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South Border at Munstead Wood

If you only know her work from calendars, greetings cards and the like, you may be surprised to find works by Helen Allingham (1848–1926) in our collection. Known for her nostalgic depictions of cottages and the British countryside, she often worked as an illustrator for authors of books on English gardens and houses.

This is one of seven paintings Allingham painted of the same view, showing Jekyll’s famous colour schemes at Munstead Wood. All show the South Border in full bloom, in roughly the same season, but with different planting combinations. This was the place where Jekyll experimented most with planting, and where she developed the pictorial approach to plant colour that she would later take to her clients.

Helen Allingham and Gertrude Jekyll met through artistic circles in the 1880s, when Jekyll was considered more of an artist than a garden designer. Whilst Allingham was working on these paintings, Jekyll was developing her photography skills by capturing many of the same scenes. With a shared interest in the vernacular architecture of Surrey and as admirers of one another’s work, it is not surprising that the two women would later agree that Allingham should paint Jekyll’s garden.

This image is the strongest of the set: twin yuccas provide structure and rhythm, while dashes of deep blue add depth to the palette. When compared with Jekyll’s photograph of the same area – ‘Pathway across the South Border in July’ from Wood & Garden (1899) – we see that, although it is July, the photograph lacks any sense of the massed planting shown in the watercolour. The watercolour, by contrast, gives an immediate idea of the painterly planting that has made Jekyll famous. So although Allingham did not compress time to produce this combination of blooms, perhaps – as with her other work – she is giving us an idealized version of what she saw.

Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, Mrs Martin McLaren and the Jane Wilson Memorial Fund of friends and family.

(Christopher Raven, Front of House and Garden Volunteer)

Artist

Helen Allingham (1848–1926)

Materials

Watercolour

Year

1900 - 1903