Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Seated Venus by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911)

We continue our brief look at some of the artists and models living and working in West London during the eighteen nineties with this seated nude study by Edwin Austin Abbey, whose studio, at 54 Bedford Gardens, Edward Linley Sambourne used to photograph his nudes, so his wife wouldn't find out.  This is a very rare nude in Abbey's work and may have been either a technical exercise or a study for one of his typically grand works.  He is most famous these days for the murals he did called The Quest for the Holy Grail in the Boston Public Library and for those in the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg, although he died before they could be completed.

The Quest for the Holy Grail at the Boston Public Library

Like Sambourne, he was originally an illustrator for magazines and it was while researching material in London in 1878, for an illustrated book on the poet Robert Herrick, that he decided to move there permanently, which he did in 1883.  Even his murals for the Boston Public Library were done in his studios in Kensington and then shipped to America.  He became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1898, a fine achievement for a largely self taught artist with a background as an illustrator.  He was chosen to paint the official painting of the coronation of KindgEdward VII which is now in Buckingham Palace. It is said that he was offered a knighthood in 1907 but refused it.

Francis Davis Millet, An Autumn Idyll (1892)

Abbey shared his house and studio at 54 Bedford Gardens with two other artists: Alfred Parsons (1847-1920) and Francis Davis Millet (1848-1912).  Millet painted Alma-Tademaesque scenes of classical beauties in settings replete with marble.  Although he married (Mark Twain was his best man) and had three children it is strongly suspected he had a relationship with American travel writer Charles Warren Stoddard when they were both living in Rome. Millet drowned in April 1912 when taking passage to New York on board the RMS Titanic and was last seen helping women and children into lifeboats.  Unusually, his body was recovered and was returned to his home in Massachusetts for burial

Alfred Parsons, Ellen Willmott's Garden

Parsons specialised in botanical illustrations and delicate landscapes and he and Abbey  collaborated on some illustrated books.  Later he employed his botanical skills in designing gardens.

54 Bedford Gardens today

Sadly, unlike Sambourne's House, there are no period features left at 54 Bedford Gardens apart from the facade.  In 2010 the ten bedroom house and it's mews house at the rear of the back yard, were sold.  The new owners demolished the mews house, built over the intervening yard and created one gigantic home which sold in February of this year for £24 million.


  1. There are some wonderful Artists' studio buildings on the road between Chiswick and Hammersmith, 4 or 5 in a row with, fantastic big windows and high ceilings. Probably owned by oligarchs, hedge funders or investment bankers now, but always wondered whether any famous 'west london school' works came from them...

    1. Ah yes, St Paul's studios. They were built in 1891 specifically for bachelor artists and quite a few third tier artists lived in them, such as Frederick Hall, William Logsdail and Herbert Sydney. Also sculptors Albert Hemstock Hodge and Darent Harrison. The most famous resident wasn't an artist but the ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Because of the noise from the road and the fact they are listed, meaning that double glazing can't be installed, they don't go for that much - just under £1.5 million. Fonteyn's is up for sale at the moment!

  2. London property market never ceases to amaze...

  3. Please keep up the good work - if you can get over copyright considerations there is scope for a great illustrated book (a la the Taschen ones) on the pubic wars...

    1. I did write an article in a magazine a few years ago on The Pubic Wars (a very compressed version of my original posts) and the picture issue was insoluble. The lawyers said that it might be possible to show some cover shots but in the end they didn't even go for that.