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Female Artists of the Victorian Era: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale


Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was an English artist in the reign of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and George V who was identified as the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters. Born in the reign of Queen Victoria, her popularity mostly prospered in Edwardian era and she became one of the most popular Edwardian artist.

Eleanor was born in Upper Norwood, Surrey as Mary Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. She was the youngest daughter of a Lincoln’s Inn barrister, Matthew Inglett Fortescue-Brickdale and Sarah Anna. At the age of 17 she was enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art under Herbert Bone after initially started studying under the art critic John Ruskin. While at the Royal Academy, she came under the influence of John Byam Liston Shaw, who in turn was influenced by John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse. By the time she was accepted to Royal Academy Pre-Raphaelite painting was led by a second generation of artists including Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

The Pale Complexion of True Love (1899) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Using the different media such as small-scale sculptures as well as paintings, Eleanor followed the Pre-Raphaelite tradition of applied art popularized by William Morris. Although it had been fifty years since the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had revived styles from the early Renaissance, her first major painting The Pale Complexion of True Love (1899) inspired by William Shakespeare’s As You Like it depicted an Elizabethan scene in similar style moralizing the Medieval subjects as the original Pre-Raphaelites did in the 1850s.

The deceitfulness of riches (1901) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Her 1901’s work The Deceitfulness of Riches was one of the most aspirant and fascinating of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s early paintings. The painting was first exhibited in 1901 at the Royal Academy and then later added in the exhibition held at Leighton House in 1902 which was inaugurated in 1901 under the title Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made of (a reference to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest). The Deceitfulness of Riches was highly debated when first exhibited and to this day its meaning is still up to be illustrated. In 1902, she became the first female member of the Institute of Painters in Oils as well. In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of 28 watercolour illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she painted over two years. They were exhibited in the gallery in 1911, and 24 of them were published in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls the next year. Eleanor became a teacher at Byam Shaw School of Art when Byam Shaw founded the school in 1911. Later in her career she also worked with stained glass and donated works to churches.

Eleanor’s works were mostly appreciated and admired by people who disregarded the huge wave of Modern arts, Cubism and Surrealism in early to mid 20th century. Most of her works were inspired by literary themes and celebrated the beauty of nature. She was a fascinating illustrator of poems, folktales, legends, chivalry, motherhood and romantic imagery. Although she became less productive after World War I as her sight failed and health declined, it was when she mostly worked with stained glass. In 1938, she suffered a stroke and could not paint for the remaining 7 years of her life. After her death in 1945, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was identified as “the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters.”



  1. I know a lot of people don’t like the Pre-Rafaelites because the work is too romantic and soppy, but I’ve always loved their use of color. I also enjoy the pithy titles, especially “The Pale Complexion of True Love”.

    Liked by 1 person

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