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date: 01 July 2022

Hall, Edna Clarke [née Edna Waugh], Lady Clarke Hallfree

(1879–1979)

Hall, Edna Clarke [née Edna Waugh], Lady Clarke Hallfree

(1879–1979)
  • Alison Thomas

Hall, Edna Clarke [née Edna Waugh], Lady Clarke Hall (1879–1979), painter, was born on 29 June 1879 in Shipbourne, Kent, the tenth of the twelve children of the Revd Benjamin Waugh (1839–1908), philanthropist and nonconformist minister who founded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and Sarah Elizabeth (Lilian) Boothroyd. When Edna was two years old the family moved to Southgate, in north London. In 1889 Benjamin Waugh resigned his ministry in order to devote himself full-time to the NSPCC, and the family settled in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Edna Waugh early showed a precocious talent for drawing. At fourteen she entered the Slade School of Art, London, at the instigation of William Clarke Hall, a family friend. A contemporary and friend of Gwen and Augustus John, Ida Nettleship, Ambrose McEvoy, and Albert Rutherston, she celebrated these friendships in a series of drawings and etchings (now in the National Museum and Gallery of Wales, Cardiff). Her assured and spirited draughtsmanship won her many certificates, prizes, and a Slade scholarship.

On 22 December 1898 Edna married William Clarke Hall (1866–1932), barrister and later magistrate. Beginning married life in Thames Ditton, Surrey, they moved in 1901 to Great House, Upminster Common, Essex, where Edna Clarke Hall lived for the rest of her life. From the beginning tension surfaced in the marriage, particularly between Clarke Hall's artistic ambitions and her husband's domestic expectations. One consequence was that for the next two decades her art became an intensely personal and private activity shared with only a few intimate friends and only occasionally seen in group exhibitions. During this period of personal conflict she found artistic inspiration in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), producing a group of powerful drawings and etchings to which she added during periods of emotional crisis. These illustrate her stylistic development—from the early detailed realism of Catherine and Heathcliffe (1902, Tate collection) to the bold and summary use of line seen in The Young Couple (1924, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

Born in 1905 and 1910 respectively, Clarke Hall's two sons, Justin and Denis, became important subjects she painted while unconsciously absorbed in their own pursuits. The resulting portraits show great tenderness but nevertheless avoid sentimentality. Many of these studies were executed in watercolour, her chief medium and one in which she displayed a great diversity in style and content. In many of her portraits, such as that of Katie Gliddon (1912, National Museum and Gallery of Wales, Cardiff), she employed fluid atmospheric washes. In contrast, in her important series of Figures in Landscape the brush was drawn almost dry across the paper in rapid strokes, as in Girl Leaning on a Gate (1915, Tate collection). In 1914 she was persuaded by Henry Tonks, her former drawing master, to show her work in a one-woman show at the Chenil Galleries, London, where it was well received. In the Saturday Review J. H. Collins Baker described her as a 'sensitive and expressive draughtswoman who reaches a masterly plane' with a sense of colour that was 'individual and instinctive' (14 April 1914).

Ten years elapsed before Clarke Hall exhibited again. In 1919 she suffered a nervous breakdown, though with the help of the psychologist Henry Head she was able to resolve some of the problems of her marriage and develop a new life centred on her art. In 1922 she acquired a studio in South Square, Gray's Inn. Etching and lithography became a new and important part of her work, and in 1924 she held the first of a series of successful exhibitions at the Redfern Gallery, London. After seeing Clarke Hall's Painting with Poems in her 1926 show at the Redfern Gallery, the art critic of The Times hailed her as 'the most imaginative artist in England' (9 Feb 1926). In the 1920s and 1930s she published several volumes of poetry, some of the earlier poems recalling William Blake's manner of interweaving lines of verse with swirling arabesques of colour or flowing lyrical figures, such as her distinctive series of Poem Pictures, of which three appeared in lithograph versions in Facets, published by Elkin, Mathews, and Marrot in 1930. She spent the winter of 1926–7 in Egypt. While that visit formed the focus of her work in her 1930 Redfern Gallery show, the work itself forms a fascinating record of traditional life in the Nile villages.

Edna Clarke Hall's last Redfern exhibition was in 1941, the same year that her London studio, and much of her work, was destroyed during a bombing raid. After this catastrophe her artistic energies gradually ebbed away until she ceased painting in the early 1950s. She lived another twenty-five years, sharing her life with her niece and devoted companion, Mary Fearnley Sander, until her death at the age of 100 on 16 November 1979 at Deal, Kent. Essentially an autobiographical artist, Clarke Hall painted with great sensitivity and understanding the people and places she knew and loved.

Sources

  • R. H. Wilenski, Draughtsmen (1924)
  • E. Clarke Hall, ‘The heritage of ages’, Tate collection
  • unpubd correspondence, priv. coll.
  • A. Thomas, Portraits of women: Gwen John and her forgotten contemporaries (1994)

Likenesses

  • E. C. Hall, self-portrait, watercolour, 1899, Man. City Gall.
  • A. John, pencil drawing, Carlisle City Art Gallery
  • A. John, sanguine, Carlisle City Art Gallery

Wealth at Death

£11,727: probate, 11 March 1980, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Tate collection
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private collection
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Manchester City Galleries