About this artwork

Thomas Carlyle was one of the greatest historians and essayists of the nineteenth century. Born and educated in Dumfriesshire, he briefly worked as a teacher before turning to writing. The publication of his translations of foreign literature brought him into contact with other writers such as Coleridge and Thomas Campbell. In 1826 he married Jane Baillie Welsh, an intelligent self-educated woman and a writer in her own right. The couple settled in Chelsea where they became a focus for many well-known literary and political figures of the time. The artist of this work was the wife of Irish poet William Allingham, a friend of Carlyle. Although Helen Allingham specialised in romantic views of rural England, she occasionally painted portraits of her family and her husband’s friends.

Mrs Helen Allingham

Mrs Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham was one of the best known Victorian painters in watercolours and one of the most successful female British artists ever. After studying art in Birmingham and London, she started as an illustrator for The Graphic before turning to watercolours. Her chosen subject matter of idealised rural views was incredibly popular with the public, and her watercolours of country gardens and cottages were always captured with delicate precision. In 1874 she married the Irish poet William Allingham, with whom she had three children. The family moved to Surrey in 1881, where she painted most of her works. After the death of her husband in 1889 she continued to support her family by painting constantly, even when her work went out of fashion in the early twentieth century.