Tennis anyone? The Hall-Dares at play…

Ethel Hall-Dare, 1848-1930, later Bagenal, Mabel’s sister, as a young woman. Possibly at Newtonbarry House (The Bent Archive).

The Irish are grand on court, always have been, ever since lawn tennis took off within the Emerald Isle in the late 19th century (think John McEnroe, eligible to have played Davis Cup for Ireland, were he that way inclined, with grandparents from Co Westmeath and Co Cavan – a decent forehand away only from Co Meath and Mabel Bent’s place of birth in 1847).

Limerick Lawn Tennis Club  (“There was a young man called Dennis / who took on Hall-Dare at tennis / who can forget / his dash to the net / and subsequent trip to the dentist.”), proudly staged the first Open championships in Ireland in August 1877,  coincidentally, or not, the same year as the first Wimbledon. Simon Eaves and Robert Lake (2020) paint a rosy picture of the sport’s acme (and a decline a little later): “For a time in the 1880s and early 1890s, lawn tennis in Ireland was at its peak, and a leading nation in the sport, globally. Its players were among the world’s best, the only rival to its national championships in terms of prestige and quality of entries was Wimbledon, and its coaching professionals ranked among the world’s most sought after.”

The Irishman John Boland, winner of the the men’s singles at the first modern Olympic games, held in Athens in April 1896 (Wikipedia).

Tennis was also one of the limited number of sporting events selected for the first modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece, from 6th – 15th April, 1896, and, as chance, or not, would have it, the men’s singles was won by Dublin-born John Boland. Of course, the Bents were in Athens at the time; they attended the first day of the Games only – the tennis started a few days later.

The game was an immediate hit with Mabel’s family, the Hall-Dares, who installed grass courts on the lawns of their estate near Bunclody, Co Wexford. Among the several sports and pastimes mentioned in Mabel’s travel diaries, colonial tennis (biking was another interest) never failed to excite her, and one reference may stand for them all:

“We did not do much that day, but about 4 sat out in wintry wind to watch the tennis [Theodore and Mabel are in Bushire in the Persian Gulf]. There are 2 courts in earth [at] the Residency and a club, and they have a cricket club. With consuls, telegraph people, etc., there are about 20 Europeans. I asked one of the young ladies if she knew any Persian ladies. ‘No. I’ve never seen any. I never do like Natives.’ Once you get to Egypt anyone… is a Native – no one cares to discriminate of what country.” (1 February 1889, The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 3, Oxford, 2010)

Lawn Tennis Tournament, ‘The Gorey Correspondent and Arklow Standard’ – Saturday, August 26, 1882.

Mabel and Theodore were again travelling a few years before, in August 1882, when Mabel’s sister-in-law Caroline Hall-Dare organised a spectacular tennis tournament within the grounds of the family home, Newtonbarry House, sleepy on the banks of the brown Slaney River. We have a reporter from the  The Gorey Correspondent and Arklow Standard (Saturday, August 26, 1882) to thank for a white-flannel and parasol  account of it all:

“On Wednesday, 16th inst., a Lawn Tennis Tournament was given by Mrs Hall-Dare, at Newtonbarry House, to the ardent players of the County Wexford, who all arrived on the ground at twelve o’clock, when the drawing for partners took place. This was admirably conducted by the Rev. Canon Blacker and Mr. P.C. Newton. The games began immediately after on eight of the courts which are situated so beautifully upon the even sward which faces the mansion. After the first rounds had been played the company assembled for luncheon. In the afternoon the numbers were swelled to nearly two hundred, who witnessed, with much interest, the final rounds of this exiting Tournament.”

The fine lawns of Newtonbarry House, eminently suited to tennis, from a recent Google image.

There is nothing like keeping it in the family, and ultimately the mixed doubles winners were ‘Miss Hall Dare’ (possibly the eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Frances Hall-Dare, Caroline’s daughter, and thus one of Mabel’s nieces, but there are other candidates) and Mr R. Donovan, who beat Miss Boyd and Mr C. Donovan. There was a ‘Consolation Prize’ for those knocked out in round one, and the winners of this were Miss E. Newton and Major Knox Browne (later a distinguished soldier), who beat Caroline Hall-Dare and Mr E. Donovan (the Donovan family, perhaps of Ballymore Townland, Co Wexford, not far east of Newtonbarry, obviously also took their tennis very seriously. There is note of a Mr Richard Donovan apparently meeting his future wife at a Kilkenny tennis party).

Caroline Hall-Dare, née Newton (1842-1918), Mabel’s sister-in-law. Perhaps taken in the late 1870s at the height of her tennis prowess (The Bent Archive).

Like us, you might think it rather a shame that the event’s organizer, host, and provider of courts, won nothing. Perhaps Caroline had yet to adjust to the 1880 changes to the tennis rules, when “the hand-stitched ball was replaced by the Ayres ball, the net was lowered to 4ft at the post. The service line was brought in a distance of 21 feet from the net. A service ball touching the net was deemed to be a let and a player was forbidden to volley until it had crossed the net.” No problem at all for John McEnroe of course.

 

Irish Tennis Championships, Dublin, before 1903 (Robinson – Arthur Wallis Myers (1903): Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad. Scribner’s Sons, New York. (online), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21618417).

Those interested in the history of Irish tennis will enjoy the three-volume study by Tom Higgins of Sligo Tennis Club. (This is mentioned really as a nod to Mabel Bent’s childhood home, Temple House, Sligo, although it is unlikely the house then had courts, in the 1850s.)

Bagpipes [tsaboúnes] on ‘Clean Monday’ [Kathará Deftéra] in the village of Dío Choriá, Tinos (the Cyclades, Greece)

(We are delighted to post here a translation (by the author) of an article on some traditional musical instruments enjoyed so much by celebrity explorers Theodore and Mabel Bent when they visited the Cycladic island of Tinos in March 1884. Dr Chiou’s article originally appeared (March 2024) in the newsletter of the Society for Tinian Studies.) 

Tinos, the villages of Dío Choriá and Triandáros. A postcard, photographer unknown, printed by Krikelli – ‘Bibliohartemboriki’, c. early 20th century (some 20 years only after the Bents’ visit in March 1884). Reproduced in A. Kontogeorgis (2000), ‘Tinos of Yesterday and Today’, p. 30 (PIIET/Sillogos Ysternioton Tinou).

By Dr Theodoros Chiou note 1 

Theodore Bent and his wife Mabel Virginia Anna Bent were 19th-century British explorers who travelled the Cyclades. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in March 1884, they found themselves in the port of the island of Tinos (or Tenos), coming from Mykonos. It was the Saturday before Carnival Sunday. On the evening of the same day, koukouyiéroi (masqueraders) roamed around the narrow streets of Agios Nikolaos, as the present-day Chóra was called at that time. For the next three days, the Bents mounted mules and toured the Tinian hinterland. On Carnival Sunday they visited Xómbourgo and Loutrá and returned to Chóra. On ‘Kathará Deftéra’ (the first Monday in Lent, literally ‘Clean Monday’), 1884, they climbed up to Kechrovoúni, visiting the Monastery of Kechrovoúni, Arnádos village, and ending up in the village of Dío Choriá. On Tuesday they reached the village of Pýrgos, after making a stop at the villages of Kardianí and Ystérnia, in the north-western part of the island. Mabel writes in her diary that on Wednesday, 5th March, they returned to the bay of Ystérnia, where they boarded the steamer that would take them to the nearby island of Andros.

The above information comes from what Bent himself recorded in his classic travelogue The Cyclades, or Life among Insular Greeks, published in 1885, and which is still in print today, and from the account in Mabel’s ‘Chronicles’. Thanks to Bent’s observant and meticulous descriptions, we have the following account of how the inhabitants of the village of Dío Choriá spent their ‘Kathará Deftéra’ at the end of 19th century:

Close to Arnades are two villages, called δύοχωριά, or the two places, being quite close together; and here we came in for some of the gaiety incident on the first day of Lent; the sound of music and revelry filled the valley, and from afar off we descried the cause. All the villagers had turned out on the roofs, and on this flat surface were dancing away vigorously. As no other flat space occurs in or near the village they are driven to make a ballroom on their roof. […]

The dancers had put a flag up, and spread a white cloth on the roof for their repast, which consisted of olives, onions, bread, and wine in a large amphora. They were dancing to the tune of a sabouna, and what to us was a new instrument, called a monosampilos, and consisting of a small gourd fixed at one end of two reeds and a cow’s horn at the other. The music produced by this instrument was quaint and shrill, like that of a bagpipe or the sabouna, which in this case was made of the skin of a goat, with all the hair left on, so that when the musician put it down it looked quite alive, and palpitated visibly.

For a long time they continued to dance the inevitable syrtos, until they had had lusty and long pulls at their amphora of wine – and the wine of Tenos is by no means light, for here they made, and make still, the far-famed Malvasianor, or, as we know it better, Malmsey wine. […] Then they started a dance called by them ‘the carnival dance’ (ἀποκρεωτικός), which they said they were privileged to dance on the first day of Lent. It was a very amusing one: eight men took part in it with arms crossed, and moved slowly in a semicircle, with a sort of bounding step, resembling a mazurka. Occasionally the leader took a long stride, by way of adding point to the dance, but they never indulged in the acrobatic features of the syrtos, and never went so very fast; the singing as they danced was the chief feature and fascination of this carnival dance, and their voices, as they moved round and round, to the shrill accompanying music, had a remarkable effect. The words of their song, which I took down afterwards, formed a sort of rhyming alphabetical love song. It is needless to say that A stood for love (γάπη). Θ spoke of the death (θάνατος) which would be courted if that M or apple (μλος) of Paradise was obdurate. P stood for όδον, the rose, like which she smelt. Ψ was the lucky flea (ψύλλος) which could crawl over her adorable frame, and so on, till Ω closed the song and the dance with great emphasis, imploring for a favourable answer to the suit.

The ‘monotsábouno’ that Bent acquired in March 1884 from the village of Dío Choriá, Tinos, on ‘Kathará Deftéra’ (Βent records it as ‘monosampilos’). © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Accession number: 1903.130.21.

This vivid description is a valuable document in terms of the history of the bagpipe (tsaboúna) on Tinos. It confirms the use of the tsaboúna (pronounced there as ‘saboúna’) as an instrument played at feasts during the Carnival period, and with which they performed not only tunes to the rhythm of the syrtós, but also to the tune of the ‘ποκρεωτικός’ (apokreotikós) dance. The latter can be associated with the ‘apokrianós’ dance, also performed, until the middle of the 20th century, in the nearby village of Triantáros. Bent also gives us information about the morphology of the tsaboúna (a goatskin bag with the hair on the outside), and conveys an important account of a rare folk hornpipe, which the 19th-century revellers from Dío Choriá, who sold it to Bent, called ‘monotsábouno’ (while villagers from Ystérnia called it ‘kelkéza’). We are fortunate that this very same instrument survives intact to the present day in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

However, if one has to choose the most important contribution of Bent’s testimony above, then it must be that it offers us the earliest starting point – a terminus ante quem – for research into the tsaboúna on Tinos. Of course, it can be reasonably assumed that the tradition of the tsaboúna on the island is much older, being a manifestation of the wider, older spread of the bagpipe (áskavlos) in the Aegean Sea area. However, thanks to Bent, the tsaboúna is now undoubtedly and tangibly recorded as part of the Tinian musical tradition.

The thread of this tradition connects the unknown tsaboúna player (tsabouniéris) of Dío Choriá of 1884 with the tsaboúna players of the 1970s, who played the ‘saboúnia persistently in Carnival season’ in the village of Arnados, and also reaches back to the last tsabouniéris of the 20th-century generation of musicians, for example Yiórgos Tzanoulínos, or ‘Krínos’, from Falatádos. The thread of this tradition goes ahead with the reappearance of the tsaboúna on Tinos in the second decade of the 21st century, in the context of, among others, events such as the Tinos World Music Festival 2021; The 18th Aegean Folk Wind Instruments Meeting (28-30 September 2022, Kea Island); and during New Year’s carols on Tinos at Chóra and Falatádos (2022 and 2023).

So, what more enjoyable occasion than to continue the revival of the Tinian tsaboúna, from the place where Bent first records for us, at a ‘Kathará Deftéra’ celebration in March 1884, with a tsaboúna party and ‘apokrianós’ dance in the square of Dío Choriá, more than a century and a half later!

Note 1: Dr Theodoros Chiou is a Copyright Lawyer, Adj. University Lecturer, and President of the Society for Tinian Studies.
Return from Note 1

Sources

7th Tinos World Music Festival, Tinos, 2-4 July 2021, Sunday, 4 July 2021, Part B: Tsambouna – The Askavlos of the Cyclades (https://itip.gr/events/twmf2021/).

Apergis, Savas 2007. The ‘Apokrianos’ of Triantaros, newspaper ed. by the Association of Triandarites Mandata, vol. 28, Dec-Feb 2007: 6-7.

Baines, Anthony 1960. Bagpipes: 45. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

Bent, J. Theodore 2009 [1885]. The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks: 123-131. Annotated revised edition, Archaeopress, Oxford.

Bent, Mabel V.A. 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent, Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral: 47. Archaeopress, Oxford.

Brisch, G.E. 2024. The Bents’ musical instruments in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (article dated 5 Feb. 2024).

Danousis, Konstantinos (ed.) 2005. Tradition and Memory. With the bow and the pen of Kostas Panorios, publication of the Society for Tinian Studies and the Brotherhood of Tinian Cardianiotes, The Holy Trinity: 30-31.

Moschona, Styliani 1975. Collection of folklore material from the village of Arnados, on the island of Tinos, in the prefecture of Cyclades. Archive of primary folklore material – Collection of manuscripts (NKUA), no. 2413.

Two other Bent Archive articles that might interest you:

Theodore and the Tsabouna (video)

VIDEO – Manolis Pelekis: A lament for the great tsabouna player from Anafi

Revealed – A second bronze relief plaque of Mabel V.A. Bent by T. Stirling Lee (1895)

Thomas Stirling Lee (detail) by Philip Wilson Steer, OM, oil on canvas. Presented to the Chelsea Arts Club by the sitter in 1912. Reproduced with the very kind permission of the Chelsea Arts Club, 2024.

He modelled but sparingly for bronze…” (Kineton Parkes 1921: 111)

… one of the best of the pure sculptors of the Nineteenth Century Renaissance, a man who loved his work with all his heart and soul, and one who loved his fellow men.” (Kineton Parkes 1921: 112)

It is certainly for his power of telling a story beautifully… that Mr. Lee will continue to be admired.” (Spielmann 1901: 66)

 

The commission

Mrs J. Theodore Bent. The 1895 bronze medallion by Thomas Stirling Lee in the collection of the Bent Archive (2024).

By the mid 1890s, Theodore and Mabel Bent had become celebrities; they had amazed London with their fifteen-year campaign of explorations and discoveries in large areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East, which, regularly updated in the media, had captivated a huge, international audience. Bent had produced countless articles and scholarly papers, as well as six books; the couple gave regular talks and lectures (often with lantern-slides reproduced from Mabel’s photographs) to various institutions and at popular events; the British Museum had hundreds of their acquisitions. Their personal collection in London was often on show to the public; they were sought after by editors for interviews, Mabel featuring equally with Theodore.

It is not surprising, therefore, that, as well as the couple appearing at the leading studio photographers for their portraits, Mabel should also have approached, or been approached by the innovative British sculptor and artist Thomas Stirling Lee (TSL, 1857-1916) for her relief likeness, opting for a roundel (‘medallion’) in bronze. Presumably she must have gone to TSL’s studio, in Chelsea Vale, with its small foundry en suite, to sit for him. He would have been paid for this commission certainly; at an exhibition some years later he was asking 10 guineas (c. £750 today) for medallions of idealised themes (Leeds City Art Gallery Exhibition, 1909). It is not known to date whether TSL also produced a likeness of Theodore Bent. note 1 

The two bronze reliefs of Mabel Bent         

The lettermark of Thomas Stirling Lee that appears on some of the sculptor’s work –  it is a combination of his three initials  (Bent Archive, 2024).

The 1895 relief (confidently attributed to TSL) has (June 2024) been acquired by the friends of the Bent Archive and features above. Facing right, the sitter’s features are handsome and strong, her famous red hair coiled, her chin ready to face the travel challenges ahead, her nose a compass needle, due East; her name, Mrs J. Theodore Bent, runs boldly clockwise, with the date – 1895; the TSL monogram stands out, bottom left (the combined letters ‘TSL’ and a series (3 or 4) of knobs on the rim before the lettermark). Sculpted and cast by TSL in bronze; maximum width 26 cm; weight 1.86 kg.

A studio portrait of Mabel Bent in the late 1880s/early 1890s, possibly (date and photographer unknown; Bent Archive).

The 1896 relief is today in private hands and is not illustrated here note 2 . It is essentially a reworking of the 1895 version. Again facing right, this time the features are softer, as if Mabel had requested a perhaps less assertive appearance; as if the 1895 relief were sculpted en-scène, in the intense heat of the Wadi Hadramaut, for example, while the 1896 version comes demurely from her London drawing-room at 13 Great Cumberland Place, perhaps while giving an interview, over tea and sandwiches: Mabel as Britannia. Once more, her famous red hair is coiled high, her name runs clockwise, with the date – 1896; the TSL lettermark and characteristic knobs also appear, bottom left. Sculpted and cast by TSL (dimensions and weight n/a at present).

In terms of the two dates (1895 and 1896), it is difficult, without documentation, which might appear, to give the exact times when TSL (or Mabel Bent) might have been working on the sculpting and casting the reliefs. Over these years, Theodore and Mabel were exploring east and west of the Red Sea. Mabel may have been available for the modelling in the late spring and summer, when they habitually returned to their London townhouse before undertaking family visits to the north of England and Ireland.

TSL was a regular contributor to the Royal Academy and the 1896 event included ‘Five medallions, bronze’. It would be good to think that with these might have been one of the reliefs of Mabel Bent (Graves 1905: 21).

The sculptor – Thomas Stirling Lee (1857-1916)

Stirling Lee’s story is romantic and poignant – the admired but unfulfilled artist – working at the turn of Victoria’s century, pulled here and there by the various stylistic waves reaching both sides of the Channel. A most highly regarded, likeable and clubbable personality by all accounts, TSL was one of the founders of the Chelsea Arts Club in 1891 (they have a striking and little-known portrait of him by Philip Wilson Steer [see Matthews 2022], which we very much recommend, in the ‘History’ section of their website).

There is a great deal of background data on TSL online, including his works, as one might expect; for now, some sympathetic paragraphs from Kineton Parkes (1921: 111-113) provide a maquette:

The famous bronze statue of Charles Gore (1853-1932), Bishop of Birmingham, by Thomas Stirling Lee, outside St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Wikipedia: Michael Westley, CC BY-SA 2.0)

“THERE are sculptors to-day, and of the immediate past, who acknowledge no influences, and who, moreover, deplore the training they received: men who stand alone and apart from all groups, schools and associations. Sometimes their work is so individual as to call for this isolation, sometimes it is more or less in conformity with the work of the academies, and definitely resembles the products of the schools. Still, these artists, possessing an individualistic and egoistic personality strongly developed seem to differentiate from their fellow-artists and to form a heterogeneous class of their own. Such an one was Stirling Lee…

“Thomas Stirling Lee was one of the most retiring men and most modest artists I have ever known. He was always willing to talk about art, but he seemed to do it from an impersonal standpoint, while, paradoxically, he was a most personal artist, and held emphatic opinions on the art of sculpture. He carved directly in marble and stone, and he modelled but sparingly for bronze. His work of earlier years may be seen in the panels decorating the St. George’s Hall at Liverpool, blackened but not obliterated by the atmosphere of that great city of dreadful noise.

“His later panels are in the Bute Chapel of Bentley’s great cathedral at Westminster. Between those two sets of works he produced busts and reliefs: portrait and ideal. His work was plain, but it was distinguished. It had little ornament, but it was not severe to the point of being undecorative: it was indeed sympathetic. I remember a bust of a girl’s head – it is in the Art Gallery of the Nicholson Institute at Leek, in North Staffordshire – which is full of tenderness, and there are others just as sympathetic. A series of small bronze portrait plaques of his friends of about 1889 shew how friendly a man Stirling Lee was [our emphasis]. If he was retiring, he was also brotherly, as the members of the Chelsea Arts Club (of which he was a founder, with Whistler and some few others) well remember. He was a great worker, and one of his most ambitious pieces was one of his least successful, his Father and Son, the reception of which greatly disappointed him.

The marble bust of Margaret Clausen by TSL now in Tate Britain, London (Tate Britain).

“There are dangers, as well as virtues, in being too modest, as well as in direct carving: they may be your undoing, and I believe, combined, they were in Stirling Lee’s case. To the grief of his friends, he died suddenly in South Kensington station, in one of the years of the war, and there passed away then one of the best of the pure sculptors of the Nineteenth Century Renaissance, a man who loved his work with all his heart and soul, and one who loved his fellow men. His studios were always in Chelsea: in Manresa Road, in the Vale, and, when the Vale disappeared, then he had built for himself the studio in the Vale Avenue, where his Westminster Panels and his Father and Son were carved. One of his last exhibited works was his marble bust called Beatrice, at the Royal Academy. There is a beautiful bust, full of thought, of a girl in the Bradford Museum, and an equally fine bust is that called Lydia, which was seen in the special Exhibition by the Chelsea Arts Club at Bradford in 1914.” note 5 

Richard Dorment (1985: 24) is another writer to comment on the sculptor’s good nature, referring to ‘the sweet-tempered Thomas Stirling Lee’, prepared to follow his brother sculptor Alfred Gilbert ‘to Rome and back to London’.

Puccini but without the tunes

TSL’s acquaintance, Morley Charles Roberts (1857-1942)(wikipedia).

For a glimpse of some aspects of artistic life in the late 19th century, and the founding of the Chelsea Arts Club, including the involvement of TSL, see Arthur Ransome’s (he of Swallows and Amazons) Bohemia in London (London, 1907)…  But a more entertaining and feathery work (a novel) exists, Puccini but without the tunes, written by Morley Charles Roberts (1857-1942), very much larger than life and on the periphery of the Chelsea scene in the late 1880s. The characters are thinly disguised and ‘Mr West, the sculptor’ can confidently be taken as a model for TSL. Some references from it are welcome here – and not without with charm: “Across the narrow lane was another long studio, occupied by West the sculptor, to which was attached a shed containing works in progress and others long past hopes of sale, while at its northern extremity a bronze-casting furnace sometimes shot at night a blue flame far above its iron chimney”… and, later “… under the table was a terracotta bust of herself [the model, Miss Mary ‘Priscilla’ Morris] by West, and on it a medallion as well.” (Morley Roberts 1890: 19-20, p. 93 for the medallion; the emphasis is ours). Did Morley perhaps see the bronze roundels cast by Stirling Lee for some friends around this date?  (Kineton Parkes 1921: 112). Indeed, was Morley Roberts one of the sitters? In any event, this seems to have been the period when TSL began to produce them – within his small foundry in Chelsea Vale.

Morley Roberts also provides a physical description (of West = TSL?), and let’s take it as fairly accurate: “For no one could meet West once without liking him… [He] was a man of the middle height, very strongly built and powerful in the arms from continually using the hammer when working in marble, with a very bright and pleasing face, which indicated both sensibility and refinement. His eyes were almost sparkling in his merrier moods, but grew intense and solemn in the rarer moments when he spoke out to some sympathetic soul what a man usually keeps silence about, his hopes and desires, his aims and methods, his feeling for nature, for the world and man. For he was intensely spiritual under a thin cover of materialism, and gloried in his art, which he held to be based on Truth and Right, as both consolation and reward of the worker.” (Morley Roberts 1890: 77-9). In ‘Thomas Stirling Lee, the first Chairman’ by Geoffrey Matthews, Chelsea Arts Club Yearbook 2022, there is a photograph of TSL capturing much of what Morley Roberts finds in him.

More on medallions

TSL’s medallion relief of his friend Walter Sickert (1860-1942). TSL’s lettermark can be identified lower right. (The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

Although with a long and distinguished presence, in various media, the vogue for medallions seems to have come to the fore again in the first half of the 19th century – actual likenesses and idealised themes – epitomised in the work of Pierre-Jean David d’Angers. (Note that ‘medallion’ can also refer (Jezzard 1999: 99) to “larger wall plaques, memorial plaques, memorial tablets, wall tablets, commemorative medallions, medallion portraits and medallions”.)

“Mrs Rodney Fennessy”, portrait medallion, made in 1889 by TSL. The sculptor’s usual lettermark is not immediately apparent; the date ‘1889’ can be seen lower left (The Victoria and Albert Museum).

In Britain, following the work of William Wyon (1795-1851) , the French-born artist Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) is widely seen as leading the late 19th-c revival of the medallion – favouring metal casting, pouring molten media into hollow forms. Among his preferences was to send initially his forms to Paris, where the art was perfected, and avoiding finishing effects, such as smoothing the circumference and polishing, thus eschewing the neo-classical tradition and pointing towards the Arts and Crafts movement. It can be said that Thomas Stirling Lee was an apostle in terms of his relief modelling and casting of portrait roundels (Attwood 1992: 4-10).

Bronze relief plaques (medallions) by TSL seem to be rare, perhaps a ‘hobby’ and distraction, pocket money. It is more than likely that the medallions/reliefs TSL produced for his friends and clients remain with the families – personal things that do not shout out for publication or exhibition.

What follows are the results of online searches, only, for examples of TSL’s medallions; but it is some sort of a beginning for more dedicated research by historians, if they are so minded.

Of course, if you have one we would be delighted to hear – and perhaps the series can be assembled for a TSL retrospective one day: indeed,  2026 will mark the 110th anniversary of his early death. 

Also attributed to TSL, in a private collection, and thought to be another likeness of Mrs Rodney Fennessy (Emily), although another candidate for the model is the beauty Kate La Thangue (Victorian Web).

As well as the two reliefs of Mabel Bent (1895 & 1896) already referred to, other known examples of TSL medallions include one Walter Sickert note 3  roundel in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge [M.17-2006; dated c. 1882; bronze; 158 mm; facing right; the name ‘SICKERT’ in raised letters along viewer’s right edge of the roundel]; the (?) Herbert Goodall roundel in the British Museum; the Mrs Rodney Fennessy roundel in the V&A, London [A.5-1973; 1889, 250 mm; bronze; facing right; the name ‘Mrs Rodney Fennessy’ running around the right edge], and in the same museum another medallion of Sickert [A.6-1973; undated; bronze; 170 mm; facing right; the name ‘W. SICKERT’ running around the right edge], In a private collection there is possibly another roundel of Emily Fennessy (but another candidate, suggested by her youth, is the great beauty Kate La Thangue. note 3  This same likeness, interestingly, appears, anonymous and undated, at various exhibitions, see below, where TSL shows unidentified medallions).

There is a later, rectangular, relief (c. 35 cm x c. 25 cm) of Herbert Goodall (1857-1916), architect/artist member and third club Chairman, in the Chelsea Arts Club collection. note 4  The date is uncertain, presumably TSL cast it around the same time as the BM roundel (above). (An image of it can be seen at The Goodall Family of Artists.)

Miscellaneous references to TSL’s medallions and other portrait reliefs

A few “beautiful heads in relief”, by TSL at the New English Art Club, Dudley Gallery, Piccadilly (Winter show 1891)(reported in the Pall Mall Gazette, 16 Dec. 1891. (Possibly the set of TSL’s friends, regularly referenced.)

George Percy Jacomb-Hood (1857-1929), Painter, illustrator and etcher, Portrait sculpture by Thomas Stirling Lee; untraced. Exh. RSBA 1887–8 (543). (Possibly one of the set of medallions of TSL’s friends, regularly referenced.)

An untitled bronze medallion on show at the Fifth Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters & Gravers (London), 1905.

An untitled bronze medallion at the Manchester Art Gallery, The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers Exhibition, 1905.

An untitled bronze medallion at the City of Bradford Corporation Art Gallery, Cartwright Memorial Hall Exhibition of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, 1905.

Five untitled bronze medallions on show at the Leeds City Art Gallery Exhibition, 1909 (the set advertised at 10 guineas each).

An untitled bronze medallion on show at the ‘Exhibition of Fair Women’, Spring 1909 – International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London.

Page 18 from Sotheby’s sale catalogue of Friday, 16 March 1923 – “Representative selection of works of art, by Nelson Dawson, Esq., A.R.W.S., R.E., R.W.A.” (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 1923) – showing the sale of seven works by Thomas Stirling Lee. Of interest are the sale prices for the two marble heads, Lots 179 and 180 (£2k-£3k at today’s rates), and the fact that the reserve was probably not met for the medallions of Sickert and Goodall (archive.org).

Sotheby’s, 16 March 1923, had a sale featuring the art collection of Nelson and Edith Dawson, including seven bronzes, “with rights of reproductions”, by “the late T. Stirling Lee”: Lot 179, “Head of a Girl; Lot 180, “Head of Mrs La Thangue” note 3 ; (Lot 181), “Medallions of Walter Sickert and [Herbert/Frederick] Goodall, the landscape painter” [the item presumably in the British Museum; note 3  Lot 182, “Three Figure Panels”.

It seems the painter Alfred William Rich (1856-1921) had in his collection a medallion by TSL which was eventually bequeathed to an unspecified museum by Phillippa Holliday through the Art Fund between 1933 and 1935. It is referred to as a “Bronze Plaque of Girl’s Head”. It is impossible to know from research so far whether this roundel is one of those listed above. We may assume Rich and TSL were acquainted via the activities of the ‘International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers’, inter alia. He married Cassandra Philippa Berney in 1884 – might TSL have modelled a plaque of her for the painter?

Other busts

Perhaps in return for Wilson Steer’s portrait of him, or vice versa (see reference above), TSL does a bronze of Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), who died 1942. It was said to have been left to the Tate (Birmingham Daily Post, 17 July 1942), but is now in the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, Birkenhead. It is not unreasonable to think that one of TSL’s earlier medallions also featured Wilson Steer, but there does not seem to be a direct reference to one.

TSL was an active member of the Art Workers’ Guild, and was elected Master in 1898. The Guild has a fine bronze bust of him (c. 1898), mallet and chisel in his hands, by Arthur George Walker (1861-1939). The Guild also displays TSL’s bronze (1900) of Sir Mervyn Macartney (1853-1932), commemorating Sir Marvyn’s year as Master, as well as TSL’s bust of John Brett (1831-1902), a British artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelites.

TSL attended Westminster School briefly (1870-1), his bust of Richard Busby (1606-1695), who served as headmaster for more than 55 years, was placed in the school for the bicentenary of Busby’s death in 1895. (TSL left abruptly to join the studio of sculptor John Birnie Philip as an apprentice.)

Other bronze plaques (non-portrait)

TSL produced several bronze relief plaques of religious and idealised themes throughout his career. An example is his ‘Mother and Child’, sold at auction in London in 2014.

Exhibitions and other works

The essential site for the works in general of Thomas Stirling Lee at “Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951”, edited online by the University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII.

The essential site for the works in general of TSL is to be found at “Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951”, edited online by the University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII. It is indispensable, beginning with a concise introduction to the artist. It features interactive sections on Works, Locations, Exhibitions, Meetings, Awards, many Lectures and other Events, Institutional and Business Connections, Personal and Professional Connections, Descriptions of Practice, Sources.

TSL’s works travelled around the world for exhibitions, i.e. a medallion (unspecified, item 927, cat. Page 45) appeared at the Christchurch Gallery, New Zealand, for the “New Zealand International Exhibition, 1906-7”.

There are several reference to TSL in ‘The Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society Catalogues’ for the 3rd exhibition in 1890 (at The New Gallery, 121 Regent Street, London) and the 11th in 1916 (the year of his death) (at The Royal Academy, Burlington House, London). For the 3rd exhibition TSL worked with A.G. Walker on a design by J.D. Sedding for an altar of alabaster, lapis-lazuli and metal (the plaster panels shown were intended to be repoussé metal). For the 1916 event, F.A. White lent three panels of saints carved by TSL – ‘St Ninian’, ‘St Bridget’, and ‘St Columba’. The material is unspecified. These were perhaps models of the representations of these saints produced by TSL for Westminster Cathedral (see below).

For the list of works displayed by TSL at the Royal Academy from 1878-1902, see Graves 1905: 21.

Other commissions

The Liverpool controversy

The following excerpt relates to the most significant commission of TSL’s career; it is taken from the University of Glasgow’s ‘History of Art and HATII’, online database 2011 – Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951. [This site presents unparallelled data on the working life of TSL.]

A sketch model for one of TSL’s panels for St George’s Hall, Liverpool. The nudity was considered inappropriate and the sculptor never completed the commission; the disappointment remained with him throughout his career. This is one of the illustrations accompanying the sculptor’s obituary in ‘The International Studio’, vol. 59, no. 235, 1916: 176 (archive.org).

“[TSL’s] most important commission was the series of reliefs for the exterior of St George’s Hall, Liverpool. Lee was originally awarded the entire scheme of sculpture comprising twelve large reliefs and sixteen smaller panels (the latter on the upper parts of the building) through an open competition organised by Liverpool Council in 1882. However, due to a combination of high costs and the mixed reception that Lee’s first two relief panels received, only six relating to ‘The Progress of Justice’ (situated to the left of the portico) were completed under the original plans (1885-94). In 1895 Liverpool Council decided to commission the remaining six reliefs for the facade to the right of the portico. After some deliberation, Lee’s ‘moral right’ to the scheme was asserted to the extent that he executed two of the remaining panels, established the principles for the design of the entire scheme and acted as supervisor for the remaining four reliefs. These others were created by Charles John Allen and Conrad Dressler. The theme of this second series was ‘National Prosperity’ and was completed between 1898-1901.” (See, e.g., Dorment 1985: 24; Beattie 1983: 43 ff, including images)

It seems the designs TSL came up with for some carved stone panels to decorate some late-phase alterations to Leeds Town Hall, across the Pennines, were less controversial.

TSL’s bronze panels for the former Adelphi Bank, Liverpool

TSL’s four bronze panels (1892) for the former Adelphi Bank, Liverpool. Representing ‘David and Jonathan’, ‘Castor and Pollux’, ‘Achilles and Patroclus’, and Roland and Oliver’, they were cast for him by his friend and Chelsea neighbour, Conrad Bührer (The Victorian Web).

The sculptor’s bronze work includes the four relief panels on the great doors to the former Adelphi Bank building on the corner of Castle Street and Brunswick Street, Liverpool. (To appreciate the doors properly today you will need to wait until the coffee shop they open into is closed.) The overall design was by W.D. Caröe (1857-1938) and completed in 1892. Taking its theme from the bank’s name, Adelphi (‘brotherhood’), TSL’s panels – two per door, one above the other – were to represent ‘David and Jonathan’, ‘Castor and Pollux’, ‘Achilles and Patroclus’, and Roland and Oliver’. The panels were cast for TSL by his friend and Chelsea neighbour Conrad Bührer  (1839-1929). Caröe’s design for the date on the doors is cryptic – on the left reading ‘1A8’ and on the right ‘9D2’ (i.e. AD 1892). For more information, see the Martin’s Bank archive and the Victorian Web. [Although this article focuses on TSL’s medallions, and Mabel Bent, readers might like to be reminded that Theodore Bent’s uncle, Sir John Bent (1793-1857), was Mayor of Liverpool in 1850/1.]

Edgar Wood

‘Mother and Child’, the small bronze by TSL at Long St Methodist Church, Middleton.

TSL took on several commissions for the busy ‘Arts & Crafts’ architect Edgar Wood (1860-1935). These included some ornate marble decorations for fireplaces at the Grade-1 listed Banney Royd House, Edgerton, Huddersfield (1901); sculpture and copper roof for the Clock Tower (listed Grade 2) in Lindley, Huddersfield (1900-2); and a small bronze statue, Woman and Child, at Long Street Methodist Church, Middleton, Greater Manchester (1903).

There is a suggestion that TSL provided the statue of the boy, now lost, for the extraordinary fountain centrepiece for Edgar Wood’s Jubilee Park, also in Middleton. It was opened in 1889 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Some commentators have likened the statue to TSL’s small model “The Music of the Wind”, now in the (stored) Sam Wilson Collection in Leeds (see above) (Jubilee Park Fountain, Middleton – Advice on Restoration, 2015: 24-5).

Silver work & Masonic jewels

Centre-piece in silver by TSL (archive.org).

A spectacular and very rare centre-piece in silver for a table decoration for an unknown commission, designed and sculpted by Thomas Stirling Lee (c. 1904, dimensions n/a). Present collection unknown. (Illustrated in W.S. Sparrow 1904. The British home of today; a book of modern domestic architecture & the applied arts: 207, New York.)

 

A much-reproduced piece of sculpture by TSL is his spirited “Music of the Wind” of around 1907. A model in wax is now in Leeds, part of the Sam Wilson Collection (1851-1918); apparently a version in silver also exists, explaining the reference to it in this section of the works of TSL. It seems the entire Sam Wilson Collection (he was a local textile magnate) was placed in storage by the Leeds Art Gallery in 2009, and thus these sculptures by TSL must languish there.

A Freemason, TSL was a founder of the ‘Arts Lodge’, designing splendid and unusual masonic jewels, i.e, ‘Past First Principal’s jewel for Public Schools Chapter, No. 2233 presented to E. Comp. Herbert F. Manisty, 1909’ and ‘Past First Principal’s jewel for Public Schools Chapter, No. 2233 presented to E. Comp. J. S. Granville Grenfell, 1917’, the latter presented after TSL’s death in 1916.

Monuments

TSL designed the memorial for fellow mason Henry Sadler (d. 1911), in New Southgate Cemetery, London. It was paid for by friends and lodge members. Just five years later, TSL was buried in the same cemetery.

Interiors

“Panel of wall staircase in Mr. Geoffrey Duveen’s House. Designed and carved by T. Stirling Lee” (‘The International Studio’, vol. 59, no. 235, 1916: 176; archive.org).

TSL designed and produced features for the Duveen residence at 22 Old Bond  Street, London, and the interior of Palace Gate House, Kensington Gore: “The stranger… will not be tempted to hurry up the stairway where Mr. Stirling Lee and Mr. Frith together have thought out the modelling of the plaster ceiling and the arrangement of the balustrade.” And for the ‘museum room’, “Mr. Stirling Lee has here two little figures of Science and Literature standing out from the wall” (The International Studio, vol. 7, 1899: 99-100). The two little figures are untraced.

Part of an oak balustrade carved by Thomas Stirling Lee for 15 Stratton Street, London (c.1904). W.S. Sparrow 1904. The British home of today; a book of modern domestic architecture & the applied arts, New York, p. 208 (archive.org).

For H.A. Johnstone’s magnificent residence at 15 Stratton Street, London, TSL carved (c. 1904) from oak a series of “double-sided carved panels of entwined and realistically depicted children”, for a gallery balustrade. They were removed when the house underwent reconstruction. Provenance includes: Peter Marino Art Foundation, NY.

Church commissions

Westminster Cathedral, Ashley Place, London: “Chapel of St Andrew and the Scottish Saints, the gift of Lord Bute and the work of R. Weir Schultz 1910-14. Lean openwork screens of white metal by W. Bainbridge Reynolds; sculpture by Stirling Lee, stalls by Ernest Gimson (considered amongst his finest works) with kneelers by Sidney Barnsley, reliquary by Harold Stabler and altar cards by Graily Hewitt.”

St Mary’s, Stamford Parish, Lincolnshire: an “excellent bronze altar frontal in an Italian style by Stirling Lee”, as part of  J.D. Seddings’ decorative scheme of the 1890s.

St James’, Heyshott, West Sussex: In Arthur Mee’s volume on Sussex in ‘The King’s England’ series (London 1937: 105), the author writes in relation to St James’ Heyshott: “The reredos has a plaster relief gilded and set in an old wood frame. It shows Christ in the centre with angels wrapped up in their wings on each side. It is the work of Stirling Lee, who lived here and died suddenly while doing it.” This entry is now hard to support as the reredos referenced is not in situ, nor is it thought that TSL lived there.

All Saints, Brockhampton, Herefordshire, UK. A unique Arts & Crafts church built around 1900 by the renowned architect/designer William Richard Lethaby (1857-1931). TSL was commissioned to carve the reredos.

St Paul’s Church, Four Elms, Kent, UK. After 1881, TSL helped assisted Henry Pegram with the carving  of the reredos here (a plainly framed white marble relief of the Adoration of the Magi designed by W.R. Lethaby.

TSL was also on the team behind a scheme to redevelop the old Liverpool Cathedral but this was abandoned.

Bespoke carving

In 1891, TSL undertook a commission (Pall Mall Gazette, 4 Nov. 1891) to carve a figurehead for millionaire Wallace M. Johnstone’s (of 3 St James’s St, London SW) steam-yacht (possibly the The Lady Nell). This work, if complete, has not yet surfaced.

TSL the landscape artist

“The Fine Art Society has been exhibiting… landscapes by Mr. T. Stirling Lee. Mr. Lee, who is so well known as a sculptor, revealed a highly sympathetic treatment of landscape in his paintings (The international Studio 1897: 159). Perhaps these will appear one day.

TSL obituaries

“Ideal Bust by T. Stirling Lee”, one of the illustrations accompanying the sculptor’s obituary in ‘The International Studio’, vol. 59, no. 235, 1916: 176 (archive.org).

“London – We regret to record the death of Mr. T. Stirling Lee, the well-known sculptor, who died suddenly at the end of June [1916]. The second son of Mr. John S. Lee, of Macclesfield, he was educated at Westminster School and then apprenticed to [John Birnie Philip], who was finishing the Albert Memorial. Mr. Lee studied at the same time at the Slade School, where he showed such aptitude for art that Mr. Armitage, R.A., advised his being sent to Paris, there being no school for sculpture in London at that time. Accordingly he next worked at the Petites Ecoles des Beaux Arts, and gained a first and a second medal during his first term. Subsequently he became a fellow-student with Alfred Gilbert in Professor Cavelier’s atelier, where he gained the R.A. gold medal and travelling scholarship, as well as the Composition Gold Medal of the Beaux Arts. At twenty-five Mr. Lee won the competition for the decoration of St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, but long delay on the part of the Corporation caused the young sculptor much early disappointment, and though he was allowed to finish part of his work, he died without seeing his life’s work completed. Two of his finest early works are Adam and Eve finding the Dead Body of Abel and Cain exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1881. He has done a good many portrait busts of notable people, amongst others Sir Frank Short’s daughter and Miss Kitty Shannon, besides numerous ‘ideal’ busts. He was one of the very few who carved direct in marble, from life. The later period of his art has been largely devoted to ecclesiastical work, an excellent example of which is his altar-piece in Westminster Cathedral, and he quite recently completed another altar-piece showing the Wise Men of the East, in which his love of symbolism found expression. As a sculptor Mr. Lee’s work was very individual. He was greatly attracted by the Early Greeks, and he was a born carver, with a strong sense of pattern.” (‘Studio-Talk’, The International Studio, vol. 59, no. 235, 1916: 175-6)

(For criticism of TSL’s carving from life, see Kineton Parkes 1931: 43.)

For other TSL obituaries, see, e.g., The Burlington Magazine, vol. 29, 1916: 264 (‘The Late Mr. Stirling Lee, Sculptor…’); The Builder, 7 July 1916: 4 (‘We regret to announce the death, suddenly, on June 29, of Mr. Thomas Stirling Lee… ’); The Building News, No. 3209, 5 July 1916: 21 (‘Mr. Thomas Stirling Lee, sculptor, of the Vale Studio, Vale Avenue, Chelsea, fell unconscious in the arcade at South Kensington Station on Thursday [29 June 1916], and on being conveyed to St. George’s Hospital was found to be dead… The funeral took place yesterday (Tuesday [4 July 1916]) afternoon at New Southgate.’). Similar notices appeared, inter alia, in the Liverpool Echo (30 June 1916) and the Evening Mail (30 June 1916).

TSL’s addresses

Given variously as The Vale, 326 Kings Road, London; 35 Craven Street, Strand, London; Merton Villa Studios, Manresa Road, London.

The Lee family: A dynasty of surveyors, builders, architects, and artists.

John Swanwick Lee (1830-1883) = Janet Sterling (June 1851) (d. 1889) – their children: 1) John Stirling Lee (1852-1886); 2) Helena Lee (1854-1922); 3) Thomas Stirling Lee  (1856-1916); 4) Philip Stirling Lee (1858-1909) = Mary Maud Single (b. 1858) – their children: a) Sarah Lee (b. 1868); Jane Lee (b. 1873); Philip (b. 1884); Eveline (b. 1887); Alfred (b. 1888); Lulu (b. 1890).

Obituary of TSL’s father

The Late Mr. J. Swanwick Lee

“We regret to have to announce the death of Mr. John Swanwick Lee, of Craven-street, the senior partner in the eminent firm of surveyors of that name. Although Mr. Lee has passed to his rest at the comparatively early age of 54, the extent of the works upon which he has been engaged would occupy too great a space for us to attempt any detailed notice of them. As a building surveyor his practice extended to all parts of the kingdom, and even to France. His association with the late Sir Gilbert Scott, and other leading architects for upwards of 30 years, brought him into connection with the largest and most important public and other works of his generation. It is not too much to say that more than 500 works bear his well-known signature on the estimates.

“Mr. Lee’s practice combined land and estate works with building, and, as an engineer, his works at Seaford Bay, Sussex, show a thoroughly practical way of protecting land endangered by the sea at moderate cost.

“In all mathematical questions Mr. Lee took a great interest, and contributed a paper on the Great Pyramid triangle, which may lay the foundation of important scientific results. Mr. Lee’s death will be mourned by a large circle of professional friends and acquaintances, and his loss to the immediate neighbourhood of his residence at Southgate will be greatly felt. Into every philanthropic or other movement for the benefit of the locality he threw himself with the utmost heartiness, and a great gloom has come over the neighbourhood by his death. Mr. Lee came from Macclesfield, and was a pupil of the late Mr. Charles Balam, surveyor. He leaves three sons, two of whom are partners in his firm, and his second son is Mr. Thomas Stirling Lee, sculptor.

“In all relations of life Mr. Lee was just and upright, and gained the respect of all with whom he came in contact. We extend our heartiest sympathy to his family in their great sorrow at the irreparable loss.” (The Building News, 5 Jan. 1883: 9)

Footnotes

Note 1:  “Miss J.D.S. Aldworth, an Irish artist who is rising to distinction in London, has had the honour of submitting to her Highness the Duchess of York the pastel painting which she presented to be sold for the benefit of the Princess Mary Village Houses. Miss Aldworth studied first in London, and subsequently in Paris, under M. R. L. Fleury… and has exhibited in the Royal Academy, the Institute of Painters, the Royal Hibernian Academy, and other shows. Miss Aldworth. who belongs to a well-known Cork family, is a successful portrait painter in oils and pastels, and adds another name to the long roll of talented Irish artists. Amongst the best portraits in oils we may mention that of the late Theodore Bent, F.R.G.S., F.S.A.” – Dublin Daily Express (1 August 1898). See also http://tambent.com/2018/01/24/papers-say-lost-oil-portrait-of-theodore-bent-discovered-now-read-on/
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Note 2:  This medallion dated 1896 is reproduced on p. xx of The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent, Vol. 2 (Oxford, 2012).
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Note 3:  Herbert or Frederick Goodall: The British Museum does not (as yet) specify the sitter on their Collection site page for COL object CME15800. It was purchased from the Fine Art Society and the BM acquisition register records the medallion as being of Herbert Goodall but the attribution is under investigation (BM pers. comm., 17 June 2024). The National Portrait Gallery seems to have additional provenance information on the object: “[After] c. 1870. Bronze relief medallion, 160 mm diameter, inscr. ‘GOODALL’, head, profile to right; Christie’s, 14 June 1973 (40); Sotheby’s, Belgravia, 7-8 Nov. 1973 (17). Bearded, so after c. 1870. Almost certainly the plaque of Goodall by Thomas Stirling Lee, exh. Armstrong-Davis G., Arundel, 1978.”

Mrs Rodney John Fennessy: Emily, née Selous  (1837-1915). Fennessy (1837-1915) was manager of the River Plate Bank of London and Buenos Aires, residing at 37 Brunswick Square, London. Emily is known to have exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1873, 1882, and 1883 (Algernon Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts. A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, Vol. 3, London, 1905, pp. 97-8; and see http://victorian-studies.net/gissing/newsletter-journal/journal-48-2.pdf).

Kate La Thangue: Katherine, née Rietiker (1859-1941), was a familiar figure and model in artistic circles, including the Chelsea Arts Club set. She married the artist Henry Herbert La Thangue (1859-1929) in 1885 (see, e.g., https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5978644).
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Note 4:  Pers. comm. June 2024, Stephen Bartley, Hon. Archivist, Chelsea Arts Club Archive.
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Note 5:  Happily, this charming, unidentified, bronze (1919-006) is still in Bradford’s Cartwright Hall Museum, but currently in store, along with an anonymous marble head (1919-005). A photo is unavailable at this stage, but perhaps it will appear in the future – she merits it. (Pers. comm. Dr Lauren Padgett, Assistant Curator of Collections, Bradford District Museums and Galleries, July 2024)
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References & Further reading

Attwood, P. 1992. Artistic Circles. The Medal in Britain 1880-1918. London: British Museum.

Beattie, Susan 1983. New Sculpture. London: Yale University Press.

Dorment, Richard 1985. Alfred Gilbert. London: Yale University Press. [Containing several references to their friendship]

The Fitzwilliam Museum Syndicate’s Annual Report and list of Accessions made during the period 1 August 2006 – 31 July 2007. Cambridge, 2008: 18. [For the medallion of W. Sickert]

Graves, Algernon 1905. The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, Vol. 5, p. 21, London: Graves. [For works displayed by TSL]

Historic England – Thomas Stirling Lee [For TSL’s church commissions]

Jezzard, A. 1999. The Sculptor Sir George Frampton, vol. 1. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Leeds.

Jubilee Park Fountain, Middleton – Advice on Restoration, 2015: 24-5. The Edgar Wood & Middleton Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) 2015.

Kineton Parkes, William 1921. Sculpture of to-day, Vol. 1, New York.

Kineton Parkes, William 1931. The Art Of Carved Sculpture,  Vol. 1, London.

Macer-Wright, Philip 1940. Brangwyn: A Study of Genius at Close Quarters, London.

Matthews, Geoffrey 2002. Thomas Stirling Lee, the first Chairman, in The Chelsea Arts Club Yearbook 2022 (page numbers n/a).

Mee, Arthur 1937. Sussex in the  ‘The King’s England’ series: 105, London

Roberts, Morley 1890. In Low Relief: A Bohemian Transcript: 19-20, 77-9, London.

Morris Edward 1997. Thomas Stirling Lee, in Sculpture Journal, Vol.1, pp. 51-6.

The New Sculpture, 1879-1894, in The Art Journal, New Series, 1894: 277 ff.

Ransome, Arthur 1907. Bohemia in London, London. [Aspects of artistic life in the late 19th century and the founding of the Chelsea Arts Club]

Sparrow, W.S. 1904. The British home of today; a book of modern domestic architecture & the applied arts: 207-8. New York.

Speel, Bob. A website for British Sculpture & Church Monuments.

Spielmann, M.H. 1901. British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today: 66, London.

University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 – Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951. [For considerable data on the working life of TSL]

The Victorian Web – Thomas Stirling Lee.

The Whistler 1991. Review of Artists and Bohemians by Tom Cross, in The Whistler (Autumn 1991: 12-14).

Wikipedia  – Thomas Stirling Lee.

For a further selection of illustrated works by TSL, see Art UK – Thomas Stirling Lee.

A Final Word

Mabel Bent by Thomas Stirling Lee, 1895, in bronze relief (detail) (The Bent Archive).

“There are sculptors and sculptors in England, but few for whom their material becomes plastic before a great thought. It is possible to pass through a modern exhibition, and be unmoved by a single evidence of the feeling which shows that study and long labour have not been lost in the attainment of mechanical dexterity and power of construction, which are as nothing without spiritual insight and emotion. Yet there are men in the country who have this vision, and one of them is Stirling Lee of Manresa Road.” (Morely Roberts, The Scottish Art Review, vol. 2, 1889: 74)

To our knowledge there has never been an exhibition of the life and work of this ‘man of vision’- it is high time there was one.

16 June – Bloomsday greetings James, from the Bents

Irish republican, revolutionary, suffragette, and actress – Maud Gonne (1866-1953)(wikipedia).

With our Irish connections, we always ferret about looking for Joycean links on 16 June. There aren’t any, as far as we know, other than that Theodore and Mabel once sat to dinner with Maud Gonne (1866-1953) in Constantinople – “a tall and handsome damsel dressed in white Broussa gauze, who says she means to go on the stage” (April 1888, Vol 1, Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles, Oxford, 2006, p.255). Yeats provided Gonne with contact information to Joyce before he left for Paris in 1902, but they never hooked up. Of course, there is always a chance that Mabel and Joyce (or Nora Joyce) once breathe the same Dublin air. Bloomsday greetings James, from the Bents…

A watercolour of Syros in the mid 19th century by Edward Lear; ‘the old sparkly pile’ he called it (diary entry for Wednesday, 6 April 1864).

Maud confirms her visit to Constantinople at that date in a later autobiography, and recounts various doings there; but there is no mention of dining with the Bents in particular. Clearly they left no deep impression on the theatrical Gonne, who surely didn’t feel it was appropriate telling Mabel about her amatory incident, at pistol point,  on Syra – a favourite Cycladic island for Theodore and Mabel. If she had, then Mabel would certainly have jotted it down in her diary that night. Here is Maud’s adventure ashore, worth telling in some detail. Potentially, of course, it could have been serious and dangerous, but Maud, characteristically, makes light of it (Mabel would have done the same – but chances are she would have let off a round or two for good measure.) Let’s give the stage to Maud Gonne, and remember she’s barely more than 20:

“[At] dinner I asked the Captain when we should arrive at Syra in Greece which was our first stopping place. ‘To-morrow, but the storm has made us late; we shall only stay for coaling.’ And, seeing my eagerness, he added: ‘You mustn’t go ashore. It isn’t at all safe for ladies. Some very unpleasant things have happened at Syra and I have been obliged to forbid all lady passengers going ashore there.’

“The second in command was a bearded Corsican who looked like a brigand, had fine eyes and was very attentive to me. Leaning over the rail in the darkness we discussed Napoleon, whose memory he worshipped and I ventured to ask him about landing at Syra; for the one thing I longed for was to be on land. People talk of the glorious sense of freedom on the sea. I always feel in prison on a ship, even in fine weather. He shook his head: ‘’No, no, Mademoiselle, the captain’s orders are absolute and he is right; no ladies may land, and you are too beautiful. If I could take you . . . But that is impossible; we are all too busy, no one may go ashore.’ There was no help to be got even from a bearded Corsican who looked like a brigand and was so ready to make love that I retired early to my cabin with my chaperone and the little girl who was an Armenian orphan brought up by French nuns and was going out to another convent of the Order to teach French. She had never been outside the convent before. She was not more than fifteen years of age.

Bent’s map of the Cyclades from the first edition of his 1885 book (archive.org). Click here for a modern Google map showing Syros.

“Next morning the sun was shining brightly, but no land in sight. I was longing for land, longing for it with all my might. An old Turk with a long grey beard was strolling on the deck. He was a person of consequence, and on the deck a large canvas awning had been arranged behind which the ladies of his harem were sheltered from indiscreet gaze. I didn’t think he would help me to land, but I thought it would be amusing to meet the ladies of his harem. He looked at me gravely, even kindly, as he passed and we spoke a little and I told him I was going on a visit to the daughter of the British Ambassador; but I didn’t ask him about landing at Syra or about visiting his wives; for this last enterprise I thought the stewardess would be the best approach and it seemed to me that the advance should come from the ladies themselves. That could wait; there were still four days before we were to arrive at Constantinople and we were just approaching Syra.

“It was five o’clock when the ship stopped and was at once surrounded by crowds of boats and chattering Levantines selling all sorts of things to the passengers who were all on deck. The coaling barge was busy at one end. I heard it would take about two or three hours before the ship would start again. A Greek selling various trinkets and souvenirs smiled at me ingratiatingly and offered me his wares. He spoke a little Italian, I showed him a fifty-franc note and pointed to the shore and managed to strike a bargain with him to row me there and back for it, and, in the crowd, unnoticed, I slipped down the ladder into his boat and was soon on shore. My little chaperone* was sitting on my shoulder sheltered in my veil and my revolver was in my pocket.

The Grand Hôtel D’Angleterre, Ermoúpoli (Sýros)
The Grand Hôtel D’Angleterre, Ermoúpoli, Sýros, where the Bents liked to stay. Maud Gonne would have strolled by it during her risky shore leave.

“It was great to be on land again. I went to the post office and sent off postcards and wandered happily among the shops in dark, narrow streets, bought Turkish delight and pots of rose-leaf jam and cigarettes and flowers, the Greek acting as cicerone; I was glad to get rid of him at last at a cafe on the harbour where I could keep an eye on our ship and on the time while I drank coffee and ate strange cakes.

“The boats were getting thin round our ship and I had been two hours on land. My Greek guide had not returned. I thought he must be drinking wine somewhere and I tried to enquire of the waiter as I paid my bill, but he spoke only Greek and was of no help; so I decided to go down to the place where I had landed and the Greek had left his boat. He was not paid; so I felt he was sure to turn up. He was there all right with two other sailor-men sitting in the boat. I got in and told him to start. He seemed in no hurry and said there was lots of time. I told him to start at once and he said something to the sailors who lazily began rowing. It was a marvellous evening. The lights on the sea were enchanting and the town looked white and fairy-like. I was very happy. Then I noticed the sailors were rowing in an opposite direction from that of the ship. My guide was not rowing this time, but sitting on the seat facing me; I pointed to the ship and told him to tell them to go there. He smiled and explained they were going to show me a beautiful point of view. I got angry and told him to turn the boat at once. He only laughed and the men rowed quicker.

Maud Gonne, the frontispiece from “A Servant Of The Queen: Reminiscences”, 1938 (archive.org).

“Suddenly I stood up with my revolver pointed straight at him and said: ‘Obey, or I fire.’ The men stopped rowing and there was some quick talk in Greek and the boat turned and rowed to the ship. I sat down, but I kept my revolver pointed but as much hidden as I could. I never took my eyes off my guide till we were at the ship’s side and I tossed him the fifty-franc note and scrambled up the ladder while the sailors passed up my many parcels. My Corsican friend was at the ladder. ‘Mademoiselle, you almost missed the boat. The Captain knows; he is very angry.’ I thought it wiser to say nothing about the difficulty I had had in catching it, and when, at dinner, the Captain was coldly severe about my disregard of his orders. I pleaded that I, not being a sailor like himself, had such a terrible nostalgia to be on land that I could not expect men who were used to the sea to understand; it was my first voyage, and I was all alone and he must forgive; which he did with good grace, for he could do nothing else, merely remarking I was very young and didn’t understand the danger, but he hoped I would not try it again at Smyrna which was our next place of call, or if I did land, for we would make a longer stop there as he had cargo to discharge, I would find a proper escort. ‘None of these ports are safe for young women alone.’”

* A marmoset Maud bought in Marseilles a few days before leaving for Constantinople.

The extracts are from Maud Gonne Macbride, A Servant Of The Queen: Reminiscences, 1938, London, pp. 68-71.

In the wake of Ida Laura Pfeiffer (1797-1858)

Ida Laura Pfeiffer (1797-1858) (wikipedia).

No list of indomitable women travellers would be complete without a reference to the incredible Ida Laura Pfeiffer, in whose footprints Mabel occasionally followed. Although the latter never refers directly to the Austrian globetrotter in her diaries, Mabel would certainly have known of her, and probably read Ida’s travel accounts, several of which were already translated into English in her time. Ida died when Mabel Hall-Dare was just a girl of ten or so in the south of Ireland.

One among many of the locations they both were to visit was the island of Rhodes (then a Turkish province for both Ida and Mabel). Here is Pfeiffer on Rhodes’ famous main harbour in late May 1842 (trans from the German by  H.W. Dulcken):

Cover to the English edition ot Ida Pfeiffer’s “A Visit to the Holy Land” (archive.org).

“This morning, shortly after five o’clock, we ran into the superb harbour of Rhodes. Here, for the first time, I obtained a correct notion of a harbour. That of Rhodes is shut in on all sides by walls and masses of rock, leaving only a gap of a hundred and fifty to two hundred paces in width for the ships to enter. Here every vessel can lie in perfect safety, be the sea outside the bar as stormy as it may; the only drawback is, that the entering of this harbour, a task of some difficulty in calm weather, becomes totally impracticable during a storm. A round tower stands as a protection on either side of the entrance to the harbour.” (Visit to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Italy, London, 1853, p.86)

And here is Mabel Bent (she married Theodore in 1877) putting up with some tricky February weather in the same harbour region some thirty years later, in 1885, endorsing Ida’s observation about bad weather:

A view of Rhodes’ great harbour from C.T. Newton’s “Travels & Discoveries in the Levant” (London, 1865). The folly that is ‘Naillac’s Tower’ (left) would have been enjoyed by Ida, but was toppled by the time Mabel was in the offing in 1885 (archive.org).

“The day seems quite over, it is half past six, and a most anxious day we have passed with the yellow flag waving us. We got to Rhodes about 3 but did not settle till 5 and the health officers did not come till 7. The Captain asked leave to go to a bay to shelter if storm came on, or the open sea, but they said no, if we wanted pratigue he must remain there. But the Captain told us that sooner than lose or damage the ship he would go off with us and the two guardians to Smyrna. Great therefore was our horror at 3.30 p.m. to hear all the noises of a start, after having observed that it was getting rougher, but we only went round the corner of the island to shelter on the eastern side and hope to be returned to the capital tomorrow morning. In the mean time no one has been able to communicate in any way with the shore. It has been pouring most of the day.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, vol 1, Oxford, 2006, p.68)

For the Bents on Rhodes and in the Dodecanese, see The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks (Oxford, 2015).

A list of Theodore Bent’s ‘Middle East’ articles/publications.

The region of the ‘Wadi Hadramut’, Yemen, the setting for three explorations by the Bents in the 1890s (archive.org).

The Bents’ third significant field of studies was the Middle East, beginning with an expedition to the ‘Mounds of Ali’, Bahrain (1889), followed weeks later by an historic horseback journey, south-north, through Persia. Bent’s interest in the ‘Phoenicians’ piqued, the celebrity explorers embarked on three adventures between 1894-7, to the Yemen (specifically the inhospitable ‘Wadi Hadramut‘, including stays in Muscat, Oman, and Sokotra). These tours generated an extensive corpus of popular and more ‘academic’ articles (historical, ‘archaeological’ and ‘ethnographic’ in content). Along the way they acquired artefacts, ancient and modern, that they would seek to sell or retain for their private London collection. The British Museum, for example, has a large collection of their material. The rigours of travel finally took their toll on Theodore Bent; he died, aged just 45, shortly after returning from Aden (5 May 1897). Had he lived, he would certainly have written a book or two encompassing these adventures, as it transpired, it was left to his widow, Mabel, to assemble the comprehensive monograph that remains the great tribute to their work in Southern Arabia (1900).

Bent’s writings on the Middle East by year of publication:

1889

1890

1891

1893

1894

1895

1897

 

For Bent’s overall bibliography click here.

A list of Theodore Bent’s ‘Africa’ articles/publications (based on today’s borders).

Theodore's map of Ethiopia (photo: The Bent Archive)
Bent’s map of Ethiopia (1893) (The Bent Archive).

The Bents’ second significant field of studies (after the Turkish littoral and the Aegean) was the African continent, beginning with a ‘tourist’ visit in early 1885 to Egypt, taking in such sine qua nons as the Pyramids. The great breakthrough for the celebrity explorers was a commission from Cecil Rhodes to investigate in 1891 the ruins of Great Zimbabwe (in today’s Zimbabwe), followed by adventures in Ethiopia (Aksum, 1893), and the Sudan (1896), generating an extensive corpus of popular and more ‘academic’ articles (historical, ‘archaeological’ and ‘ethnographic’ in content). Along the way they acquired artefacts, ancient and modern, that they would seek to sell or retain for their private London collection. The British Museum, for example, has a large collection of their material. Two best-selling monographs resulted from these expeditions to Africa: The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892) and The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (1893).

Bent’s writings on Africa (today’s boundaries) by year of publication:

1892

1893

1896

For a consolidated Bent bibliography click here.

A list of Theodore Bent’s ‘Turkey and Asia Minor’ articles/publications (based on today’s borders).

“Our ship” The Bents anchor their sloop, “Evangelistria”, off the Turkish coast in 1888, not far from modern Fethiye. Bent has drawn in their ship on an Admiralty chart of the time.

The Bents’ first significant field of studies was the Turkish littoral and Aegean, beginning with a ‘tourist’ visit in early 1883, taking in such sites as Delphi and Mycenae. This trip inspired a decade-long passion for these celebrity explorers (with a tour more or less every year), generating an extensive corpus of popular and more ‘academic’ articles (historical, ‘archaeological’ and ‘ethnographic’ in content). Along the way they acquired artefacts, ancient and modern, that they would seek to sell or retain for their private London collection. The British Museum, for example, has a large collection of their material.

Bent’s writings on Turkey and Asia Minor (today’s boundaries) by year of publication:

1883

1885

1887

1888

1889

1890

1891

1892

  • ‘The Two Capitals of Armenia (Sis and Etchmiadz՝m)’. Eastern and Western Review (not seen; page numbers n/a).

1896

 

For a consolidated Bent bibliography click here.

A list of Theodore Bent’s ‘Greece’ articles/publications (based on today’s borders).

Bent’s map from the first edition of his 1885 book, “The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks”  (archive.org)

The Bents’ first significant field of studies was the Aegean, beginning with a ‘tourist’ visit in early 1883, taking in such sites as Delphi and Mycenae. This trip inspired a decade-long passion for these celebrity explorers (with a tour more or less every year), generating Bent’s classic guide to the Cyclades (perhaps he is partly to blame for the islands’ current over-tourism in the summer months today), and a substantial corpus of popular and more ‘academic’ articles (historical, ‘archaeological’ and ‘ethnographic’ in content). Along the way they acquired artefacts, ancient and modern, that they would seek to sell or retain for their private London collection. The British Museum, for example, has a large collection of their material.

Bent’s writings on Greece (today’s boundaries) by year of publication:

1883

1884

1885

1886

1887

1888

1889

1891

For Bent’s overall bibliography click here.

Bent/Carnarvon correspondence – October 1889

Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, KP, PC, DL, FRS, FSA (1831-1890) (Wikipedia).

Two letters, October 1889, from Theodore Bent to Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, KP, PC, DL, FRS, FSA (24 June 1831 – 29 June 1890), Highclere Castle, Hampshire, UK. The original letters are now in the Hampshire County Archives (75m91/R13/40-41). Carnarvon’s original letters to Bent have not surfaced; the latter would have had a fascinating correspondence archive but it is presumed lost. The reply to Bent’s first letter must have been exceedingly positive, as can be deduced by the speed in which the meeting was arranged and the much less formal style of Bent’s  second communication.

Highclere Castle (Hampshire, UK), seat of the Earls of Carnarvon (Wikipedia).

Background: The Bents spent early 1889 in the Middle East, with a few weeks excavating at the ‘mounds of Ali‘, Bahrain, and then riding south-north the length of Persia before returning to London via Kiev. The couple’s explorations for the following season (1890) were clearly unfixed (and time was pressing) when Bent sought to make contact with Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere, hopefully to smooth (and perhaps co-finance) his passage to the Bulgarian region of Burgas on the Black Sea.

The opening of Bent’s second letter to Earl Carnarvon. The original letters are in the Hampshire County Archives (75m91/R13/40-41).

Why especially Bent had his sights set on this area is still to be researched and answers might be found in extant communications between Bent and Cecil Smith (see Letter 1). One factor would have been that the sites (and any discoveries there) were unlikely to have the levels of official scrutiny he was exposed to in Greece and Turkey – but some of the material culture from there would, of course, reflect the lives of ancient Greek colonies. In the end, for whatever reason, the Bents opted in 1890 for the Turkish littoral, settling for squeezes of early inscriptions and determined to find ancient Olba (which they did). Sadly, Bent’s affable correspondent was to die relatively young in that same year (1890), being succeeded by the 5th Earl, ‘Tutankhamen’ Carnarvon.

Letter 1 – Bent to Carnarvon

13, Great Cumberland Place, W. [London]

Oct. 16 [1889].

My Lord,

Mr Cecil Smith tells me you have kindly promised to help me with regard to certain excavations I hope to undertake near Bourgas at the beginning of the year [1890].

My object is to get a personal introduction to Mr. [Stefan] Stambolov but if I might speak to you on this matter at any hour you like to name I think I could explain matters more definitely.

I am your Lordship’s obedient servant,

J. Theodore Bent

Notes:

Bent’s friend Cecil Harcourt Smith, 1859-1944, of the British Museum and later the V & A.

Burgas (Bulgaria), ancient port on the Black Sea.

Stefan Stambolov, 1854-1895, Bulgarian politician, journalist, revolutionary, and poet who served as Prime Minister and regent. He was assassinated in Sofia in 1895.

Letter 2 – Bent to Carnarvon

 

13, Great Cumberland Place, W. [London]

Oct. 21 [1889].

My dear Lord Carnarvon,

It will give me great pleasure to accept your kind invitation to visit you at Highclere, and I will come down to Newbury on Saturday next [26th] by the train you name.

I remain my Lord,

Yours faithfully,

J. Theodore Bent