My research about William Woodley, the beekeeper who lived at Worlds End-Beedon, has brought me to the discovery of a water-colour painting. The painting is of Garden Cottage (William Woodley’s home) and it was painted by an obscure female artist by the name of M.S. Elwes or more fully Mary Somerville Elwes. There are several artists with the surname Elwes, and Simon Elwes in particular made his name during the Second World War as a war artist. But I have found no link with M.S. Elwes to the other artists who share the same surname.
Mary Elwes was born in 1879 at Wells, Somerset, England. She was the eldest daughter of Edward Leighton Elwes, who at the time of Mary’s birth was the Vicar of Over Stowey. The family were well-to-do and the household comprised of several servants. Her father eventually rose to the position of Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral.
During her life, Mary made many trips abroad. Mary joined the French Red Cross to help wounded service men during the First World War. Her service was recognised with the British War Medal.
Passenger lists show how wide she travelled between 1920 – 1945, she visited South and North America, North Africa and Southern Europe. She would earn a living by painting, undertaking art commissions and lecturing. She spent the entire Second World War in North America. She travelled back home to England in November 1945.
Mary made a visit to The Cape (South Africa) in 1952 and that was the last record we have of her foreign excursions.
She painted a water-colour of Garden Cottage and although there is no date on the painting I have a few ideas about the time period within which it was painted. The blue shed in the painting was not recorded on the Ordnance Survey (OS) map until 1912 and was absent in the 1900 OS map. I conclude the painting was done post-1900.
My conservationist friend also had some ideas about the painting. She felt the style of the frame and mounting (not shown) suggests post-First World War. The clothes the woman in the painting was wearing, vaguely suggests a dated post-World War Two.
Mary is abroad a lot of the time from at least 1914 to 1945 but she died on 27 November 1961 at Bath, England. I believe the painting is most likely to have been done between 1945 – 1961. And whilst this is nearly forty-years after William Woodley’s death in 1923, I don’t think Garden Cottage would have changed much during those years. This water-colour painting is a valuable contribution to describing William Woodley’s home.
I have thought about why Mary travelled through Worlds End and whether there was someone nearby she was visiting but no obvious answer presents itself. The beauty of the flowers outside Garden Cottage in the painting makes me understand why she stopped and painted the scene around the house. I wonder whether Mary sold the painting to the householder at the time and also whether she made any other paintings during her visit to Worlds End. The painting resides in Beedon and belongs to a relative of Mr Woodley.
If you can add to the life-story of M.S Elwes, or have one of her pieces of art, or you are a relative of hers, please get in touch.
[Update 25 May 2015: I have written another blog about Mary Somerville Elwes – click here)