May 14, 2021

Female Artists of The Golden Age of Illustration: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, By Amanda Bergloff


The Golden Age of Illustration is a term applied to a time period (1880s - 1920s) of unprecedented excellence in book and magazine illustrations by artists in Europe and America. Advances in technology at the time allowed for accurate and inexpensive reproductions of their art, which allowed quality books to be available to the voracious public demand for new graphic art.

When many people think of the Golden Age of Illustration, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and other male artists come to mind, but there were also female artists that excelled during this time.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was one such artist that produced exceptional paintings and illustrations, so learn a bit more about her and her art below...

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (January 25, 1872 - March 10, 1945) was an English artist known for her paintings and book illustrations in the Pre-Raphaelite style. As one of the most popular artists of the Edwardian era, she also designed stained glass windows and small-scale sculptures which followed the Pre-Raphaelite tradition of applied art through various media to celebrate the beauty of nature and the human form.

Born in Upper Norwood, Surrey, Eleanor demonstrated a natural talent for drawing that led to her entering the Crystal Palace School of Art at age 17. However, even with showing great skill, it took her three tries before eventually being accepted to the Royal Academy in London, possibly due to the school's reluctance at the time to accepting female students.

While there, Brickdale came under the influence of John Byam Shaw, an artist protégé of John Everett Millais. When Shaw eventually went on to establish his own art school in 1911, Eleanor became a teacher there.
John Byam Shaw & Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1911

Brickdale's first major painting was The Pale Complexion of True Love, 1899, (pictured below) and soon afterwards, she began exhibiting her oil paintings at the Royal Academy, while her watercolor paintings were exhibited in several solo shows at the Dowdeswell Gallery. Eleanor also had the honor of becoming the first female member of the Institute of Painters in Oils in 1902. 
In 1909, Ernest Brown commissioned Brickdale to do 28 watercolor illustrations for Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which Eleanor painted over the course of two years. Her illustrations were exhibited at the Leicester Gallery in 1911, and 24 of them went on to be published in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls the following year.

Throughout her career, Brickdale illustrated many books, such as Poems by Tennyson (1905), Calthorp, A Diary of an 18th Century Garden (1926), and The Story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1912), to name a few.

In 1919, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s Golden Book of Famous Women was published by Hodder and Stoughton. This compilation of stories with her illustrations, featured some of the most famous women in history and legend as written by such authors as Lord Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and John Keats, among others.

Sadly, in 1938, Brickdale suffered a stroke which ended her career as she was unable to paint the last seven years of her life. However, towards the end of her life, she recognized that her Pre-Raphaelite style had run its course, as the art world was moving into the Post-Impressionist, Modernist, and Surrealist styles of the modern age.

Brickdale's art is remembered today for its astounding beauty and "escapist" style that depicted a gentle world of chivalry and legend, mingled with the romantic imagery of a bygone era of English literature.

When I view her art, I am struck by the exquisite attention to detail Brickdale brought to all the elements in her compositions - from the draping of fabric and the sumptuous clothing design worn by the individuals in her paintings - to the gorgeous elements of nature she incorporated throughout much of her work. I feel her true love of flowers, gardens, and the wild beauty of the natural world shines and creates an experience that draws the viewer deep into the artistic narrative she's expressing.

Check out some of her art below to see how one can easily get lost in her wonderful visions and brilliance of color, as each piece inspires a unique story in the viewer's mind.
The Introduction, 1905
They Toil Not, Neither Do They Spin, 1903
The Blush, 1907
Romeo & Juliet Farewell, 1910
Guinevere & Her Ladies in Waiting, 1913
The Deceitfulness of Riches, 1901
The Little Foot Page, 1905
Youth & The Lady, 1900
In the Springtime, 1901
Geraint in Rusty Armor, 1913
The Lover's World, 1905
Garden Fancies: The Flower's Name, 1909
Chance, 1901
The Guests, 1900
Love Will Find Out the Way, 1919
Prospero & Ariel, 1910
The Forerunner (detail) 1920
Catherine Douglas, 1919
Botticelli's Studio, 1922


– About the artist Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale from Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool museums

– Elena Fortescue-Brickdale the last Pre-Raphaelite at Watts Gallery by Richard Moss (Feb. 2013) | Culture24

– Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale Wikipedia

– The Last Survivor of the Late Pre-Raphaelites Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale by Andréa Fernandes (Aug. 2010) | Mental Floss

– The Stuff of Dreams by John Howe (May 15, 2012) | John Howe blogspot

EC's contributing editor, Amanda Bergloff, writes modern fairy tales, folktales, and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in various anthologies, including Frozen Fairy Tales, After the Happily Ever After, and Uncommon Pet Tales.

Follow her on Twitter @AmandaBergloff

Check out her Amazon Author Page

Also, join her every Tuesday on Twitter for #FairyTaleTuesday to share what you love about fairy tales, folktales, and myths.

Cover Painting: "Chance" by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, 1901
Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff
And check out
Enchanted Conversation's
and listen to the
Classical Music to Write Fairy Tales By
playlist for some writing inspiration!


Lynden Wade said...

What gorgeous colours she painted! Very like medieval illuminations. But I like the one of Prospero best: those spirts have a sinister air.

Guy S. Ricketts said...

Terrific article. I really love her paintings. Her flowers and trees are quite gorgeous and so well done, they are like another character in the painting. In any comparison to Raphael's works, I prefer her composition to his, and her figures are posed more naturally. Very interesting woman.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Lynden and Guy! <3
As a fan of her work, she was an interesting artist to research and write about.
-Amanda Bergloff