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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Sketch of a naked woman with right arm stretched out and left arm bent with hand to face

Unfulfilled Potential: The Forgotten Women Artists of the Slade School

[ Artist in Focus )

Dr. Lydia Miller introduces us to art and lives of the forgotten women artists who were contemporaries of Gwen John at the Slade School of Fine Art.

During the years that Gwen John studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, talented young women dominated. During the 1890s female students made up two-thirds of the student body and Gwen John’s brother Augustus recalled that ‘In talent as well as in looks the girls were supreme.’ [1]

These students were part of a generation of young women who were different to their Victorian predecessors. They were modern and independent. They lived with friends before they married and they began taking up employment which gave them a certain amount of financial freedom. However, if these women students chose to marry, the landscape changed almost immediately. Marriage, for the majority of women at this period, meant the end of an artistic career. Their time would focus on running the house and bringing up children, and many middle-class husbands thought it inappropriate for their wives to be working. The number of women unable to continue with art as a career paved the way for male students such as Augustus John, Ambrose McEvoy, and William Orpen to dominate the profession.

This article explores some of the women artists who are represented in our current exhibition Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris. These women studied with Gwen John at the Slade but almost all of them never reached their full potential as artists. Edna Clarke Hall and Ida Nettleship both married men who were not supportive of their careers. Ursula Tyrwhitt and Elinor Monsell continued to produce art after their marriages, Tyrwhitt as an artist and sculptor and Monsell as an illustrator, but neither women gained significant recognition in the history of modern British art. Mary Constance Lloyd was arguably the most successful out of these artists and exhibited widely, yet today all of these women are little known.


Painting of a group of three gathered around an easel next to a fireplace. One figure is seated at the easel wearing a white gown with a figure standing next to them wearing a wide brimmed hat and behind them stands a figure in an orange dress. Out the window behind the easel to right are two figures.

Gwen John, Portrait Group (recto), Studies after Raphael (verso), 1897, Watercolour on paper. Reverse: red chalk, UCL Art Museum, University College London

Edna Clarke Hall [1879-1979)

Edna Waugh (later Clarke Hall) began studying at the Slade School of Fine Art at the age of 14 and was described as ‘a kind of infant prodigy’.[2] When asked by her tutor Henry Tonks if she was going to be the next Edward Burne-Jones, the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter, she said ‘No’, she would be ‘A first Edna Waugh’.[3]

She was determined, talented and independent. She would often wander the streets of London alone – something that women were not encouraged to do at this period – and when Edna was harassed by a group of men on one of her walks, she stood her ground and confronted them.[4]

It had been a friend of her father who had arranged for Edna to attend the Slade. William Clarke Hall was 13 years older than Edna and had pursued her since she was 14. Support of her education turned into marriage proposals and although Edna was reluctant, she eventually married her patron at the age of 19. At first her husband seemed supportive of her creative ambition but tensions grew as William expected Edna to settle into the role of a wife and mother.


Still life painting of a wicker basket on a chair with a straw hat and a white coat hanging on the wall behind it

Edna Clarke Hall, Still Life of a Basket on a Chair, 1900, Oil on canvas, Tate.

When Edna’s friend Gwen John returned to London from studying with Whistler in Paris in 1899, she asked her if she could tutor her. It was during this period that Edna painted Still Life of a Basket on a Chair (Tate), an accomplished oil painting which demonstrates Edna’s ongoing talent.

During the next 20 years, Edna Clarke Hall’s marriage and mental health deteriorated. She was forced to make art a personal hobby, shared with family and close friends, rather than a career. She found inspiration in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, drawing parallels with the female protagonist Catherine and Brontë’s themes including domestic entrapment and mental abuse.

In 1919 Edna suffered a breakdown. With the support of a psychologist who saw the positive impact of creating art, Edna took a studio in London and began to exhibit at the Redfern Gallery from 1924. It was during one of these exhibitions in 1926 that she was said to be ‘the most imaginative artist we have [in England] today’ by a critic writing for The Times.[5] In 1941 much of Edna Clarke Hall’s work was destroyed in the Blitz essentially ending her career as an artist. She ceased painting in the early 1950s. She lived to be 100 and died in 1979.


Sketchbook page with pencil sketch of a seated woman

Ida Nettleship, Sketchbook Study of Gwen John, Late 1890s, Private Collection.

Ida Nettleship [1877-1907)

Ida Nettleship came from an artistic family. Her mother was Adaline Nettleship, a theatrical costumier and dressmaker and her father was the Pre-Raphaelite animal painter John Trivett Nettleship. Adaline was the breadwinner of the household and is best remembered for the dress she designed for the actor Ellen Terry during her role as Lady Macbeth; a dress that was immortalised by the portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Ida enrolled at the Slade in 1892, earlier than several of her friends. This led to her taking on a matriarchal role and leading a group of female students who became known as ‘The Nursery’. Edna Waugh (later Clarke Hall) was one of these students.

Very little of Ida’s work survives, though she was a prize-winner at the Slade and was talented enough to be awarded a three-year scholarship at the school in 1895. Two early works by Ida from this period survive, a sketchbook which contains drawings of her family and Gwen John, and A Study of a Nude Male Figure, a life drawing completed at the Slade. Women were not allowed to draw models entirely nude in the life class and this is why Ida draws her model wearing what appears to be a triangular-shaped nappy to protect his modesty.


Sketch of a man standing wearing only a loincloth

Ida Nettleship, A Study of a Nude Male Figure, 1895, Black chalk on paper.,UCL Art Collection.

In 1898 she travelled to Paris with Gwen John and another Slade friend Gwen Salmond. The three women wanted to experience everything that Paris had to offer. They travelled unchaperoned and rented an apartment. This was the first time that Ida and the two Gwens experienced a taste of independence.

The two Gwens decided to train at James McNeill Whistler’s new art school, the Académie Carmen, whereas Ida chose to study at the better established Académie Colarossi. The three women returned to London in 1899 with inspiration and new techniques from the continent.

In 1901, Ida married fellow student Augustus John who, like William Clarke Hall, did not support Ida in her career. Instead her time was used to support her husband’s career, as well as negotiating a tricky home life with her husband and his mistress, Dorelia, and bringing up their children. Ida went on to have five sons, David, Caspar, Robin, Edwin and Henry with Augustus and died at the age of 30 after giving birth.

References to Ida were almost eradicated from the John family after her death and she was forgotten. Rebecca John rediscovered Ida’s letters and published them in 2017 under the title The Good Bohemian.


Portrait painting of a woman with dark hair tied back wearing a long black dress with bare forearms and a coral coloured small scarf around neck. Stands with arms folded across waist.

Ursula Tyrwhitt [1872-1966)

Ursula Tyrwhitt didn’t start at the Slade until she was 21. It had taken time to persuade her parents to let her train as an artist. It was during her time at the Slade that she met Gwen John and the two women remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Ursula was the first owner of Gwen John’s Dorelia in a Black Dress in the Tate collection. When she bought this work in 1917 Gwen John wrote to her to tell her, ‘It is a comfort to know my Toulouse picture safe! I am a maman who knows her baby has a home’.[6] Ursula visited Gwen John a number of times in Paris and it was during one of these visits that she sculpted a bust of her friend which she took to show the famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin.

Ursula largely worked in oils and watercolour, her sculpture of Gwen John is unusual in her oeuvre. Her work varies in subject from figures in interiors and portraits, to Venetian street scenes and flower paintings. A painting of flowers in a vase that she gave to her friends Ambrose and Mary McEvoy, possibly as a tenth wedding anniversary present, is in the Tate collection.


Photograph of a terracotta woman's head in a perspex case sat on a white pedestal

Ursula Tyrwhitt, Bust of Gwen John, 1921, The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Presented by Mrs Ursula Tyrwhitt, 1964.

She wrote to the McEvoys in 1913 at the age of forty to tell them that she was to be married to a distant cousin – a way of appeasing her father. She writes humorously,

‘My father has a fixed idea that unmarried women are certain to become suffragettes if not post impressionists so I’m going to marry a friend of his, a distant cousin next month.’[7]

The marriage to Walter Tyrwhitt, who was also an artist, turned out to be a happy marriage of companionship. Their relationship centred on their mutual desire to make art and support each other in their artistic ventures. Although not a well-known artist today and arguably not as talented as some of her other female contemporaries like Gwen John, Ursula Tyrwhitt continued to work as an artist throughout her life.


Sketch in red of a woman painting at an easel wearing a long full skirt dress and golding a palette

Elinor Monsell, Gwen John standing at an easel, c.1895-98, Private Collection

Elinor Monsell [1879-1954)

There is very little written about Elinor Monsell and more in-depth research is needed in order to explore her work in greater detail. Monsell was a painter, a wood engraver and an illustrator. She was born in Limerick in Ireland in 1879 and travelled to London to study at the progressive Slade School of Fine Art. This was where she met the other women in this article and Gwen John, whom she drew in the mid-1890s working at her easel.

Like Ida Nettleship, an early Slade life drawing by Elinor survives, however, the model is not a male figure but a female figure. Alicia Foster argues that rather than drawing the reality of the working-class model in front of her, Elinor has elevated her sitter by drawing her in a similar guise to a classical Greek sculpture.[8]

Elinor Monsell is best known for working with the Irish writer and dramatist W.B. Yeats. Yeats commissioned her to design the logo for the Abbey Theatre, also known as the National Theatre of Ireland, which he helped found in 1904. The design that Elinor created shows the mythic Irish Queen Maeve and her wolfhound.[9] In 1906 Elinor married Bernard Darwin, a writer and golfer who was the grandson of naturalist Charles Darwin. With her husband she wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books. It is also said she introduced her husband’s cousin Gwen Raverat to wood engraving.


Sketch of a naked woman with right arm stretched out and left arm bent with hand to face

Elinor Monsell, Female Nude Standing, 1897-8. Black Chalk on paper. UCL Art Collection

Mary Constance Lloyd [1873-1968)

Mary Constance Lloyd, known to friends and family as Constance, enrolled at the Slade in October 1896 but only saw one academic year at the school. She was not impressed with the teaching, unlike her contemporaries, and later in 1901 took lessons with the French artist Simon Bussy.[10]

Constance was from a wealthy background. Her great-great-grandfather was the founder of Lloyds Bank. She didn’t need to work for a living and she chose not to marry. This gave her greater independence as an artist.

Like Gwen John, Constance was living in Paris from 1904 and John lodged with her for a while at her apartment on rue d’Assas just around the corner from the Jardin du Luxembourg. Constance and Gwen John were in regular contact in Paris and used each other as models in their paintings. A painting by Constance Lloyd of Gwen John sitting naked on a bed and reading a yellow-covered French paperback is currently on display in our exhibition, Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris.


Painting of a naked woman sat on a bed

Mary Constance Lloyd, Gwen John, 1905, Oil on canvas, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Lloyd was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon and during the 1900s and 1910s she exhibited her decorative designs for wallpapers, textiles and fans there. She designed fabrics for Heal’s department store in 1913/4 and became good friends with the Bloomsbury Group, including Duncan Grant. She also exhibited with the group at The Friday Club.[11]

Constance Lloyd studied with the Cubist artist André Lhote at his academy in Montparnasse, an area of Paris where Gwen John lived for seven years. Both women discussed his theories and John also went on to study with him in 1936.

Recent research into Mary Constance Lloyd by Elizabeth Crawford suggests that Lloyd was arrested during the German occupation of Paris in the Second World War.[12] She was taken by German soldiers from her Parisian flat on 5th December 1940 and taken to Vauban Barracks, Besancon where 5000 other women with British passports were housed in freezing and unsanitary conditions. 400-500 people died in a period of six months, and Lloyd was released and sent back to her flat in early 1941.[13] Research by Crawford on Mary Constance Lloyd has been invaluable to this article.


Gwen John is an artist who has been explored in detail by art historians since her death in 1939 – although her narrative as a timid and reclusive cat-lover has been rightly corrected by Dr Alicia Foster in our current exhibition Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris. However, the other women in this article, all of whom trained with Gwen John at the Slade, have not had the opportunity to be written about or recognised in any detail. With Gwen’s narrative firmly moving forwards in a post-Me-Too and new feminist age, is it now time for us to flesh out the narratives of these other women and their contributions to modern British art? I think so.

Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris is open until 8 October 2023.

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[1] Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: A Biography (London, 1972), 82.

[2] Joseph Hone, The Life of Henry Tonks (London, 1939), 73.

[3] Edna Clarke Hall, ‘The Heritage of Ages’, Unpublished manuscript, n.d. Tate archive and library, 15.

[4] Alicia Foster, Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris (London, 2023), 29

[5] Frank Rutter, The Times, 9th February 1926.

[6] Alicia Foster, Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris (London, 2023), 67.

[7] Lydia Miller, Ambrose McEvoy (1877-1927): A ‘painter of excellence’ shaped by artistic influences, PhD thesis, University of York, July 2021, 97.

[8] Ibid, 27.

[9] Ibid, 27.

[10] Elizabeth Crawford, ‘One Artist – ‘Mary Katherine Constance Lloyd’ – Dismembered To Create Two: or The Importance Of Biography’, Women and Her Sphere website, accessed 13th June 2023.

[11] Richard Shone, ‘The Friday Club’ in The Burlington Magazine, May, 1975, Vol. 117, No. 866, 283.

[12] Elizabeth Crawford, ‘One Artist – ‘Mary Katherine Constance Lloyd’ – Dismembered To Create Two: or The Importance Of Biography’, Women and Her Sphere website, accessed 13th June 2023.

[13] ‘After Five Years in War-time France’, in The Birmingham Mail, 22nd March 1945, 3.