Katharine Furse

Katharine Furse


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Katharine Symonds, the daughter of the historian, John Addington Symonds and Janet Catherine, was born on 23rd November 1875. Educated by governesses and her mother she spent most of her early life in Switzerland and Italy.

Katharine had intended to train as a hospital nurse but after meeting the artist, Charles Wellington Furse, she changed her plans. The couple were married in 1900 but Furse died four years later leaving her with two young children.

In 1909 Katharine Furse joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment that was attached to the Territorial Army. On the outbreak of the First World War Furse was chosen to head the first Voluntary Aid Detachment unit to be sent to France. Aware of her administrative abilities, the authorities decided to place Furse in charge of the VAD Department in London. By 1916 she was appointed Commander-in-Chief and the following year became one of the five women appointed Dame Grand Cross, a newly created Order of the British Empire.

Although considered a great success as head of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, Furse was unhappy about her lack of power to introduce reforms. In November 1917, Furse and several of her senior colleagues resigned. Furse was immediately offered the post as Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

The Royal Navy was the first of the armed forces to recruit women and since 1916 the Women's Royal Naval Service took over the role of cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, code experts and electricians. The women were so successful that other organizations such as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women's Royal Air Force were also established.

After the war Furse joined the travel agency of Sir Henry Lunn. Working mainly in Switzerland, Furse became an expert skier and did a great deal to popularize the sport with British tourists. He achievements were acknowledged when she became President of the Ladies' Ski Club.

In 1920 formed the Association of Wrens and this led to her becoming head of the Sea Rangers and for ten years was director of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Her autobiography, Hearts and Pomegranates was published in 1940. Katharine Furse died in London on 25th November, 1952.

This paper is to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

You are being sent to work for the Red Cross. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience, your humility, your determination to overcome all difficulties.

Remember that the honour of the V.A.D. organisation depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness of character, but also to maintain the most courteous relations with those whom you are helping in this great struggle.

Be invariably courteous, unselfish and kind. Remember that whatever duty you undertake, you must carry it out faithfully, loyally, and to the best of your ability.

Rules and regulations are necessary in whatever formation you join. Comply with them without grumble or criticism and try to believe that there is reason at the back of them, though at the time you may not understand the necessity.

Sacrifices may be asked of you. Give generously and wholeheartedly, grudging nothing, but remembering that you are giving because your Country needs your help. If you see others in better circumstances than yourself, be patient and think of the men who are fighting amid discomfort and who are often in great pain.

Those of you who are paid can give to the Red Cross Society which is your Mother and which needs more and more money to carry on its great work. their Mother Society and thus to the Sick and Wounded.

Let our mottos be 'Willing to do anything' and 'The People give gladly'. If we live up to these, the V.A.D. members will come out of this world war triumphant.

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame.

And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,

But each for the joy of working, and each in his separate star,

Shall draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.


11 objects that tell the story of Women and the Royal Navy 1

Print of Hannah Snell

Hannah Snell spent four and a half years dressed as a man named ‘James Gray’ in order to serve in the Royal Marines. Though this seems like an odd thing to do, from the mid-1700s there are a handful of accounts that describe women putting on men’s clothes and joining the navy. Getting away with pretending to be a man was easier than it might seem. Sailors wore baggy clothes and bathed very infrequently. Women passed themselves off as one of the many adolescent boys that were serving at this time.

Britain was almost continuously at war in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and officers would take any healthy volunteers they could find, without enquiring too closely into their backgrounds or giving a medical examination. The reason usually given for these women joining the navy was to follow a male lover out to sea. But the truth may have been different. Sailing away in disguise provided women with freedom to live and earn as they wanted. When they were found out, they were seen as an unusual model of patriotism, and were celebrated. Hannah Snell printed her biography and took to the London stage dressed in her uniform. As we only have evidence of a few of these women, it is likely to be more common than we might think.

Two sailors and a Marine with a VAD nurse’ drawn by Joyce Dennys

Joyce served in the Voluntary Aid Detachments until 1917 when she transferred to the WRNS. She designed the iconic WRNS recruitment poster of the First World War. There were around 74,000 VADs at the outbreak of the First World War, of which two thirds were women. They provided medical assistance at naval hospitals in the UK and in France. Most of these women had little experience of a work environment before this. This gave them the opportunity to develop new skills including personnel management and to gain confidence in their abilities. Most importantly they showed women could make a vital contribution to the war effort, challenging beliefs about what they could do. Several of the first WRNS were VADs and left with Katherine Furse in 1917 to form the nucleus of the service.

WRNS First World War Recruitment Poster

The poster was designed by Joyce Dennys in 1917. Joyce was an artist who joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) and served in the First World War after her art school training. This was the iconic poster for the First World War WRNS and shows a romantic view of a Wren standing at the White Cliffs of Dover. Later Joyce became well-known as an author for ‘Henrietta’s War’, a series of fiction articles about women’s lives at home during the Second World War.

Ceramic Wren

This symbolic ceramic wren was given to Katharine Furse, the first Director of the WRNS. The model perched on her office desk. The service quickly became known as the ‘Wrens’ after its creation in 1917. Other titles considered for the service included the Royal Naval Women’s Service or ‘RNWS’ and the Women’s Auxiliary Naval Corps or ‘WANCS’.

Signed key

One of the most sought after opportunities when joining the WRNS was the chance to work overseas. Margaret Hodgson was amongst the first draft of Wrens posted overseas to Singapore in 1941. Whilst sailing there Margaret celebrated her 21st birthday and her fellow Wrens presented her with this signed key as a gift.

Aircraft checkers course notebook

During the Second World War the range of jobs undertaken by WRNS quickly widened. Air mechanics, for example, grew in number. The role required the women to do detailed inspections of the aircraft and sign them off as safe to fly. As such they were highly trained and needed good levels of mathematics to join. This Aircraft Checkers Course notebook was kept by Margaret Field in 1944.

WRNS Second World War Recruitment Poster

Recruitment posters were a vital part of Second World War propaganda, encouraging women to join the services so they could ‘free a man for the fleet’. WRNS were needed to take over shore-based jobs so that men could go to sea. This model for this poster was Sylvia Henderson, who served as a Wren Writer during the Second World War at WRNS Headquarters.

Handbag

This handbag was issued to Leading Wren (Visualler Signaller) Winifred Boumphrey in 1944. Following complaints from Wrens that they had nowhere to keep their personal belongings and that they were forced to have bulging pockets which ruined the outline of their smart uniforms, the Navy introduced canvas shoulder bags as part of the uniform in 1943. Despite this, some Wrens chose to buy more stylish unofficial leather handbags instead. When this bag was opened it was found to contain not lipstick and powder, but a bottle opener, some needles and thread and bath plug-clearly essentials for a Leading Wren! The WRNS were the only ladies’ service permitted handbags in the Second World War.

Souvenirs from the SS Aguila when a passenger ship

Plaque commemorating Wrens who died on SS Aguila. Courtesy NMRN

SS Aguila Souvenirs. Courtesy NMRN

During the Second World War, the SS Aguila became a troop ship. In 1941 a group of 21 Wrens and a Queen Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) nurse were sent to Gibraltar for cypher and wireless duties. However U-boats attacked the ship on 19th August and SS Aguila sank in under two minutes, with the loss of 152 souls. Six Wrens survived and were picked up by Empire Oak. However, this was torpedoed three days later with the loss of 19 lives, including the remaining Wrens. These were some of the first females to volunteer for overseas service.

WRNS memorial stained glass window

WRNS chapel window. Courtesy NMRN

This window, made using a ship’s wheel, was first installed above the altar in St. Andrew’s church in HMS Cochrane, Rosyth Naval Dockyard, in 1940. In 1968 it moved to the new Anglican church of St. Margaret’s in the Dockyard. Originally it had plain glass but was later transformed with the addition of the coloured glass panels – a gift of Wrens past and present who had served at HMS Cochrane. The artist who created the panels is unknown but it depicts a verse from psalm 29:3 with eight figures representing security, guidance, stars and moon, storm, sun, rain, and wind.

Maternity Dress

WRNS Pregnancy Uniform. Courtesy NMRN

Many Wrens left the service on marriage, and until 1990 it was compulsory to leave the service if they became pregnant. Today the Royal Navy is keen to support new mothers and 97% of women choose to return to the Navy after having a baby. Recent changes in the uniform include the introduction of this maternity dress, belonging to Laura Parker.

Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy runs until the end of January 2018 at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. For further information about visiting see www.nmrn.org.uk

Venue

National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth, Hampshire

The National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, is one of Britain’s oldest maritime museums. The Museum’s mission is to preserve and present the history of the 'Fleet' - the ships and the men and women who manned them. The National Museum of the Royal Navy is&hellip

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Dame Katharine Furse G.B.E.

Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Military.

Location. 51° 30.41′ N, 0° 9.042′ W. Marker is in City of Westminster, England, in Greater London County. Marker is on S Audley Street just from Stanhope Gate, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: City of Westminster, England W1K 1AF, United Kingdom. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. General Pasquale Paoli (within shouting distance of this marker) Sir Richard Westmacott (about 150 meters away, measured in a direct line) Charles X (about 150 meters away) J. Arthur Rank (about 180 meters away) Lord Ashfield (about 210 meters away) Constance Spry (about 240 meters away) Grosvenor Chapel (approx. 0.2 kilometers away) St. George's School World War I Memorial (approx. 0.2 kilometers away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in City of Westminster.

Also see . . .
1. Katharine Furse on Wikipedia. (Submitted on August 9, 2018, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.)
2. Women's Royal Naval Service on Wikipedia. (Submitted on August 9, 2018, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.)


Completed Dress and Textiles, Military History, Portraits: British 20th C 16 comments Who painted this portrait of Katharine Furse (1875–1952)? When was it painted?

Is it possible to date this painting from the medals worn by this sitter, the wife of the artist Charles Wellington Furse (1868–1904)? If the medals were awarded to her by 1904, C. W. Furse must be a possibility as the painter of this portrait. Katharine Furse could have been in her late twenties in this likeness.

The collection comments: 'The medals are: GBE (Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), awarded June 1917 RRC (Royal Red Cross), awarded 1916 British War Medal, awarded 1919 and the Victory Medal, awarded 1919. The depictions of the medals on the sitter’s uniform date the painting to 1919-1920, or quite possibly later than this.'

Any further information would be welcome.

Martin Hopkinson, 5 Aug 2016 Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, 24 Mar 2021 Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The painting has been given a date of 1919 or later, since it seems clear that it was based on a 1919 photograph by Elliott & Fry. Without further evidence, the artist remains unknown.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.

15 comments

You could take a look at an Illustrated Memoir of Charles Wellington Furse, A.R.A. (London, The Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1908).

The sitter was painted in Glyn Philpot in 1918 also wearing medallic ribbons [Imperial War Museum], but this looks a little later. However she looks very similar in Elliot & Fry's 1919 photo [NPGx92101], which might have bben painted at the same time as the photographic session or even be the source which the painter was copying.

The face is very well executed but the hands rather poorly, which is curious. It doesn't have the lifeless appearance of a portrait painted from a photo, although the photo could have been used for the details of the uniform to save the sitter some time.

She is shown wearing the uniform of Director W.R.N.S., which she was from 1917 to the end of the war. So the portrait was definitely painted after she received her last two war medals in 1919. Which rules out her husband, of course.

Dame Furse is shown with a Rear Admiral's stripes on her sleeves, in what must have been her newly invented Naval officer's uniform. She rose to that rank in 1917 when she was appointed Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service - the WRENS – the equivalent to the rank of a Rear Admiral. Ray's additional knowledge fixes this to 1919.


As to who painted her in this uniform - I leave that to the art historians..

The hands are hardly visible in the photo and this might explain the difference - so the poor quality of their painting might point to a copy

I was just going to reply when I read Ray's comment. As Director of the Wrens, Dame Furse held the rank of Rear Admiral. Her naval uniform- ( which must have been newly invented) - thus has a Rear Admiral's stripes on the cuffs. I would support Ray with his date of 1919, for the uniform, though of course it could have been painted late. She soon left the Navy after the end of the war.

There are photos of her dressed just like this.

I leave the search for the artist to the art historians.

Here's a link to a portrait of Dame Katharine Furse, (1920) by Glyn Philpot, it might be the same one as mentioned above by Martin Hopkinson:-

The painting looks to me like an amateur hand - painstaking and quite insightful of character, but clearly untrained. This set me to wondering if it could be by a family member.

Dame Katharine had two sons by Charles Wellington Furse: Peter Reynolds F. (b. 1901) and (John) Paul (Wellington) F. (born just four days before his artist father's death in October 1904). Although any direct input from the boys' father would have been impossible, I suspect there may have been a sense of an artistic inheritance - and doubtless the presence of much art in the house, and of artist friends rallying round after Charles's early death from TB (aged just 36). Katharine's aunt Marianne North, too, was an outstanding and prolific artist, mainly botanical.

Could this be the work of one of the sons - very probably based on (or inspired by) the 1919 photograph at the NPG ( http://bit.ly/2c8muxX ), but perhaps aged upwards somewhat to the face he knew in, say, the early/mid-1920s?

EDIT: This hypothesis is given some support by the discovery that the younger son, Paul Furse (1904-1978), although a distinguished career sailor, was an accomplished amateur artist - though this was again mainly botanical. See http://bit.ly/2ctI4bT . But I can imagine that in his youth he might have had a stab at a portrait of his mother. as might his elder brother Peter (1901-1970), also a sailor (and cartographer), whom I now discover was also an artist. See: http://bit.ly/2cGB5hI

It's just possible that Dame Katharine's autobiography may elucidate, though that apparently only covers the years up to 1920: http://bit.ly/2cTunbJ

My thoughts are that this is the work of Mr. L. S. Lowry. Probably unsigned? but maybe code marks on back or frame. The hands are right (but odd) for Mr. L. S. He was an official war artist in 1939. The war time pictures I have collected/seen (Imperial War Museum) show only false initials/names. as in some of his postcards. My latest acquisition, a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on her Coronation Day shows no hands. Tho' he confessed that he did not like most of the portraits he painted, I think he got this one perfect and of course unsigned.

This needs an expert on uniforms of the period.

In the Philpot painting dated to 1918 in this forum and 1920 on Wikipedia she is wearing the War Medal instituted July 1919 and something else following it which isn't the Victory Medal in three rows. She is wearing a tricorn with no white cover (wartime pattern?)

In the Elliott & Fry photograph she is wearing a cap with a white cover. Her medals are in two rows but with only one medal on the second row, centred. That single medal does look like it is the Victory Medal authorise 1/9/19. There is a badge on her right arm above her rank insignia. I don't think it is a wound stripe (wrong arm, I think) but I have no idea what it is.

In the subject painting she is again wearing a white cover, the Victory Medal immediately follows the War Medal on the second of two rows of medals but there is no badge on her sleeve.

Given the long time this discussion has been in abeyance, it is worth reviving Osmund's suggestion, which also seems to me the most probable answer, that this is very probably based on the 1919 photograph at the NPG ( http://bit.ly/2c8muxX ) and could well be by one her amateur artist sons.

This discussion has attracted 12 comments in 2016 and 2017. It posed two questions:
“Who painted this portrait of Katharine Furse (1875–1952)?”
“When was it painted?”.

The posts by Osmund (13 September 2016) and Andrew (9 August 2017) are helpful. As to who painted the portrait we cannot answer with confidence but it may be by one of Furse’s amateur artist sons. The collection should consider stating that the portrait is based on a photograph by Elliott & Fry from 1919. On the second question as to when the portrait was painted, surely we can do no more than state “1919 or later”.

It is unlikely that we are going to be able to progress this discussion further. A recommendation on closing it needs to come from Group leaders, Lou Taylor, Jenny Spencer-Smith and Catherine Daunt.

It seems clear that this portrait of Katharine Furse is based on the 1919 photograph by Elliott & Fry and, although it is interesting that at least one of her sons enjoyed painting as an amateur, there is no evidence to lend weight to the suggestion that this may have been by a family member. The less sympathetic rendering of the features in comparison may indeed suggest the contrary. And perhaps a family member would also have had less need to copy a photograph.
I would recommend that the discussion is now concluded, with thanks to all those who contributed, and accepting that, without further evidence, the artist remains unknown, and with a date of 1919 or later, as suggested by Jacob.


The Frame Blog

Jacob Simon, Research Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery in London, explores the role of women in picture framing in England from the 1620s onwards, using examples from London and Birmingham.

For some women, picture framing was a business and a livelihood. For others, it formed an occupation.

The artist’s wife at work

Framemaking has historically been a male preserve. There are however some early instances of an artist’s wife working as a framemaker or gilder. In the case of George Geldorp, a leading artist supplying frames in the reign of King Charles I, he identifies his wife’s role in gilding frames when billing Lord Salisbury for seven frames in 1626: ‘pour la dorure de 7 bordures que ma femme a dorée, pour l’or et ouvrage’ (for the gilding of seven frames that my wife has gilded, for gold and workmanship).[1] This sort of arrangement may have been quite common but usually went unrecorded.

Fig. 1 John Michael Wright, Sir Thomas Tyrrell, oil on canvas, c. 1671. Inner Temple Hall Gallery. The Sunderland frame probably made by Mary Ashfield, Mary Fleshier or Mary Dorrell it was probably originally gilt.

One of the most important portrait commissions of the reign of King Charles II was that given to John Michael Wright by the City of London for twenty-two full-length portraits of the Fire Judges, who adjudicated the property and boundary claims arising from the Great Fire of London in 1666. These used to hang in the Guildhall in London but have now been dispersed owing to their poor condition. The splendid frames (fig. 1) for many of the portraits, perhaps based on a model by John Norris, were supplied in 1671 and subsequently by three women, Mary Ashfield, Mary Fleshier and Mary Dorrell.[2] It would be interesting to know how this significant commission was awarded at a time when women rarely received orders for frames. It has been suggested that the first two framemakers were the wives of Edmund Ashfield, portrait painter, and Balthazar Flessiers, portrait painter, or Tobias Flessiers, landscape painter and framemaker. See also Neil Stevenson’s post: John Michael Wright & the Fire Judges: An update.

Fig. 2 Edmund Ashfield, Sir James Oxenden, pastel, 1674 (Christie’s, 7 November 1995, lot 40). The Sunderland frame possibly made by Mary Ashfield.

Perhaps Mary Ashfield made the frames for her husband’s pastel portraits (see fig. 2)? Mary Dorrell is not otherwise known unless she can be linked to the ‘Mrs Doruill’, who was paid for frames in 1678 by Philip Sidney, 3rd Earl of Leicester.[3]

Fig. 2a The North-west Prospect of the Parish Church of St. Magnus the Martyr, the North East End of London Bridge, copper engraving by Benjamin Cole, published in John Stow’s A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster and the Borough of Southwark. Courtesy of Gillmark Gallery The clock (detail inset) survives, shorn of its sculptures

In the mid-18th century, the leading rococo carver and designer, Thomas Johnson, described repairing the carved dial of the City church of St Magnus the Martyr, work which he says that he carried out with help from his wife, Mary, ‘whom I had learned to gild’. Johnson records in his autobiography that her gilding work was well received by the church committee whose chairman stated that his ‘wife had gilt the dial very well – that industry ought to be encouraged, and flung down a guinea for her there were twenty-three gentlemen in company, and all of them followed the example’.[4] This would appear exceedingly generous.

On a rather different note, gilding frames was occasionally the preserve of the amateur in the mid-18th century, at a time when art making was fashionable among some ladies, whether Mrs Delany‘s flower cut outs, or the drawing lessons or the shell making of her friends. Gilding was another pursuit, as Lady Hertford told Lady Pomfret in about 1739: ‘Within doors we amuse ourselves… in gilding picture frames, and other small things: This is so much in fashion with us at present, that I believe, if our patience and pockets would hold out, we should gild all the cornices, tables, chairs and stools about the house.’[5]

The framemaker’s widow

A woman would sometimes take over the running of an established framing business at the death of her husband until her son was old enough to take control. Three examples spring to mind from the mid-nineteenth century: Mrs Elizabeth Foord (1798-1856), Mrs Mahala Bartington (d.1860) and Mrs Ann Thomas (b. c.1800). [6]

Fig. 3 The billhead of Eliza and C. Foord from an invoice for framing, packing and hanging pictures for the National Portrait Gallery, 18 September 1857. National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth Mary Foord’s husband, George, died in 1842, leaving her to manage Foord’s, the well-known picture framemakers in Wardour Street, Soho, until her death in 1856. Most unusually, she left her daughters the business, which then traded as Eliza & C. Foord, but evidently she had reservations since she stipulated that the business was ‘to be carried on under the entire and sole management of William Dickinson’, her foreman. If her daughters were to marry, the business and stock would pass to their brother Charles Foord and to Dickinson, as apparently happened in 1859 when the firm became Foord & Dickinson. Eliza & C. Foord supplied several frames to the newly founded National Portrait Gallery in 1857 (fig. 3), and the firm did much work for the Pre-Raphaelites and other leading artists.

Fig. 4 M & B Bartington, framemaker’s label on the reverse of G.F. Watts’s portrait of his father, 1833. Watts Gallery

The splendidly named Mrs Mahala Bartington took over from her husband at his death in 1845 and ran the business as Mahala Bartington of Wardour Street, and then as Mahala Bartington & Son until 1860 (fig. 4), when her son came into the business.[7] And, thirdly, Ann Thomas continued William Thomas’s business from 1865 to 1873, when she was succeeded by her son her husband had worked for Queen Victoria and for two artists who were royal warrant holders, Sir George Hayter and Sir Francis Grant.

There are a good many scattered references to women running, or working in, framing businesses. For example, Eleanor Lay, in Dean St, Soho, seems to have taken over from Henry Lay, presumably her husband, perhaps following his death. She charged £2.5s each for gilding five circular frames for the Navy boardroom at Somerset House in 1789.[8]

For these women, managing a frame making business seems to have been a skill learnt on the job or from their husbands, perhaps with support from their husband’s foreman. But the late 19th century saw the emergence of women with an art school training for whom framing could be as much an occupation as a business. Their focus was on frames for their husbands, for their fellow artists or for themselves. This is the subject of much of the rest of this history of women in picture framing.

Arts and Crafts and other frames

Two women in Birmingham, Anne Baker (1859-1947) and Myra Bunce (1854-1918), and two in London, Hilda Hewlett (1864-1943) and Katharine Furse (1875-1952), produced remarkable frames. Coming from literary homes or out of art school, they brought a fresh approach to picture framing. They contributed to the wider rise to prominence of the Arts and Crafts movement in which women played a major part at the turn of the century.

Fig. 5 Joseph Southall, Mrs Joseph Southall ‘Burnishing the bole’, 1912, pencil on paper. Courtesy of Bourne Fine Art

Anne Baker, wife of Joseph Southall, the Birmingham Arts and Crafts artist, took on the gilding of the frames he designed and made.[9] Her notes on gilding record the labour involved. This could be quite considerable for a large painting like Changing the Letter of 1908-9 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery): four sessions putting on gesso, thirteen smoothing gesso, eight laying on bole, nine polishing bole, and twenty-four gilding, nearly 130 hours work. This was a very traditional, time-consuming approach. Burnishing the Bole (private collection), a pencil drawing by her husband, shows her burnishing a frame for his picture, Falaise, in 1912 (fig. 5). Southall also had some of his frames decorated by Edith Gere (1875-1959), who attended Birmingham School of Art before her marriage to Henry Payne, one of the teaching staff at the school.

Fig. 6 Arthur Gaskin with Kate and Myra Bunce, Henry Payne, and C.M. Gere, in a photograph of the life class at Birmingham School of Art, c.1887. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

New materials were coming into fashion. Another artist from the Birmingham School of Art, Myra Bunce, worked in metals (fig. 6).[10] She was the daughter of John Thackray Bunce, editor of the Birmingham Daily Post.

Fig. 6a Kate Bunce, the reredos at St Mary’s church, 1904 framed by Myra Bunce. Longworth, Oxfordshire. Photo: Diz 2014

Her beaten metal frames play a significant part in the appearance of some of her sister, Kate’s, work as can be seen in the reredos for St Mary’s, Longworth, Oxfordshire, painted in 1904 (fig. 6a), and the easel painting The Keepsake in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (fig. 6b), both housed by Myra in gleaming beaten metal frames.

Fig. 6b Kate Bunce, The Keepsake, 1898-1901 frame by Myra Bunce. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

In the face of the petty annoyances of life, Hilda Herbert, later Hilda Hewlett, vowed ‘never to be without some object or interest of such importance that all discomfort, annoyance or temporary misery counted as of quite secondary consideration’. Thus perhaps her willingness to undertake the challenge of making the frame for William Holman Hunt’s final version of The Light of the World (fig. 7). She had attended the National Art Training School at South Kensington before marrying the historical novelist, Maurice Hewlett. She was friends with Holman Hunt’s daughter, Gladys, and together they had made a cassone (or Italian marriage chest) which was exhibited at the New Gallery.

Fig. 7 William Holman Hunt (with the assistance of Edward Hughes), The Light of the World, c.1900-04. © The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Hewlett faced the challenge of working with an artist who had a particular interest in frames: for this picture Holman Hunt wanted a splendid classical aedicular frame, replete with symbolism. It was, she wrote, ‘a work of months of patience, not only because it was a very long job, and though Holman Hunt knew what he wanted, his sight was not good, his sketches were too vague for words: no – not for words, but for carving’. She worked on the frame with the help of a Miss Smith, who according to one report was said to be ‘an even greater adept at gilding and gesso after Italian models than Mrs Hewlett herself’.[11] Hilda Hewlett went on to become the first British woman aviator to win a pilot’s licence, to her husband’s disapproval. They separated in 1914 at a time she was becoming more and more engaged in her successful aircraft manufacturing business.

Fig. 8 Charles Wellington Furse, Diana of the uplands, 1903-04. Tate

Another remarkable woman in picture framing, Katharine Furse was the daughter of the poet and critic, John Addington Symonds, and the niece of the painter Marianne North. She carved frames for her husband, the artist Charles Wellington Furse, whom she married in 1900.[12] She liked her gilding ‘bright and new’ he liked it dull, painting over the ambitious frame of Diana of the Uplands (fig. 8) on the Royal Academy’s varnishing day, much to her fury.

Fig. 8a Charles Wellington Furse, Diana of the uplands, detail of bottom rail of frame

For another painting, Furse’s 1903 portrait of the scientist and finger-printing pioneer, Sir Francis Galton (now in the National Portrait Gallery), the sitter proposed that Katharine Furse should carve his finger-prints on the frame, a request she sadly felt unable to meet. Her husband died in 1904, and she went on to play a prominent role as director of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (fig. 9).

Fig. 9 Dame Katharine Furse by Elliott & Fry, postcard print, 1919
National Portrait Gallery given by Dame Katharine Furse, 1935

Bloomsbury and beyond

Fig. 10 Vanessa Bell, The Conversation, 1913-16, Courtauld Institute of Art

The subject of framemaking and the Bloomsbury movement has yet to be investigated. Much of the furniture produced by the Omega Workshops was painted, and it is possible to point to some painted frames. Vanessa Bell’s The Conversation of 1913-16 has a flat oak frame said to have been painted by the artist with a frieze of abstract forms in red between black inner and outer borders.

Nina Hamnett (1890-1956), Sir Osbert Sitwell, c.1915-18, o/c, 19 7/8 in. x 16 in. (50.5 x 40.6 cm.), National Portrait Gallery

Nina Hamnett’s Sir Osbert Sitwell of c.1915-18 is slightly more elaborate the stippled finish and the step on the otherwise flat profile next to the sloping sight edge give the frame a highly distinctive character. Another example is her painting, The Student: Madame Dolores Courtney of 1917 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull), traditional in profile but with a stippled finish. Despite lack of documentation it seems likely that both Bell and Hamnett decorated some of their own frames.

Fig. 11 Gluck (on the right) with her Portrait of Margaret Watts in The Gluck Room, created by the artist for her exhibition at the Fine Art Society, 1932

In the 1930s the artist Hannah Gluckstein (‘Gluck’) (1895-1978) went about framing her work from a much more austere viewpoint than Bloomsbury. She produced frames with a stark three-step profile, usually painted white, and which she patented as the Gluck frame (fig. 11). ‘The essential feature of the Gluck frame’, according to a note in the catalogue of her 1937 Fine Art Society exhibition, ‘is that it becomes part of any wall whatever its character, colour or period… It can be painted the same colour as the wall, or covered with the same wall-paper, or made in any wall material’.[13]

In the 20th century references to women in frame making become more common. Charles David Soar (1853-1939), working in Kensington, included both his son John and his slightly younger daughter Grace in the business. She was recorded as a wood carver in the 1911 census. She is said by her father to have ‘turned out some good work until she turned it up on marriage’.[14] Joseph Tanous’s three daughters were mainstays of his Chelsea and Fulham business: Joan (b. 1919) was the eldest. Marcelle (b. 1920) married Roy Frandsen (d. 2001) and from 1945 they worked with her father, Joseph, in a studio in Cavaye Place, Chelsea, until his death in 1948 when they took on the business, renaming it as Roy Frandsen. The youngest sister, Elizabeth (‘Bette’) (b. 1924), managed her uncle, John’s business for 29 years until her retirement in 1989.[15] More recently Gabrielle Rendel has taken on the long-established framemaking firm of Bourlet, moving it back from Fulham to central London, while Louis Liddell has led the management of Riccardo Giaccherini Ltd.[16]

The National Portrait Gallery

At the National Portrait Gallery, apart from the early commissions to Eliza & C. Foord (see above), two case histories stand out. In 1883 a portrait of the Scottish writer and scientist, Mary Somerville, was accepted for the collection with a very elaborate frame carved in the Italian renaissance style by her daughter, Martha Somerville. When the picture arrived the Gallery’s Director, Sir George Scharf wrote, ‘The frame is most admirably wrought and from the skill displayed in it I am induced to believe that the same lady must have executed many specimens’. But by 1896, when the Gallery’s new building opened to the public, the frame had been replaced by another. See the web site feature, A frame by Martha Somerville, a Victorian carver in Italy, for a fuller account of this episode and a reproduction of the frame.

Fig. 12 Emily Childers, Hugh Childers, 1891. National Portrait Gallery

Some years later in 1912 when Milly Childers’ portrait of her father (fig. 12), the former Home Secretary, Hugh Childers, was given to the Gallery, Miss Childers wrote to Charles Holmes, then the Gallery’s Director, sending ‘one or two specimens of the work of the artist I spoke of to you in connection with a frame for my father’s picture… you can gather… some idea of the capacity of the artist’. This artist seems to have been her close friend, Emmeline Deane (1858-1944). But Holmes promptly wrote back with regrets, ‘Your friends work is exceedingly attractive but… I think we must stick to this Watts pattern’. Holmes explained his preference for a Watts frame, as ‘the only one which would enable the portrait to be hung here harmoniously with other pictures of the same period’. This was a constant theme in the Gallery’s approach to framing at this period, whether the artist was male or female. ‘If a portrait has an exceptional frame’, Holmes went on, ‘we find the greatest difficulty in making it suit the various positions which… the pictures here have to take from time to time’.[17]

Fig. 13 Maggi Hambling, George Melly, 1998. National Portrait Gallery

But attitudes have changed. One of the Gallery’s commissions, Maggi Hambling’s triple portrait of George Melly of 1998, has a frame (fig. 13) painted by the artist herself, extending elements of the composition onto the actual frame, a wide flat section chosen by the artist in consultation with Gallery staff and made up and encased in the same white canvas as used for the painting itself. Behind the idea for the extended composition lies a clear purpose, as Maggi Hambling has explained: ‘The extension of elements of the painting onto the frame are an attempt to suggest that George is only momentarily passing through the space of the canvas’.[18]

The historical role of women in framing

It may seem perverse to use a view of a French gilding workshop to illustrate a note on women in picture framing in England but this illustration is too good not to use (fig. 14).

On the wall on the left in the background are two gessoed frames ‘in the white’, ready for gilding. Immediately below these frames the woman may be in the process of water-gilding a frame leant against the wall. At the table two women are burnishing a Louis XIV revival Salon frame.

Historically it was difficult for women to become framemakers in their own right, owing to the apprenticeship system and the structuring of craft manufacturing businesses. Even during World War I, when many women worked in furniture-making in place of men fighting at the Front, they were paid at only two-thirds the male rate for comparable work.

A remarkable American book, The Employments of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Woman’s Work, by Virginia Penny, published in 1863, is revealing about the position of women as employees in gilding and many other industries.[19] She gathered her information by conducting numerous interviews in New York City in 1859-61, and by correspondence. Despite its American perspective, her book provides wider insights. She was informed that in Dublin there were at least forty women employed in gilding, some in business for themselves. And that no more than forty women were employed in gilding in New York City. However, in Paris in 1848, out of more than a thousand wood gilders, a quarter were women, but paid half the male rate. She was told by an American gilder that women were employed because they were cheaper than men. A New Hampshire gilder thought that women were as good workers in the business as men. In furniture painting, a leading company told her that they employed women ‘because they will do the same work better, faster and cheaper than men’.

Fig. 15 Cutting gold leaf at George M. Whiley Ltd in the 1930s.

The tendency has been for women to be allocated the more delicate tasks in picture framing. At George M. Whiley Ltd, Gold Leaf Manufacturers in London, the division of labour in producing gold leaf in the 1930s is tellingly spelt out in their publicity material: ‘The actual beating is done by men… while all the subsidiary work of preparing, cutting, filling, booking etc., is performed by women… the cutting of leaves, and placing them in books calls for most delicate manipulation’ (see fig. 15).[20] At Alfred Stiles & Sons in Hammersmith, one of the leading London framemaking firms, women were restricted to the mount cutting department where their ‘nimble’ fingers could be put to best use.

Historically when women have been found in framemaking it has often been in the shadow of their husband or another male relative. In the 20th century the role of female framemakers, such as Anne Baker and Katharine Furse, became more significant. Today, there are many women active in frame conservation and gilding even if the manufacture of frames sometimes seems to be more a man’s world.

I am indebted to Lynn Roberts for gathering the illustrations together and making this text publicly available.

[1] Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, 1996, p.130.

[2] James L. Howgego, ‘The Guildhall Fire Judges’, The Guildhall Miscellany, no.2, 1953, pp.20-30. For Flessiers, see British picture framemakers on the National Portrait Gallery website.

[4] Jacob Simon, Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author, Furniture History Society, 2003, pp.52-53, also published in Furniture History, vol.29, 2003.

[5] W. Bingley (ed.), Correspondence between Frances, Countess of Hartford (afterwards Duchess of Somerset), and Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret, between the years 1738 and 1741, 2nd ed., 1806, vol.3, p.238, first published 1805.

[6] For Bartington, Foord and Thomas, see British picture framemakers, 1610-1950 on the National Portrait Gallery website. For Foord, see also Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, 1996, p.134. Jan Marsh kindly focussed my attention on the role of the widow in continuing a business until her son could assume responsibilty.

[7] Lynn Roberts kindly drew my attention to the work of Mahala Bartington.

[8] Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds.), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, 1986, p.532.

[9] Joseph Southall 1861-1944 Artist-Craftsman, exh. cat., Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, 1980.

[10] Alan Crawford (ed.), By Hammer and Hand. The Arts and Crafts Movement in Birmingham, exh. cat., Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, 1984, pp.77-8. Reyahn King kindly drew my attention to the work of Myra Bunce.

[11] Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt, vol.1, pp.290-1, vol.2, p.319, quoting W.B. Hodgson in the Daily News, 9 March 1904, and C.F. Bell. See also Gail Hewlett, Old Bird:The Irrepressible Mrs Hewlett, 2010, pp.1, 75, quoting from Mrs Hewlett’s unpublished autobiography.

[12] Katharine Furse, Hearts and Pomegranates. The Story of Forty-five Years 1875 to 1920, 1940, p.216.

[13] Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, 1996, p.185.

[14] Information from Peter Soar, April 2005, taken from a family history, written by Charles Soar shortly before his death in 1939.

[17] See NPG Press Copy Book, vol.30, p.192 (National Portrait Gallery archive). See also Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, 1996, pp.180-1.

[18] National Portrait Gallery archive, RP 6439.

[19] Virginia Penny, The Employments of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Woman’s Work, Boston, 1863, pp.449-50.

[20] Geo. M. Whiley Ltd, Goldbeating, no date, trade publication.

With thanks from The Frame Blog to all the people and institutions who have so generously allowed their images to be used here and thanks, again, to Alastair Johnson of Tate.


Dame Katharine Furse

Sitter in 11 portraits
A pioneer in the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). In 1914 Furse was sent to France to lead the first VAD unit to be sent abroad and later that year she was promoted to commandant-in-chief. After becoming frustrated at her lack of reforming powers, Furse left the VADs in 1917 and took up the position of Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service. This embryo service, although disbanded after one year, established a basis upon which the full service was founded some 20 years later. After the War Dame Katharine, who had grown up in Switzerland, joined Sir Henry Lunn's travel agency and became a representative of the Ski Club of Great Britain.

by George Charles Beresford
dry-plate glass negative, 1918
NPG x6505

by Elliott & Fry
vintage print, 1943 (1919)
NPG x89307

by Elliott & Fry
half-plate glass negative, 1919
NPG x92099

by Elliott & Fry
half-plate glass copy negative, 1919
NPG x92101

by Elliott & Fry
postcard print, 1919
NPG x16310

by Elliott & Fry
half-plate glass negative, February 1935
NPG x92100

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 31 January 1940
NPG x27093

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 31 January 1940
NPG x27094

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 31 January 1940
NPG x27095

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 31 January 1940
NPG x27096

by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 31 January 1940
NPG x27097


Post-war

A small permanent WRNS service of 3,000 retained for mainly administrative and support roles at RN establishments and Royal Naval Air Stations, UK and overseas.

  • 1954 New entrants at Dauntless
  • 1959 Stewards at Duchess of Kent Barracks
  • 1963 RNAS Halfar
  • 1963 Gibraltar Wrens rowing Club

A survey observed that changing social structures and career limitations indicated the need for integration with the Royal Navy.

  • Wrens leaving barracks Portsmouth Naval Home Command. Neg: 1160 25 June 1970. Taken by PO D F Morris.
  • The Flying Girls RNAS Yeovilton

WRNS Officers’ Training moved from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

  • BRNC Dartmouth
  • Wrens choir at Greenwich

The New Entry Training Establishment HMS DAUNTLESS closed after 35 years of training some 30,000 Wrens. Initial training now takes place alongside male ratings at HMS RALEIGH. Wrens were now subject to the Naval Discipline Act and given longer terms of service in a wide range of technical support roles in operational areas.

  • Victory Division HMS Dauntless
  • HMS Raleigh

Falling R.N. recruitment raised the need for Wrens to go to sea. The first 20 volunteer Wren Officers and ratings joined HMS BRILLIANT.

  • Wren signallers at sea
  • First Wrens sea draft HMS Brilliant

The Women’s Royal Naval Service was disbanded and 4535 women were integrated fully into the Royal Navy and able to serve on HM Ships at sea, at all ranks and rates, including the Royal Marines Band.

  • Dining our the last Commandant WRNS
  • Fully integrated into the Royal Navy

Katharine Furse - History

This paper is to be considered by each V.A.D. member as confidential and to be kept in her Pocket Book.

You are being sent to work for the Red Cross. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience, your humility, your determination to overcome all difficulties.

Remember that the honour of the V.A.D. organisation depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness of character, but also to maintain the most courteous relations with those whom you are helping in this great struggle.

Be invariably courteous, unselfish and kind. Remember that whatever duty you undertake, you must carry it out faithfully, loyally, and to the best of your ability.

Rules and regulations are necessary in whatever formation you join. Comply with them without grumble or criticism and try to believe that there is reason at the back of them, though at the time you may not understand the necessity.

Sacrifices may be asked of you. Give generously and wholeheartedly, grudging nothing, but remembering that you are giving because your Country needs your help. If you see others in better circumstances than yourself, be patient and think of the men who are fighting amid discomfort and who are often in great pain.

Those of you who are paid can give to the Red Cross Society which is your Mother and which needs more and more money to carry on its great work. their Mother Society and thus to the Sick and Wounded.

Let our mottos be 'Willing to do anything' and 'The People give gladly'. If we live up to these, the V.A.D. members will come out of this world war triumphant.

Katharine Furse,
Commandant-in-Chief,
B.R.C.S.
Women's V.A.D.
(BRCS ACC 513)

THE FOLLOWING PRAYER WAS PRINTED ON THE BACK OF THE LETTER :

And only the Master shall praise us,

and only the Master shall blame.

And no one shall work for money, and

no one shall work for fame,

But each for the joy of working, and

each in his separate star,

Shall draw the thing as he sees

it for the God of things as they are.


[THIS WAS FOLLOWED BY A PRAYER WRITTEN BY RACHEL CROWDY, COMMANDANT OF VADS IN FRANCE]

Lord, who once born your own Cross shoulder high to save mankind, help us to bear our Red Cross banner high with clean hands unafraid.

To those who tend the wounded and sick give health and courage, that they of their store, may give to those who lie awake in pain with strength and courage gone.

Teach us no task can be too great, no work too small, for those who die or suffer pain for us and their Country. Give unto those who rule a gentle justice and a wisely guiding hand, remembering "Blessed are the Merciful." And when Peace comes, grant neither deed nor word of ours has thrown a shadow on the Cross, nor stained the flag of England.

List of required Clothing and Equipment

(# Total A: Worn B: in Trunk C: in Handbag D: in bread bag)


Katharine Furse

Dame Katharine Furse, GBE, RRC (née Symonds 23 November 1875, Bristol – 25 November 1952, London), founder of the English Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) force, was the daughter of the poet and critic John Addington Symonds and Janet Catherine North. Her aunt was the painter Marianne North.

Educated by governesses and her mother, Furse spent most of her early life in Switzerland and Italy. In 1900 she married the painter Charles Wellington Furse, who died four years later leaving her with two young children. In 1909 Furse joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment that was attached to the Territorial Army. On the outbreak of the First World War she was chosen to head the first Voluntary Aid Detachment unit to be sent to France. Aware of her administrative abilities, the authorities decided to place her in charge of the VAD Department in London. [ citation needed ]

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Furse realised that the existing number of nurses would prove totally inadequate to deal with the enormous amount of work which might be expected, and in September 1914 she proceeded to France with a number of assistants, these forming the nucleus of the VAD force. In January 1915 she returned to England, and the VAD work was then officially recognised as a department of the Red Cross organization. She received the order of the RRC in 1916, and the GBE in June 1917. Ώ] Although she considered it a great success being head of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, Furse was unhappy about her lack of power to introduce reforms. In November 1917, she and several of her senior colleagues resigned, due to a dispute over the living conditions of the VAD volunteers and the Red Cross refusal to co-ordinate with the Woman's Army group. ΐ] She was immediately offered the post as Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), this was equivalent to the rank of Rear Admiral. Α] The Royal Navy was the first of the armed forces to recruit women and since 1916 the Women's Royal Naval Service took over the role of cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, code experts and electricians. The women were so successful that other organizations such as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) were also established.

After the war, Furse joined the travel agency of Sir Henry Lunn (later known as Lunn Polly). Working mainly in Switzerland, she became an expert skier and did a great deal to popularize the sport with British tourists. Α] Her achievements were acknowledged when she became President of the Ladies' Ski Club. [ citation needed ]

Her autobiography, Hearts and Pomegranates was published in 1940. In 1920, Furse formed the Association of Wrens and this led to her becoming head of the Sea Rangers (formerly known as the Sea Guides), Α] and for ten years, from 1928 to 1938, was director of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Α] whose constitution she drafted. [ citation needed ] Her last public appearance was at the Conference of Former Scouts in London in September 1952. She died in London, two days after her 77th birthday. [ citation needed ]


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