Landscapes and Figures (1930-1981) from the Artist’s Estate
The Exhibition continued through Saturday 13th May.
We are very grateful to Professor Tony Brown (University of Bangor) for this introduction
Mildred Elsie Eldridge (1909-91) – known to friends and family as ‘Elsi’ – is best known these days as a painter, usually in watercolour, of minutely-detailed studies of birds and flowers. As the present exhibition reveals, however, the career of this talented artist was far wider and more interesting.
From 1930 to 1933, Eldridge studied at the Royal College of Art, where her tutors included Eric Ravilious, Gilbert Spencer, Edward Bawden and Alan Sorrell. At the end of her studies at the R.C.A., the award of a Travelling Scholarship allowed her to spend some months sketching and painting in Italy – Rome, Capri, Assisi, Florence and Venice. Her travels included a period staying at Poggio Gherardo, the villa near Florence which the artist Aubrey Waterfield and his wife Lina ran as a finishing school, which included the study of art. Eldridge not only worked with Waterfield, but also visited Bernard Berenson at I Tatti, which was nearby. A number of the earlier sketches and watercolours in the present exhibition were undertaken during this Italian tour.
On her return, Eldridge worked with Charles Mahoney and a group of other women students from the R.C.A. on the mural at Brockley School, as well as exhibiting at the Royal Academy. In 1937 she also held a highly successful exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Bruton Street. By this point, however, for reasons which are unclear, she had deserted the London art scene and was teaching art at Moreton Hall School, near Chirk, north Wales. It was at Chirk that she met and, in 1940 married, the distinguished poet R. S. Thomas, then an unknown local curate; her impact on his early development as a writer has only recently begun to be noted. Thomas was appointed to the parish of Manafon in Montgomeryshire, an area for which Eldridge developed great affection, and her work in the 1940s included numerous sketches and watercolours of landscapes and farms in mid-Wales, some of which are included in the present exhibition. She also contributed to the ‘Recording Britain’ project in the early 1940s.
It was while at Manafon that Eldridge started work on ‘The Dance of Life’, a mural (actually painted on six canvas panels, totaling over a hundred feet in width) for the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital at Gobowen, near Oswestry. This was the centrepiece of her artistic achievement, a large-scale allegorical vision of humanity’s growing alienation from the natural world. The mural celebrates a vision of communal peasant life, a world which she had been drawing and painting since her days at the R.C.A., but which was coloured by her time in Italy; there are also some echoes of Stanley Spencer’s murals. Spencer wrote an interesting and appreciative letter to Eldridge after a visit to see the mural in 1958. (The mural, competed in 1955, is now on display at Glyndwr University, Wrexham).
Elsie Eldridge continue to draw and paint her rural environment as she and her husband moved to parishes in Eglwysfach (near Aberyswyth) and Aberdaron (at the tip of the Lleyn peninsular), though much of her time in the later 1950s and 1960s was devoted to teaching and to commercial work, mainly the studies of birds and plants, for sale at the R.W.S. and for Medici cards. Her journals and letters show her frustration that such work had a market while what she saw as more interesting abstract work did not. After some years of ill health, including problems with her eyes, Elsie Eldridge died in 1991.
Click Here to visit the R S Thomas Study Centre, part of the University of Bangor
1950s and Later