Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham in 1903
Born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson
26 September 1848
Swadlincote, Derbyshire, England
Died 28 September 1926
Haslemere, Surrey, England
Nationality British
Other names H. Paterson
Occupation illustrator and watercolour artist
Spouse(s) William Allingham (1874–1889)
Website Helen Allingham society

Helen Allingham RWS (née Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson; 26 September 1848 – 28 September 1926) was an English watercolour painter and illustrator of the Victorian era.


Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson was born on 26 September 1848, at Swadlincote in Derbyshire, the daughter of Alexander Henry Paterson, a medical doctor, and Mary Herford Paterson. Helen Paterson was the eldest of seven children. The family moved to Altrincham in Cheshire when she was one year old. In 1862 her father and her 3-year-old sister Isabel died of diphtheria during an epidemic. The family then moved to Birmingham, where some of Alexander Paterson's family lived.[1]

Paterson showed a talent for art from an early age, drawing some of her inspiration from her maternal grandmother Sarah Smith Herford and aunt Laura Herford, both accomplished artists of their day. Her younger sister Caroline Paterson also became a noted artist. She initially studied art for three years at the Birmingham School of Design (founded 1843). From 1867 she attended the National Art Training School in London, which had a separate division for women; her aunt Laura Herford had previously studied there. The School is presently the Royal College of Art.[2]


The saucer of milk
Allingham's watercolour painting of Craigenputtock, the home of Thomas Carlyle

While studying at the National Art Training School, Paterson worked as an illustrator, eventually deciding to give up her studies in favour of a full-time career in art. She painted for children's[3] and adult books, as well as for periodicals, including The Graphic newspaper. One highlight was her commission to provide twelve illustrations for the 1874 serialisation of Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Madding Crowd in Cornhill Magazine.[4] Her illustrations from this era were signed "H. Paterson".[5] She became a lifelong friend of Kate Greenaway whom she met at evening art classes at the Slade School of Fine Art.

While Vincent Van Gogh was developing as an artist by studying English illustrated journals he was struck by Patterson's work in The Graphic.[6][7]

On 22 August 1874 she married William Allingham, Irish poet and editor of Fraser's Magazine, who was almost twice her age. After her marriage she gave up her career as an illustrator and turned to watercolour painting. In 1881 the family moved from Chelsea to Witley in Surrey. Helen started to paint the beautiful countryside around her and particularly the picturesque farmhouses and cottages of Surrey and Sussex for which she became famous. To her critics, however, despite elements of protest in 'The Condemned Cottage' for example, hers was an overly sentimental, conservative vision of the area.[8] She went on to paint rural scenes in other parts of the country – Middlesex, Kent, the Isle of Wight and the West Country – and abroad in Venice, Italy. As well as landscapes, she completed several portraits, including one of Thomas Carlyle. In 1890, she became the first woman to be admitted as a full member of the Royal Watercolour Society.


There is a Helen Allingham Society, founded in 2000.[9] Her time in Altrincham is commemorated by blue plaques at 16 Market Street, Altrincham and at Levenhurst, St. John's Road, Bowdon.[10]

Burgh House, Hampstead, has the world's largest archive and collection of her work.[11]



Illustrated by Helen Allingham
Written by Helen Allingham

See also


  1. "Helen Allingham R.W.S. (1848–1926)". Helen Allingham Society.
  2. Watts, Annabel. "Helen Allingham – Biography and Image Gallery at ArtMagick". ArtMagick.
  3. Allingham illustrated Juliana Ewing's Six to Sixteen: a story for girls (1876) and A Flat Iron for a Farthing
  4. Allingham, Peter (15 November 2002). "Helen Allingham's Cornhill Magazine illustrations for Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd (1874)". victorianweb.org.
  5. Smith, Lucy Toulmin (May 1892). "Women in Contemporary Art. Mrs. Allingham.". Atalanta. 5: 455. The signature H. Paterson, afterwards so familiar, was seen for the first time in the number for April 16, 1870, ...
  6. Van Gogh, Vincent. "To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Friday, 26 or Saturday, 27 January 1883.". The Van Gogh Letters Project. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  7. Van Gogh, Vincent. "To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 8 February 1883.". The Van Gogh Letters Project. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  8. Alison Light, Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007) p. 102
  9. The Helen Allingham Society
  10. "Biographies of local people". This is Cheshire. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  11. "Museum Collections". Burgh House and Hampstead Museum. Retrieved 8 March 2014.

Further reading

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