More Than a Fairy Artist: Margaret Tarrant

Margaret Winifred Tarrant (1888–1959) was born in Battersea, England, on 19th August, 1888. She was the only child of Percy Tarrant, who was a famous landscape painter, and Sarah Wyatt.

There are no detailed biographies about the artist, despite her fame and prolific output, though we do know that she started her studies at Clapham High School and after graduating in 1905, continued her education at the Clapham School of Art. She briefly studied teaching, however her father believed she was unsuited to this profession and redirected her attention towards painting. Once established as an artist she studied at Heatherley’s School of Art from 1918 till 1923, as she believed a new school would improve her technique.

Margaret Tarrant - (Unknown Title) (1916)

Margaret Tarrant – (Unknown Title) (1916)

Margaret Tarrant - Dream Ships (date unknown)

Margaret Tarrant – Dream Ships (date unknown)

Tarrant’s first published works were Christmas cards and in 1908 she illustrated her first book, an edition of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. The following year she created a series of paintings that were published as postcards by C.W. Faulkner. Over the next decade the artist continued to paint for various postcard publishers and also made illustrations for several books. Many of these works were exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Walker Royal Society of Artists and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Margaret Tarrant - Prim Told Him Her Story (1951)

Margaret Tarrant – Prim Told Him Her Story (1951)

Margaret Tarrant - Peter and Friends (1921)

Margaret Tarrant – Peter and Friends (1921)

Margaret Tarrant - Good Morning Little Red Riding Hood (1951)

Margaret Tarrant – Good Morning Little Red Riding Hood (1951)

During the 1920s fairies became popularised, helped by the publication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book Do You Believe in Fairies? and Tarrant was a major part of this scene. During this decade she collaborated with Marion St. John Webb on a series of fairy books, which displayed images of fairies along with short stories and poems. The books were similar to Cecily Mary Barker’s, both artists were friends, however they differed as Tarrant’s pictures were less naturalistic, more stylised and in the Art Nouveau style. Fairy stories were not the only type of paintings that the artist produced, she also created illustrations for children’s stories, books about animals, poems and verses. Additionally, she created a series of wild flower postcards, that she considered to be her best work, and religious themes appeared often. Many examples of her religious paintings can be found in this Flickr album.

Margaret Tarrant - Sycamore (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant – Sycamore (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant - Grapes (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant – Grapes (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant - Yellow Horned Poppy (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant – Yellow Horned Poppy (1920s)

After 1920 the artist was working almost exclusively for the Medici Society, who turned her paintings into postcards, calendars, greeting cards and prints. In 1936 the Society sent her on a holiday to Palestine where she enjoyed sketching landscapes and street scenes, two subjects that she rarely painted prior to this trip.

Margaret Tarrant - The Animals That Talked (1951)

Margaret Tarrant – The Animals That Talked (1951)

Margaret Tarrant - Shepherd Pipes (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant – Shepherd Pipes (1920s)

Margaret Tarrant - Toinette Sat Very Still (1951)

Margaret Tarrant – Toinette Sat Very Still (1951)

During the 1940s Tarrant slowed her output, though she did donate a lot of paintings to the war effort and produced images for about six books. With her health and eyesight deteriorating she stopped working in the mid-1950s and died from Multiple Myeloma in July 1959, leaving some pictures to friends and the rest of her estate to twelve charities.

The artist worked in many media, including pen, watercolor, graphite and silhouette type drawings. Her work is still popular today and the Medici Society is still selling prints on it’s website.

Maiden Voyages: May 2016

A Premium Postcard Collection: It is with great excitement that I announce that my friend Stuart—who has perhaps the world’s biggest collection of Edwardian postcards—has finally consented to share his collection with Pigtails readers.  It will take time to sort through and scan thousands of postcards but as they become available, I will share them here.  For starters, some new Reutlinger images have come to light and that post has been updated.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this generosity is greatly appreciated.

Guilt by Association: On May 9th, photographer Chris Madaio is scheduled to stand trial for charges that he violated the conditions of his parole after serving 4 years in prison for possession of child pornography (see more details on his story here).  Although Madaio does not contest the original charges, the Morgan County, Alabama authorities seem determined to find any excuse to continue to punish him.  The new charges are based on images found on a computer and some USB drives found in a storage unit with his name on it.  The unit belonged to two women, the sister and a friend of Samuel Hyde.  Hyde was a convicted sex offender whom Madaio knew for a short time while attending the same court-ordered program.  The women allowed Hyde personal use of the unit, but neither they nor Hyde have been indicted.  To complicate things further, Hyde made a statement against Madaio before dying under mysterious circumstances.  It would be difficult to speculate on the veracity of all the details of the case, but it is an excellent illustration of how the justice system prefers to grandstand on prosecutions rather than rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have been convicted.  Although Madaio has a court-appointed attorney, he is hopeful that a more trusted family lawyer will be allowed to serve as co-counsel.

No News is Bad News: An item came across my desk about a controversy regarding a GAP Kids clothing line and the portrayal of Black people.  An ad campaign featuring a performing troupe called Le PeTiT CiRqUe (more on them in a future post) included one image with a bigger girl resting her arm on a shorter Black girl.  You can read a little about it here.  With all the special interest groups involved in this issue, many people are getting on the bandwagon and making a lot of noise.  Whatever the circumstances, I would like to humbly suggest that those sincerely interested in the cause of racial justice not waste their energy on something that will accomplish nothing while giving free publicity to a major clothing company.  On the other hand, it is nice that Le PeTiT CiRqUe got a little press.

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

“Moral Welfare” on the Set: One of our readers, who is child modeling agent, has shared items of interest regarding the changing rules and conditions of child models and actors. For example, in the past, outtakes from films shot in the days before the internet would never see the light of day and if there was some inadvertent nudity, it was of little concern. But today, a lot of behind-the-scenes footage gets leaked and so the rules in Hollywood have become a lot stricter.  An online article shares an interesting anecdote regarding the opening scene of Disney’s Pollyanna and informs readers that now, under California law, it is studio teachers who are responsible for the moral welfare of children in their charge.

To Top or Not to Top: As many readers of this site are aware, in many countries outside the United States, it is routine for undeveloped younger girls to swim in public without bikini tops.  A mother shares an interesting story about her 7-year-old daughter’s recent trip to Spain.  It offers a little insight about a child’s body image and her ability to adapt to different cultural norms.  The editorial concludes with the mother seeking this advice: now that the girl is used to swimming without a top, how can she be persuaded to go back?

Auction News: A friend passed on this small item about Sotheby’s auctioning off a few Sally Mann photographs on May 19th.  A lot of big-name photographers are featured and the Mann images are numbered 58–61.  Speculation in art has continued to inflate prices.

Ernest Nister: Maker of Movable Books

Researching Ernest Nister has been a difficult pursuit as no business or personal archives are known. Additionally, as he appears to be of little interest today there are few researchers of Ernest Nister and the papers or text books they publish are difficult to acquire. What follows is a brief description of Nister and his publishing company that I was able to piece together from the few sources that are readily available.

Ernest Nister (1842–1906) was a publisher born in Darmstadt, Germany. Ernest spent his school days studying business. However what he did from then until 1877, I have been unable to determine. In 1877 Ernest acquired a small lithographic workshop in Nuremberg and set about modernising it. Most of the printing was done in chromolithography and the number of products the business produced included annuals, storybooks, toy books, poetry and religious stories, as well as calendars, greeting cards, embossed pictures and games. As these items are so ephemeral—calendars are normally disposed of at the end of each year—few examples exist today. However, I shall show some calendars and postcards I have found on the Internet.

(Illustrator Unknown) - Calender (1889)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Calendar (1889)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Postcard (c1880)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Postcard (c1880) (1)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Postcard (c1880)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Postcard (c1880) (2)

Nister’s printing business also did work for other publishers like Castell, Farran, Griffith, Okeden and Routledge. Because of these contacts, Nister became a publisher in his own right in 1888 when he opened offices and design studios in London. Nister hired Robert Ellice Mack as director who was responsible for finding authors and illustrators as well as compiling and editing the books before sending them to Nuremburg for printing. Nister did very little of the creative work. Instead, he would organise and direct the workers, manage the business and supervise the printing process with the exception of wood engraving which was supervised by a co-worker named C. Priess. Distribution of the books in America was done by E.P. Dutton.

(Illustrator Unknown) - Peeps Into Fairyland (Cover) (1895)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Peeps Into Fairyland (Cover) (1895)

(Illustrator Unknown) - A Wave Coming from the book Cosy Corner (1892)

(Illustrator Unknown) – A Wave Coming, from the book Cosy Corner (1892)

John Lawson - Little Pussy, from the book Childhood Valley (1889)

John Lawson – Little Pussy, from the book Childhood Valley (1889)

Ernest Nister is remembered most for his embossed, panoramic and movable books. Embossed books were an early speciality for Nister. From these embossed books Nister developed the pop-up book whereby the embossed figures were die-cut then mounted within a three dimensional framework. The figures were then connected to the opposing page, by paper or fabric guides, so that when the page is opened the figures rise from the page. Nister was not the first person to create pop-up books, however, he was the first to create automatic pop-up books. Prior to Nister’s invention, pop-up scenes had to be manually manoeuvred upright by the reader. Displayed below you will see two differing types of Nister’s pop-up book. The first two are three-dimensional scenes set within a frame that are connected to the opposing page. The third is frameless and is created by standing the book upright and lowering the page onto the table making the characters appear as though they are standing on a stage.

(Illustrator Unknown) - The Procession of Nursery Rhymes from the book Peeps into Fairyland (1895)

(Illustrator Unknown) – The Procession of Nursery Rhymes, from the book Peeps into Fairyland (1895)

(Illustrator Unknown) - The Little Pet from the book Little Pets (1900)

(Illustrator Unknown) – The Little Pet, from the book Little Pets (1900)

E. Stuart Hardy - Untitled illustration from the book Land of Long Ago (1890)

E. Stuart Hardy – Untitled illustration from the book Land of Long Ago (1890)

Another of Nister’s inventions is the dissolving picture which works like a venetian blind. The picture is divided into five parts and when the tab at the bottom of the picture is pulled another picture slides from underneath and covers the original.

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901) (1)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901) (2)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book Playtime Surprises (1901) (3)

The dissolving effect can also work with a sliding door type mechanism.

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906) (1)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906)(2)

(Illustrator Unknown) - Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Untitled illustration from the book What a Surprise (1906) (3)

The third type of movable book Nister created was the revolving picture. The mechanism consisted of two disks that covered each other and were divided into six segments. Those segments in turn fit together in a star formation. When a tab in the frame was pulled, one disk slid over the other to reveal a new picture.

Ellen J. Andrews - Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895)

Ellen J. Andrews – Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895) (1)

Ellen J. Andrews - Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895)

Ellen J. Andrews – Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895) (2)

Ellen J. Andrews - Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895)

Ellen J. Andrews – Untitled illustration from the book In Wonderland (1895) (3)

As you would have noticed from the image descriptions there is a problem with finding the identity of illustrators for Nister’s images. The illustrator is largely unknown as Nister did not consider it important to leave the signature in the picture so it was either cropped out during editing or colored over during printing. Nister also constantly reused images and even added or deleted features to the original images. The date is also almost always omitted and if it had not been for researchers who are willing to go through library catalogues and find the earliest release of the books, it would remain unknown.

Lizzie Lawson - Under the Mistletoe from the book Bobby Robin - (Unknown Date)

Lizzie Lawson – Under the Mistletoe, from the book Bobby Robin – (Unknown Date)

John Lawson - Red Riding Hood from the book There Was Once (1888)

John Lawson – Red Riding Hood, from the book There Was Once (1888)

(Illustrator Unknown) – Land of Long Ago (Cover) (1890)

(Illustrator Unknown) - What a Surprise (Cover) (1906)

(Illustrator Unknown) – What a Surprise (Cover) (1906)

Nister died in 1906 and left the publishing business to his son Ernest Nister Jr. At this time the business had about 600 employees and could produce prints using the three-color, photoengraving, wood engraving, heliogravure, collotype, copperplate, halftone engraving, blind embossing and chromolithography printing processes. The business would not last more than ten years. As World War I started and an export ban was placed on Germany the Ernest Nister Publishing Company was one of the many businesses that collapsed as a result.

There are many videos on YouTube showing examples of Ernest Nister Books.
If anyone wants to research further you will need this source list as they are hard to find and contain so many more details. I used many of these in putting together this article.

Makes One Cringe

While perusing images of Black girls one can find charming examples, just as one finds of girls of any race. However, since modern Black girls are descended from races that have been subjected to heavy oppression by Europeans and are still victims of cruel and unwarranted stereotypes, particularly in the United States, there are portrayals of these girls that would make any decent human being cringe. It has been a challenge finding just the right context with which to present these images.

There is a recent exhibit held by Art In These Times that deals with these images specifically and posits how they were part of a propaganda campaign to put Black people in their place after the abolition of slavery in the United States. The exhibition is called ‘Making Niggers: Demonizing and Distorting Blackness’ and will run through January 2016 in Chicago. It is based mostly on postcards from co-curator Mariame Kaba’s private collection.

From the 1890’s through the 1950’s, thousands of postcards depicting racist caricatures and stereotypes of Black people were produced across the United States and the world. Degrading images of blackness also found expression in advertising and other media. Black people were portrayed as lazy, child-like, unintelligent, ugly, chicken stealing, watermelon eating, promiscuous, crap-shooting, savage and criminal. These images comforted white people in their racist beliefs, reinforced white supremacy and enabled whites to justify violence and subjugation of Black people. The stereotypes continue to shape and shorten Black lives in the present. -From Making Niggers Exhibition Webpage, 2015

Without knowing which specific postcards are on display—there are thousands of possibilities—we present a few selections that illustrate this stereotyping through the portrayal of little Black girls. One of the first things one notices is how many of these racist images are of children. That was part of a subtle tactic to regard Black people generally as juvenile and so really these are not especially about children.

C. Levi - Kute Koon Kids: A Little Black Washing (c1910)

C. Levi – Kute Koon Kids: A Little Black Washing (c1910)

That watermelon symbol at the bottom was certainly unwarranted. It’s interesting how something that may have once been a symbol of Black independence has been turned into a racial insult.

Picaninny Freeze Ice Cream Tin (1920s)

Picaninny Freeze Ice Cream Tin (1920s)

There are a handful of stereotypical “types” of Black people and it is amazing that whole products and companies openly used these names. Pickaninny was a term commonly used to refer to a dark-skinned child and some cards would make this into a play on words like, “I’m not pickin-any body but you.” which appears on a vintage Valentine.

A lot of images show Blacks naked. This seems to play into several stereotypes so that they can just be dismissed as primitive savages.

(Artist Unknown) - Some Little Darkie Gal Trading Card (1920s)

(Artist Unknown) – Some Little Darkie Gal Trading Card (1920s)

Tuck - Happy Little Coons (c1906)

Rafael Tuck & Sons – Happy Little Coons (c1906)

Donald McGill - Just a spot of powder an' I'm dressed! (1920s)

Donald McGill – Just a spot of powder an’ I’m dressed! (1920s)

The Three Bares Postcard (Black version) (1920s)

The Three Bares Postcard (Black version) (1920s)

It is interesting to note there are both Black and white versions of this image.

[U] The Three Bares Postcard (white version) (1920s)

The Three Bares Postcard (white version) (1920s)

But really, it is an opportunity to subject them to humiliation in the name of humor.

Curt Teich & Co. - Chocolate Drops Comics (1920s) (1)

Curt Teich & Co. – Chocolate Drops Comics (1920s) (1)

Curt Teich & Co. - Chocolate Drops Comics (1920s) (2)

Curt Teich & Co. – Chocolate Drops Comics (1920s) (2)

Nudity is also an occasion to engage in sexual innuendo. This reminds white people of the ongoing sexual threat and justifies any sexual mistreatment of Blacks.

Curt Teich & Co. Postcard (1920s)

Curt Teich & Co. Postcard (1920s)

Can You Tie This One? (1920s)

Can You Tie This One? (1920s)

I Ain't Worried About No Sugar (1920s)

I Ain’t Worried About No Sugar (1920s)

Plenty of images have fanned the flames of white fear of Black sexual promiscuity and potency. And woe has come to many Black men who showed a sexual interest, or seemed to, in a white woman. This was part of the impetus for the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Hallmark Birthday Card (1936)

Hallmark Birthday Card (1936)

French Postcard (c1921)

French Postcard (c1921)

Even when decently dressed, they are drawn in a way to appear as though they are not wearing underwear and it is easier to get away with this when they are drawn as children. The exaggerated red lips are also a typical stereotypical feature and emphasizes their animalistic qualities.

Valentine (Date Unknown)

Valentine (Date Unknown)

Agnes Richardson - Whose Blackbird Is You? (1920s)

Agnes Richardson – Whose Blackbird Is You? (1920s)

For a time, elementary school reading levels were named after birds with bluebirds at the top and, you guessed it, blackbirds at the bottom. Many examples above make light of Black people’s unsophisticated use of English and, by doing so, helped perpetuate it.

See also Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

Random Images: Helmut Schulz

There is nothing to be found on the internet on this photographer but this image suggests he was probably a contemporary of Lotte Herrlich and Ernst Vollmar.  There may be more information in German, but there happens to be too many people with that name to sift through.  Leads or help in this area would be very much appreciated.  In the mean time, I hope you appreciate this postcard.

Helmut Schulz - Forst (Early 1920s)

Helmut Schulz – Forst (c1930)

Ode to Aboriginal Girls

One of our readers reminded me that Pigtails in Paint used to do a lot of short pieces and it seems things have gotten a lot more in depth and longer. I apologize, but I simply offer those things that I find interesting. I believe there must be others who share my disdain for the plethora of uncredited photo albums that can be found online these days. However, I do miss the charm of Pigtails’ older style and I assure you all that it was not my intention to deviate from that. What has happened is that as we gained credibility, we gained access to interesting back stories that cannot be found in mainstream media—even the internet.

Believe me, there are plenty of short items that will be put out in due course; it is just that when I am inspired to work on something, I want to follow through and naturally there is a lot to say. Now I offer you one my shorter contributions.

Due to political and historical factors, I have to admit so-called minorities get short shrift. I was always impressed by Pip’s efforts to include other “races” on this site from time to time. I found this postcard on a sales site and had to have it.

(Artist Unknown) - (Untitled) Published by Temperley Industries

(Artist Unknown) – (Untitled) Published by Temperley Industries

To tie together information about Aboriginal girls, I direct readers to another interesting post that Pip made a while back. Australia being the smallest of the continents, I think people lose the sense of how immense it really is with its variety of climate zones. As a result, it is also too easy to lump these people together as though everyone practices the same customs as the natives popularized by the Crocodile Dundee films.

There are two excellent posts (here and here) discussing girlhood and attitudes toward the body in a Novel Activist post. Those not familiar with that blog owe it to themselves to look at Ray Harris’ images and narrative on the subject.

Novel Activist offers social commentary on the portrayal of children in general mostly in the course of pursuing research for his novels.

Ernest Dowson and the Cult of Minnie Terry

Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867-1900) ranks among the best English poets of the last decade of the 19th century, but he remains little known outside a small circle of amateurs. He belonged to a group of young authors who thought of themselves as “the movement” or “the fin de siècle.” They appreciated “art for art’s sake” and viewed literature as a purely aesthetic activity, devoid of any moral or political message, expressing the inner personality of the author and to be appreciated only for its style. In poetry, they were influenced by French Symbolists, in particular Paul Verlaine for whom verses had to be like an incantation, where the musicality of the words matters more than the ideas that they carry. This view was in opposition to the canons of Victorian literature, where any work had to contain a denunciation of sin or injustice and implicitly call for moral or social reform. Hence this group of young writers earned from their detractors the label of “Decadents”.

Dowson’s poetry has a sparkling character, using repetitions of sounds, as in nursery rhymes: “Violets and leaves of vine / We gather and entwine” (A Coronal), or repeated groups of words, as in songs: “But the spring of the soul, the spring of the soul, / Cometh no more for you or for me. / … / But the flowers of the soul, the flowers of the soul, / For you and for me bloom never again.”  (In Spring). It relies also on the contrast obtained by putting together unrelated words: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses” (Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam), “I cried for madder music and for stronger wine” (Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae, the so-called Cynara poem). It contains also many elegant evocations of love and sensuality: “Let’s kiss when kissing pleases / And part when kisses pall” (To His Mistress).

Ernest Dowson contributed to modern culture in quite unexpected ways. He is credited with inventing the word “soccer”, although he spelled it “socca” or “socker” (The Letters of Ernest Dowson, no. 13 and no. 91). Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind owes its title to a sentence in Dowson’s Cynara poem: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind / Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng”. This novel was adapted into a famous 1939 Hollywood film directed by Victor Fleming, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Ernest Dowson suffered from both bad health and shaky mood. As writes Desmond Flower in his Preface to New Letters from Ernest Dowson: “From his parents he inherited two destructive factors. From his mother a deep sense of depression … which caused her to commit suicide. From his father he inherited tuberculosis from which both of them died.” Indeed his father, whose health declined, died in 1894 of a drug overdose, but many suspected a suicide; then his mother took her own life in 1895. Years later his friend Conal O’Riordan wrote in a letter to Flower (see the Introduction to The Letters of Ernest Dowson): “I recall Ernest showing a photograph of his mother to me and I was moved to tears (being barely twenty-one at the time) by something extraordinarily pathetic in her charming face.” The following photograph taken in 1868 (scanned from The Letters of Ernest Dowson) shows the 9 month old Ernest on his mother’s lap, and one can see the deep sorrow in her eyes:

Artist Unknown - Ernest Dowson and mother (1868)

Artist Unknown – Ernest Dowson and mother (1868)

The legal proceedings for the inheritance of his parents took many years, so Ernest could not get his share of it. Although potentially a rich man, in reality he lived rather poorly and he died at age 32 from tuberculosis and neglect.

Now followers of Pigtails in Paint will be interested to learn that Dowson loved and worshipped little girls, and several of his poems center about girl love. He was, to repeat his own words about the lawyer William Clarke Hall (Letters, no. 115), “a charming person & properly a worshipper & devout follower of the most excellent cult of la Fillette.” (“la Fillette” means “the Little Girl” in French; Dowson spent a great deal of his childhood in France, thus he spoke French fluently.)

In 1889, Dowson worked in the family business, a dry dock on the river Thames located in a suburb of London. Once a little girl brought some joy in his tedious management work there (Letters, no. 5): “I have discovered an adorable child here, hailing from one of the three publics that surround us on either side—’which pleases me mightily’ as Pepys would say. It is astonishing how pretty & delicate the children of the proletariate are—when you consider their atrocious after-growth. Of course it is the same in all classes but the contrast is more glaring in Limehouse. This child hath 6 years & is my frequent visitor, especially since she has realised that my desk contains chocolates.”

After office hours he would work as sub-editor and dramatic critic for a moribund journal, The Critic; this position allowed him to get free tickets for any play showing and, as an avid theatre-goer, he took advantage of this opportunity. Thus he could admire child actresses on stage and he expressed his devotion for them in a peculiar way: by throwing chocolates at them. He seems to have corresponded with some of them, maybe with Mabel Vance (Letters, no. 16 and 153), but certainly with “Little Flossie”, a 9-year-old American actress billed as “the American marvel”, to whom he referred in his letters to Arthur Moore as “ma petite Californienne” (Letters, no. 1, 2, 5 and 17).

But his favourite child actress was Minnie Terry. Born in 1882, she belonged to the third generation of the famous Terry family of actors. As a devoted fan, Dowson watched all plays in which she acted, collected her photographs and various souvenirs about her. He nicknamed her “Mignon” (for her role in the play Bootle’s Baby), “la petite” or “la chère petite”. Below is a 1889 photograph of the 7-year-old Minnie, taken for The Theatre, available at the National Portrait Gallery.

Herbert Rose Barraud - Minnie Terry (1889)

Herbert Rose Barraud – Minnie Terry (1889)

The following two photographs, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, show Minnie Terry in the role of Mignon in Bootles’ Baby.

Artist Unknown - Minnie Terry as Mignon (1888) (1)

Artist Unknown – Minnie Terry as Mignon (1888) (1)

Artist Unknown - Minnie Terry as Mignon (1888) (2)

Artist Unknown – Minnie Terry as Mignon (1888) (2)

Another one shows Minnie Terry as Mignon, with actor C.W. Garthorne (Charles Warlhouse Grimston) as Captain Lucy, in Bootle’s Baby.

Elliott & Fry - Minnie Terry as Mignon and C.W. Garthorne as Captain Lucy in Bootle's Baby (1888)

Elliott & Fry – Minnie Terry as Mignon and C.W. Garthorne as Captain Lucy in Bootle’s Baby (1888)

This picture of the two, from the National Portrait Gallery, is probably also from the same play.

Elliott & Fry - C.W. Garthorne and Minnie Terry (undated)

Elliott & Fry – C.W. Garthorne and Minnie Terry (c1888)

Edit: There is an illustrated version of the book on which this play is based available on the Internet Archive site.  There was also a silent film released in 1914, in which the “Baby” was played by Margaret O’Meara. – Pip

Dowson wrote in The Critic dated 25 May 1889 a review of the play A White Lie (see Appendix A of Letters), in which he gave a dithyrambic eulogy of her role as Daisy Desmond, praising her perfection and spontaneity—even saying that at a critical moment she saved the play from the false note of some adult actor. Here is a photograph of Minnie Terry as Daisy Desmond, from the National Portrait Gallery.

Elliott & Fry - Minnie Terry as Daisy Desmond (1889)

Elliott & Fry – Minnie Terry as Daisy Desmond (1889)

Finally, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, a picture of Minnie Terry in the play On a Doorstep.

Alfred Ellis - Minnie Terry in On a Doorstep (undated)

Alfred Ellis – Minnie Terry in On a Doorstep (c1890)

A famous contemporary of Dowson, also an avid theatre-goer, did not share his enthusiasm for Minnie Terry. According to Hugues Lebailly’s article “Charles Dodgson and the Victorian Cult of the Child“, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) noted in his Diaries on Monday 2 July 1888 that he felt “a little disappointed” with Minnie Terry’s ‘Mignon’ in Bootle’s Baby, deploring that she “recite[d] her speeches, not very clearly, without looking at the person addressed”.

In the summer of 1889, an amendment was proposed to the Protection of Children bill that would have banned employing children under 10 years as actors on stage. Charles Dodgson wrote an article entitled “Stage Children” in The Theatre of 2 September 1889, explaining that playing on stage was a way for poor children to earn some money for their family while having fun at the same time. He “went on suggesting a long list of sensible measures that would secure their schooling, as well as their physical and moral health and safety, most of which were taken up in the final version of the amendment passed later that year” (Lebailly). On the other hand, Dowson wrote in The Critic of 17 August 1889 an article entitled “The Cult of the Child”, in which he stated that children under ten have by nature superior acting capacities, while among adult actors such talents are the exception. He cited Minnie Terry’s role in Bootle’s Baby as an example.

To Dowson, Minnie Terry represented the perfect model for the little girl, as he wrote (Letters, no. 68): “I’ve been kissing my hand aimlessly from the window to une petite demoiselle of my acquaintance—also par exemple a Minnie & presque aussi gentille as her prototype. This has temporarily revived me”.

His devotion to little girls was exclusive, it did not extend to teenagers or adult women. In his correspondence, he expressed his fear of girls growing up into adulthood (New Letters, no. D1, Letters, no. 53). In 1889, he tried “experiments” of platonic love with two teenage girls: first Lena, a barmaid, then Bertha van Raalte, the daughter of a tobacconist. But these relations did not last long; Dowson was not really motivated.

Dowson showed a rather cynical attitude towards adult women; he seemed to have a purely sexual interest in them, which he likened to debauchery and drinking alcohol (Letters, no. 4, 46, and 68). This shows also in his poetry. For instance, in the Cynara poem, one reads “Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine” and “Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet”. And in the later poem Rondeau, he rejects the “wine-stained lip” of a woman for the “white roses of virginity”. Indeed, it is probable that many of his sexual encounters happened with prostitutes or women he met in bars.

Being fed up with women, he finally confided to Arthur Moore his resolution (Letters, no. 78): “Methinks I will swear off wine & women & weeds & lates hours & confine myself to the writing of the r.o & the cult of Minnie Terry.” (Probably “the r.o” refers to the novel he was writing with Moore). Here are two pictures of Minnie Terry as a kind of romantic pin-up, typical of the Victorian child cult.

Elliott & Fry - Minnie Terry with a dog (undated)

Elliott & Fry – Minnie Terry with a dog (c1889)

Artist Unknown - Minnie Terry (undated)

Artist Unknown – Minnie Terry (c1888)

However, within a few months, fate would have Dowson giving up his cult of Minnie Terry. In November 1889, he entered a cheap Polish restaurant held by Joseph Foltinowicz, located at 19 Sherwood Street in Soho, at the back of the present Regent Palace Hotel. “I discovered it. It is cheap; the cuisine is fair; I am the whole clientele, and there is a little Polish demoiselle therein (Minnie at 5st 7—not quite that) whom it is a pleasure to sit & look at.” (Letters, no. 73) The “little Polish demoiselle” was Adelaide, the proprietor’s daughter, aged eleven and a half years, whom he nicknamed “Missie” or “Missy”. He would soon fall in love with her and, quite unexpectedly, he would continue to love her as she grew into her teens (cf. the poem Growth). Although she rejected his marriage proposal and eventually married another man in 1897, his feelings for her did not abate. That is how Ernest Dowson became the great poet of love that we now know. This is a very long story that will be told on another occasion.

References and further readings:

See also: What’s in a Name? Charles Dodgson

More material on Ernest Dowson in Agapeta.