history of art and architecture. Pupils were steeped in Egyptian and Classical poetry, drama, art and geography. Although English was regarded as the backbone of instruction there were also lessons in French, German, Greek and Latin. The seniors had classes in chemistry while the younger girls had botany. In the Bible history lessons the religious education was Christian in the widest sense. Taught by Gertrude Ingham, a life long friend of Katharine Maltwood, this subject involved ideas of a universal religious brotherhood with readings from Eastern philosophy, Tennyson, Carlyle, Browning, Shelley, Pope and other more mystical works.16 Miss Ingham hoped to give a training that would free the ego from self consciousness, replacing a sense of separateness with a sense of eternal unity or oneness with all life.

Music and art which were usually regarded as mere accomplishments for a girl in those days were considered an essential part of the education at Moira House. In the sphere of art it was an American named Liberty Todd, Director of the Public Industrial Art School of Philadelphia, whose ideas were the main influence. Charles Ingham had met Todd while buying school equipment and furniture in America. Todd advocated a change from the traditional graded system of instruction in drawing specific forms to one permitting children to draw pictorially at an early age. This seemed to him a better way to aid freedom of thought and the development of the individual. Through his system of manual training it was hoped students would be prepared "organically for all those activities of life in which hand and eye play a part."17 Thus painting, modelling, pottery, woodcarving and other crafts were taught at Moira House with the art rooms being in constant use. There was also a very keenly followed interest in contemporary art and poetry and their development at the time of Katharine Maltwood's residence at the school in the early 1890's.

Charles Ingham was equally novel in his approach to leisure time at Moira House and seeing the value of team games coached ladies cricket as well as tennis on the lawns of the school. A former pupil recalled how outdoor life included concerts on Eastbourne Pier, "singing rounds as we drove home in horse drawn charabanc after the summer half-term picnic, cricket among the nettles, and sumptuous teas at Herstmonceux Castle."18

The school developed a great sense of community and in 1918 the "League" was established to link the ideals of past and present girls and staff. It evolved after the school performed "The Quest of the Holy Grail", the text of which was taken from Tennyson's "Idylls of a King" and Malory's "Morte d'Arthur". It became in effect a league of people trying to carry out the ideals of Arthur's Knights. It is notable that Katharine Maltwood's fascination for Arthurian literature also began at this time, although by then she had left the school.

From an early interest in poetry, the graphic arts and jewellery design the young artist turned more seriously to sculpture and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1896. "It was only to be expected that persons of the middle and upper classes, especially the ladies, would prefer the Slade rather than the South Kensington schools, where the course was tedious and some of the pupils of rather humble origin."19 In its heyday all manner and age of candidates entered the school "... aesthetic dandies, foreign immigrants, retired officers, debutantes, blue stockings, intellectuals, Bohemians, and, above all, plenty of beautiful and decorative Slade Girls, in the seventies sporting brightly embroidered pinafores, in the aesthetic eighties and nineties 'very variegated in faint coloured costumes, limply at variance with their high spirits - in greenery, yallery, Grosvenor Gallery tints and hues', according to one student."20

This formal training at the Slade provided her with instruction in a wide range of techniques, an atmosphere of enthusiasm, and more importantly contact with leading exponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The ambition of most Sladers was to become a professional artist and many continued their studies in Paris; Katharine Maltwood followed this pattern going to the French capital at the turn of the century. One of the main reasons for her visits to Paris was to study the work of Rodin, whose technique and modes of expression exerted a strong influence on sculptors of the younger generation. In the first decade of the twentieth century it seemed everyone who was anyone wanted to meet Rodin. His studio in Paris was a magnet for visitors who included distinguished men of letters, socialite beauties, artistic personalities and members of international society. The young English sculptress was overawed by the great Rodin Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition which was received with ovations and christened the "Temple of Beauty" by critic Roger Miles. In addition she absorbed Rodin's ideas and writings on art reverently captured in the words of writers such as Camille Manclair. There it was proclaimed that the artist "walks forever in the light of spiritual truth" since he seeks out true beauty in the essential inner reality or soul of nature.21

At that time many British sculptors acquired technical instruction in Paris but preferred Italy for visual inspiration and Katharine Maltwood's training may conceivably have followed this pattern. A notebook in the collection is signed K.E. Sapsworth and dated 1898. It contains sketches and notes on many famous Italian works as well as some nature studies. Like her predecessors in the Arts and Crafts Movement she greatly admired the work of Florentine Renaissance artists such as Fra Angelico, Donatello, Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli and especially Michelangelo. Italy became a favourite haunt of the Maltwoods. In a postcard of 1909 she mentions her sadness at leaving "my happy sunny Italy" and John Maltwood later reminisced, "Oh how we revelled in Florence and Venice."22

M964.1.85, Wall Mirror, by Katharine Maltwood, 1910.
Wall Mirror
by Katharine Maltwood, 1910

The early 1900's were a formative period in Katharine Maltwood's style and her works reveal the influence of several late nineteenth century artistic trends. A photograph remains of her first life figure, done while at the Slade in 1896. It is of a male figure, modelled in clay from life, and shows the influence of French teaching in the modelling and concern for an accurate study of anatomy. At this time the artist also wrote poetry and designed jewellry in which there was a preference for the sinuous organic forms of Art Nouveau. The traditional British preference for content, literary interest and moralistic aims is shown in an early wall mirror from 1899. Here the panels are executed in beaten copper and represent four nude female figures entwined with serpents. In the centre a woman stands in triumph over a reclining figure. A quotation from Petrarch is given in the panel below: "Five great enemies of peace inhabit within us, Avarice, Ambition, Envy, Anger, Pride". Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Morris and others were fond of accompanying their paintings and furniture with similar didactic and moralizing texts.



All content on this page is copyright © 30 January, 2006
Rosemary Brown, the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, and the University of Victoria

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