East of England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C, Sculpture 78 Could the artist be Mary Olive Edis (later Edis-Galsworthy), who lived and worked in Cromer?

NFK_CRM_CRRMU_2015_43-001.jpg
Topic: Artist

Mary Olive Edis had a small studio in Cromer and left her photographs to Cromer Museum. https://bit.ly/2HWN9LA

Mary Langdon Edis (1881–1976) married the architect Sir Thomas Penberthy Bennett (1887–1980) in 1916. Lady Bennett does not seem to have been a sculptor. One of her paintings is in the National Portrait Gallery: https://bit.ly/3a38zT3

Thank you to Andrew Shore for this enquiry.

Marion Richards, Art Detective Manager, Entry reviewed by Art UK

78 comments

Jacinto Regalado,

Olive Edis was a photographer. Is there evidence she was a sculptor?

Andy Mabbett,

Mutual art has this entry:

https://www.mutualart.com/Artist/Mary-Olive-Edis/7B3925864F76C48D

which shows a picture of (a copy of?) the same bust, and another, attributed to Mary Olive Edis. However, the attribution is singular, and it is not possible (at least, not without a subscription to that service, which I lack) to see whether there is a separate attribution for the other bust.

Gregory Burgess,

Are there any drawings available for these busts? The plaster bust concerned was sold at auction in April 2015 and described as signed and dated to Mary Olive Edis. Cromer museum had it attributed to Mary Langdon Edis. As far as I can see from limited internet search neither practised as a sculpturer. It looks to be a fantastic first effort.

Jacinto Regalado,

Our bust is indeed signed, as shown in image #7 of the Art UK entry, but it says "Edis Mary," not Olive, and it also says "student," implying it may well have been an art school exercise.

Jacinto Regalado,

Given the Cromer Museum's significant holdings of photographs by Olive Edis (acquired in 2008), did the museum acquire this bust (apparently in 2015) with the initial impression that it was by Olive and subsequently reconsider the attribution?

Jacinto Regalado,

It is also possible that there was a sculptor named Mary Edis who was neither the photographer Olive Edis nor the painter Lady Bennett. The latter was primarily a portrait painter but also did street scenes.

Robert Prince,

From the photo it looks to be very much in the style of Paulo Troubetzkoy (1866-1938), a Russian ex-pat sculptor who was active in England, the US and Italy from 1917 until his death. Could it be an art school copy of a Troubetzkoy by "Edis Mary"? It's certainly an exceptional piece of work.

Betty Elzea,

I think she might be a relative - daughter/grand-daughter? - of Col. Sir Robert William Edis (1839-1927) who was an important architect working in the Queen Anne Style, with London and Norfolk connections. See Wikipedia, for instance.

Kieran Owens,

Mary Olive Edis (3rd September 1876 - 25th December 1955) was the daughter of Arthur Wellesley Edis (1840 - 9th December 1893), a physician, and the granddaughter of Robert Edis, a bookseller, who died on the 15th April 1880, at Haddon Villa, Upper Norwood, Surrey. Robert William Edis (13th June 1839 - 23rd June 1927), the architect, was her father's older brother and therefore Mary Olive Edis's uncle.

Jacinto Regalado,

There is still no evidence that Olive Edis was ever an artist in the sense of a sculptor or painter, as opposed to a photographer.

Jacinto Regalado,

I assume the collection has no provenance information beyond from whom it acquired the bust, which would appear to be Cheffins. Would it be possible for the collection to contact the seller to see if it has additional information?

Kieran Owens,

In the UK census taken on the 31st March 1891, when Mary Olive Edis was 14 years old, she was listed as a student, living with her parents at 53, Belvedere Road, Penge, in London. In September 1900, she would have been 24 years old. Strangely, she does not feature in the 1901 Census, which possibly means that she was abroad that year.

As the dating on this bust would appear to be for some year between 1900 and 1909, when Mary would have been between 23 and 33, it seems odd that she would be describing herself as a student. It is also strange that she signed it Mary Edis, for, as early as 1895, when she was her cousin's bridesmaid, a newspaper report listed her as Olive Edis. Again in 1907, at another cousin's wedding, her name is given as Olive.

In 1908, for her photograph, in the Illustrated London News, of Dr. Garrett Anderson, the first woman physician, she is credited as Olive Edis. At no time between 1900 and 1909 does any newspaper report refer to her as Mary Edis.

As Jacinto has suggested above, perhaps this is a third Mary Edis, of which nothing is yet known.

Jacinto Regalado,

I think Olive Edis is a non-starter, so I suppose we need to look harder at Mary Langdon Edis, who seems more promising.

Kieran Owens,

Although she was not baptised until the 13th March 1887, Mary Langdon Edis was born in late 1878 and not in 1881. The 1881 UK Census records her as being 2 years old, the 1891 Census as being 12 years old, and the 1901 Census as being 22 years old. In 1916, when she would have been 38, she states her age as 33. Her husband was 29 at the time. The 1939 Register lists her birth date as the 31st August 1881, so that day and month are probably correct, even if the year is not.

Between 1900 and 1909 she would have been aged 21 to 30, also a range of years within which she might be considered a little old for being a student, as inscribed on the bust, unless it was made at the very beginning of that range.

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think we can assume with certainty that this bust was made in the first decade of the XX century as opposed to earlier.

Kieran Owens,

I was working on the basis that the 190 was the beginning of the date and the last numeral was obliterated at some stage. If that is not the case it does open a whole new vista of possibilities. Is the student stating that she is 19? If so, what does the third numeral stand for?

Jacinto Regalado,

The third "numeral" may be the letter "d" instead of a zero, and it is even possible that what might look like 190 is actually Igd.

Kieran Owens,

The Kilburn Times, of Friday 18th November 1910, listed a student named Mary Edis as one of Willesden Polytechnic's Sketch Club's best artists, receiving a commendation for Best Landscape in Oil and Best Landscape in Water Colour (Senior), as we'll as 1st prize in Best Head from Life. Could this talent practitioner be our Mary Edis?

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, it might be, but "Sketch Club" implies two-dimensional work as opposed to sculpture.

Kieran Owens,

Well, that's true. The point being made, however, is that she is artistically talented, and thus might have been as equally proficient at sculpting as she must have been at painting and drawing. These talents at least suggest that she is worth investigating.

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree, Kieran, but the same could be said for Mary Langdon Edis, though presumably she wouldn't have been a student in 1910.

Jacinto Regalado,

The Willesden Polytechnic dates from the late 19th century (1890s), but its name implies it would not have been a fine arts school.

Osmund Bullock,

I don't think this is the artist's signature - does anybody sign last name/first name? - I think it and the rest of the inscription are an identification scratched into the original clay when cast(s) were made, quite possibly in connection with sending it for competition. 'Age A' could be the age band in which the bust was entered, 'Student' a further category; '19d' (which is my reading) some other code. The Royal Drawing Society used to hold annual open competitions for young people - in the 1930s my mother won an 'honorable mention' in her age bracket, which I think was 15-17. I wonder if there was anything similar in sculpture?

Willesden Poly sounds promising - did they run sculpture classes? In 1894 (Kelly's Diry) Mary Langdon Edis's father Charles - and presumably Mary herself as she was only 13 - was living at 72 Brondesbury Villas, Kilburn, which was just 5 minutes' walk from Willesden Polytechnic's then site on Glengall Road. And in 1911 she (recorded as 'artist') and the family were at 126 Abbey Road, which was still only 10 minutes away. She was still there when she married at St Mary's, Kilburn, in 1916, though her profession is not given.

I think it perfectly possible that she began or continued with art classes relatively late. Many actors and singers carry on training throughout their career; why should fine artists be any different, especially in an age where technique was valued more highly?

Jacinto Regalado,

This is from the web:

From 1893, the Willesden committee for technical education organized classes in Willesden Town Hall. In 1896 Middlesex County Council bought the St. Lawrence institute in Priory Park Road, and by 1898 The Willesden Polytechnic was formed, with 1,571 students. A new building was developed for the polytechnic, opening in 1904 on Glengall Road, Kilburn.

Jacinto Regalado,

It seems quite plausible that the Willesden Mary Edis could have been Mary Langdon Edis, but we still cannot say she was a sculptor or that sculpture was taught at Willesden.

Osmund Bullock,

Jacinto, although polytechnics were originally created with a focus on what we would now call STEM subjects, "soon after being founded they also created departments concerned with the humanities" (to quote Wikipedia). A similar shift happened with the earlier Victorian Mechanics' Institutes, which often moved into fine arts education via Industrial Design and Art - Bradford School of Art was a well-known example.

Kieran Owens,

The Willesden Chronicle, of Friday 1st May 1908, mentions that Frederick Callcott, "who has for many years been the modelling master" at Willesden Polytechnic, had a bust accepted into that year's RA exhibition. In fact, he exhibited pieces at many RA shows between 1878 and 1921, and had been a student at the RA in 1879, in which year he won a gold medal for composition in sculpture.

His entry on the Mapping Scuplture website is here:

https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib5_1205788938

Jacinto Regalado,

"Venus rescuing Aeneas from Diomede." Like something from a lost civilization--and to a great many, it might as well be. Alas.

Well, carry on.

We need more information on Mary Langdon Edis. I suppose her obituary might contain something useful.

Kieran Owens,

The "third" Mary Edis is in fact Mary Langdon Edis (1878 - 1976), the daughter of C. V. Edis, as the attached article from the Kilburn Times, of Friday 27th May 1910, confirms. She would have been 32 in 1910. Her birth registration for 1878 gives her full name as Mary Langdon Edis.

Kieran Owens,

After Lady Mary Langdon Bennett (née Edis) died at The Sycamores, North Road, Highgate, on the 27th June 1976, her probate valued her estate at £147,623.

Jacinto Regalado,

We're getting closer, but still no mention of her being a sculptor.

Osmund Bullock,

Excellent finds, Kieran (the newspaper articles, that is - not sure where her wealth at death comes into things, we knew she was married to a successful architect!).

Though sculpture, painting and drawing seem not to have been included, the work of two Willesden Polytechnic students, both female, submitted to the 1910 National Competition of Schools of Art was featured in this article in 'The Studio': https://bit.ly/2wWW4KN. The competition, which ran for some years in the first two decades of the century, "gave an opportunity for the public to assess the products of the country’s art schools by holding an annual exhibition at South Kensington". Could there have been an equivalent competition in Fine (as opposed to Applied) Arts, and could our bust have been submitted to it?

Jacinto Regalado,

Reportedly, Mary Langdon Ellis is listed in the Dictionary of British Artists (Collectors' Club). Doe anyone have access to that?

Jacinto Regalado,

The reference book in question appears to be Vol. 5 of Dictionary of British Art, which covers British artists 1880-1940 (but may only include painters), produced by the Antique Collector's Club.

Osmund Bullock,

British Artists 1880-1940 (you'll sometimes hear it referred to here as'Johnson & Greutzner') is a basic listing of exhibiting by artists between those dates at most major venues. No artwork names or individual exhibition dates are given, and there is little other biographical detail, apart from address (often just a town name). It does include sculptors, inter alia.

It says of Mary Edis that she exhibited from London 1910-40, and was a portrait and figure painter. Her exhibiting was one work each at the Goupil Gallery, International Society and the Walker, Liverpool; 2 at the Royal Soc. of Portrait Painters and 3 at the RA; 7 at the Royal Inst. of Oil Painters and 8 at the Soc. of Women Artists. So she exhibited somewhere as early as 1910. Had she only exhibited sculpture once, J&G might not have mentioned it - the book covers a vast number of artists and is highly abbreviated. It's also, I've found, full of errors and omissions...but still very useful.

Kieran Owens,

Osmund, the mention of her probate was included as a morsel of information towards any future full biography, the sort that you, Pieter and others have been so good at crafting in other discussions.

According to 'The Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain' (1997), Miss Mary Edis (Lady T. P. Bennett) exhibited four times at the RA (1910–1941).

A little while ago, Betty Elzea suggested looking at Col R.W. Edis, the well-known architect. Kieran told us that he was the uncle of Olive Edis and indeed she photographed him at some point and he built her photography studio in Sheringham.
But, Col Edis had 5 daughters of his own. With their father's extensive connections in the London art world, might one of them have trained as a sculptor? And as these daughters would have been cousins of Olive Edis, that might explain why the bust was given to the museum in Cromer (although the main Olive Edis bequest went to Cromer in 2008 and the bust in 2015).

Jacinto Regalado,

It is not clear that the bust was a bequest as opposed to a purchase, and the collection should be able to clarify that.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

I have four volumes of the National Competition - List of Students Awarded (1905-1908). Although Edis is not mentioned, I am pretty sure that the inscription on the back of the sculpture references this competition. The subject code "19 d." is for a "Model of a Head from Life". Students names are recorded surname first and the reference number was allocated to those works which were awarded/commended. A low reference number of "30" puts the work amongst the Silver Medals listings. Additionally there are a few volumes available online, for example: https://archive.org/details/nationalcompeti00unkngoog If anybody has access to the complete set, then it seems very likely that the sculpture in question could be found listed/illustrated in one of the other volumes.

Osmund Bullock,

That's brilliant, Scott...and of course it's always nice to have wild guesses confirmed by hard evidence! All volumes, including later ones to 1915, seem to be at the National Art Library (V&A) - see https://bit.ly/3aeQd1I. Unless someone else wants to go there tomorrow (or we can find an online source), I should be able to get to the NAL next week.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

The published lists do not provide details of students' ages, nor do they explain what "Age A" means. It may be that "A" stands for "Adult", or it could be that is representative of a particular band of age ranges. I'm still not 100% certain that the inscription pertains to the National Competition - there is the possibility that other competitions ran on similar lines and used similar numbering and naming conventions for entries.

Kieran Owens,

Although Willesden Polytechnic reopened at its new premises at Priory Park Road Kilburn on the 30th September 1895, it does not appear as a school providing any Gold, Silver etc winning entries to the National Competition between the years of 1897 and 1906. If the bust emanates from this institution, it might only be worth searching for it in the years before 1897 and after 1906.

Jacinto Regalado,

I thought of the possibility that "Age A" might mean adult, but I expect it means a specific and narrower age range.

Osmund Bullock,

It appears that the Board of Education, South Kensington, ran two different levels of nationwide assessment of students' art skills. One was just a part of its wider examinations, which also included categories relating to more technical abilities, and gave certificates to those who submitted successful entries. The other, the National Art Competition, was a more demanding assessment of entries in the fine and applied arts, with a much smaller number of gold, silver and bronze medals awarded, along with book prizes for those who impressed at a lower level. It is unclear (at least currently to me) whether the same entries were assessed for both at the same time - the first book linked by Scott states (https://bit.ly/2T8Udeg, re eligibility for gold medals) "No student will be eligible to receive a gold medal unless he has previously obtained at the personal examinations held in May, or obtains in the current or next year a 1st Class in the Advanced Stage of the same (or analogous) subject as that of his work entered for National Competition...". There are many contemporary references to the schemes online, but none I can find explain exactly how things worked.

The reason the distinction matters is that it looks like in 1912 Mary Edis's sculpture passed (at the First Class level) the Board's more basic examination in the category of 'Modelling Head from Life', and received a certificate; but she may not have won a medal or prize for it in the more select National Art Competition. I can't be certain, though (and will still check the later prize volumes at the NAL), as the BNA's coverage of the Kilburn Times inconveniently stops at 1912 - and it is in their pages that I've found a great deal about Mary's educational achievements from 1904-1912. More shortly.

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, wait. In 'The Year's Art' for 1898 is a considerable amount about further education in art "for persons of the artisan class", as originally intended for use in trade and manufacture, and for training art teachers. In a paragraph about the award of prizes (https://bit.ly/2IjS3CB) it says that "the best works sent up for examination are selected to enter into a National Competition between all the Schools of Art in the Kingdom, and medals and prizes are awarded to those students who execute the most meritorious of the competing works". The examinations and awards were then handled by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, but must have later passed into the direct adminstration of the Board of Education (as elementary art education had already done). I would imagine the system stayed much the same.

Kieran Owens,

Attached, from the Kilburn Times, of Friday 30th August 1912, is the list of successes that Willesden Polytechnic achieved in the Board of Education's examinations that year. Mary Edis's entry, the 1st Class for 'Modelling Head from Life', is underlined in red.

Mary would have been 34 in 1912. Was Willesden Polytechnic a pioneer in taking in what now might be classed as "mature students"?

Student records for Willesden Polytechnic might still exist in the archives of the College of North West London.

Osmund Bullock,

Um, yes, Kieran...that's what I wrote about two hours ago, and said I was going to give more detail shortly. Which I herewith do. Details of all her successful Board of Education exam results from 1904-1912, or at least those I can find, including the important 1912 one.

3 attachments
Osmund Bullock,

Some of the Poly's older records were found six years ago and given to Brent Archives, but according to the press report they only go back to WWI: https://bit.ly/38dwFsU. I couldn't see anything too promising listed by Brent Archives, but perhaps they haven't been catalogued yet.

Kieran Owens,

From all of the accumulating evidence, it would appear that it is highly likely that this bust is by Mary Langdon Edis as opposed to Mary Olive Edis. Does Andrew Shore feel any more confident about his original suggestion that started off this discussion? Is more proof required to change the current attribution? Would Norfolk Museum now be happy to make that change?

Jacinto Regalado,

Kieran, there is nothing thus far to support the theory that Olive Edis was anything but a photographer. It would help, however, if the collection clarified how it acquired the bust in 2015. If it simply purchased it because it had been attributed by the seller to Olive Edis, then that attribution can be dismissed barring evidence to the contrary from the seller.

Osmund Bullock,

Kieran, the current attribution *is* Mary Langdon Edis, so no change is required. I imagine Andrew was just wondering if it might Mary Olive E because of her Norfolk connection, and because Mary Langdon E is not recorded as a sculptor. Now we know she was, at least briefly, and that this may well be it, for me the question is answered. For the same reason I won't bother with the NAL/V&A visit now - even if she did get a medal the following year (unlikely), it won't tell us the sitter's name or anything else that matters.

Kieran Owens,

Jacinto, until Osmund unearthed that specific reference to the 'Modelled Head from Life' by Mary Langdon Edis there was nothing either to suggest that she was anything other than a painter. My question was not really about Olive Edis, it was whether there is now enough factual evidence to support an attribution to Mary Langdon Edis, which, in my own view, there increasingly is. Irrespective of how and when the bust came into the collection, my query was whether, on basis of the evidence provided so far, Andrew Shore and Norfolk Museum now would accept that suggestion.

Kieran Owens,

Sorry Osmund, our postings crossed. I understand that the current attribution is to MLE and not MOE. I am simply asking if Andrew Shore is happy to now accept that as correct. And if Norfolk Museum also are, they should change her birth date to 1878.

Jacinto Regalado,

And Osmund, I'm sure you have multiple things to occupy you, but don't forget about the Brodie bust in another discussion.

Jacinto Regalado,

Actually, this bust is at the Cromer Museum, which is under the umbrella of the Norfolk Museums Service. If this discussion's evidence is accepted, then the date of the bust should probably be changed from c. 1900 to 1912.

Osmund Bullock,

You're not wrong there, Jacinto! As well as a visit to the Heinz Library (and perhaps the Conway) for Brodie - this week, I promise - I have things to post about Clifford (of Truro), Pitcairn, Child in a Red Gown, Blackall, Brehmer Heald, 'William Watson' (but in fact not), Desseignet and the Royal Academy of Music bust (by Leistner), as well as neglected further research or tidying-up work on Holland King and McConnell (inter alia). If only I *could* forget - they hang over me, a permanent reproach to my chaotic ways.

Wow, great result Kieran and Osmund. Thanks to Scott's reference regarding the student competitions and the press accounts of them, we now know conclusively that Mary Langdon Edis was a sculptor (as well as a painter). If the loose end of how Cromer received (or bought) the bust in 2015 can be dealt with, then this discussion can be closed by the group leader.

Jacinto Regalado,

Although Olive Edis was a red herring, there are many photos by her at the NPG which are worth a look.

Kieran Owens,

Barbara, unless this bust was one of an edition, as Gregory Burgess has mentioned above it was auctioned by Cheffins, of Cambridge. It was lot No. 80 in its 'Art & Design from 1860' sale on the 30th April 2015, the details of which can be seen here:

https://bit.ly/3cjAz6R

However, at the auction it was offered as a work by Mary Olive Edis and not Mary Langdon Edis. It also states that it was "signed and dated to the reverse". As our discussion's bust is not dated, it perhaps means the the second bust in the lot was and is also by MLE.

The fact that the Cromer bust's accession date is 2015 also raises the question as to who changed the artist's name from Mary Olive Edis to Mary Langdon Edis. Was this does by one of the staff at Cromer or, if they were not the ones who bought it at Cheffins', by whoever donated the bust to them. 2015 is surely not so long ago that the accession record could not be easily consulted. Also, if purchaser of the Cromer bust is still around, what did they do with the other bust, especially if it is by MLE.

Kieran Owens,

Forgive me, I should also have credited Andy Mabbett as having first posed the Cheffins auction link.

I would like to thank Liz Elmore, Communications Officer for Norfolk Museums Service, for sending us everything she knows about the bust:

‘This bust of an unidentified man was purchased by the Friends of Cromer Museum in 2015 from Cheffins Auctioneers and subsequently donated to Cromer Museum in the belief that it was associated with the photographer Mary Olive Edis (known as Olive), whose archive of photographs, negatives and ephemera was acquired by Cromer Museum in 2008. I believe the auction house had attributed the bust to (Mary) Olive Edis based on the inscription on the back - No. 43911 / Mary, Edis / Age A / Student 19d.

Early in 2016 I was hired as Project Assistant for the Olive Edis collection at Cromer Museum as part of their National Lottery Heritage Funded project to research and display the collection. One of my first tasks was to identify potential objects to be exhibited as part of a major retrospective of Edis’ work at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. The bust of the unidentified man had been suggested, but through my research I came to the conclusion that it was almost certainly not Olive Edis’ work and it was therefore not included in any displays. The reasons for this were:
• In the time I was researching her work, I never came across any evidence that Olive Edis was a sculptor or indeed an artist in any other medium than photography. Outside of work, her hobbies were music and writing.
• I have never seen or heard of Olive Edis referring to herself by her first name, Mary. Her mother’s name was Mary Edis (née Murray), so this is presumably why she was always known as Olive. All her photographic work is signed ‘Olive Edis’ or ‘OE’. Personal documents were occasionally made to ‘M. Olive Edis’ or ‘Mrs Galsworthy’ but mostly ‘Olive’. Relatives who we spoke to all referred to her as ‘Aunt Olive’.
I suggested to the (then) Curator and to the Friends of Cromer Museum at the time that it may be by the artist Mary Langdon Edis, as her dates were similar to Olive Edis, but this was just speculation - I didn’t do any more research into the bust once I’d concluded that it wasn’t related to the Olive Edis collection.

The bust itself is still in the Cromer Museum collection and is now simply attributed in our records to Mary Edis as per the inscription. I don’t know who changed the attribution on Art UK to Mary Langdon Edis.

I don’t know what happened to the second bust that was in the auction alongside the Unidentified Man, but it may be possible to find out more from the Friends of Cromer Museum.’

Jacinto Regalado,

Prior comments suggest the two busts may have been sold as separate lots, though it would still be of interest to know where the other bust went (if it went to a public collection).

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