Artistic connections?

So many potential blogposts are racing around my head that nothing has been written down for months.  Today I came across an interesting connection and thought I’d write it up here while I remember.

In preparation for a talk I shall be giving in Ghent, Belgium, next month, I have been looking at the Belgian artists and musicians who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War, and the homes they lived in whilst here.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Marie ENSOR, the sister of artist James Ensor, was among those who took refuge in Tunbridge Wells, along with her daughter Alex, son-in-law Richard DAVELUY and grandson Jules. From November 1916 Mme ENSOR and family lived in part of 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, one of the properties rented by the Committee.

Searches in the British Newspaper Archive and of Censuses on Ancestry.co.uk showed that this address was occupied in 1901 by retired surgeon, Dr George ABBOT [sic], and his wife Edith, an “ex-drawing teacher” who were also “of 2 Rusthall Park”.  By 1911 they were living at the latter address, but their name was still linked to the Upper Grosvenor Road house as is evidenced, I believe,  by this advertisement from the 1916 10 27 Chambers to rent 33 Upper Grosvenor

only a month before the DAVELUY-ENSOR family moved in.  I wonder whether they rented all the available rooms or just the flat?

And who was Dr George ABBOT? His obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 16 January 1925 revealed him to be a well-known and highly-respected local resident, retired ophthalmic surgeon, former Town Councillor, and (in some people’s eyes) property speculator, who was also

  • the founder of an eye and ear dispensary for the poor at Sheffield House on The Pantiles which led eventually to the establishment of the Eye and Ear Hospital of which he was Hon. Surgeon 1878-1896;
  • the instigator of Technical Classes in the basement of the hospital in 1890 which eventually grew to such an extent that the Technical Institute was opened at the foot of Mount Sion before being taken over by the Borough Council and moving to new premises first in Calverley Road and then, in 1902, Monson Road;
  • a geologist and founder of the Tunbridge Wells Natural History Society in the early 1880s, and later the South-Eastern Union of Scientific Societies;
  • and most of all, through the Natural History Society, responsible for the establishment and endowment of the local Museum, then at 18 Crescent Road (1).

1919 Museum_18 Crescent Road

“Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery was created by the Tunbridge Wells Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1885, founded by Dr George Abbott. The Museum
was adopted by the Borough Council in 1918, mainly due to the campaigning of Abbott – the Museum’s first curator.”  Anne Nielsen, Museum Visitor Services Assistant, Cultural & Learning Hub Newsletter, August 2017
In 1922, a portrait of him painted by Charles Tattershall DODD was presented to the Borough in recognition of his public services.
Dodd II, Charles Tattershall, 1861-1951; Dr George Abbott
Dr George Abbott by Charles Tattershall Dodd (c) the artist’s estate; photo credit Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery (from ArtUK.org)

His artist wife was the daughter of pioneering photographer Henry Peach ROBINSON (1830-1901). (2)


I’m not sure what the relevance is to the Belgian refugees, other than that Dr ABBOTT was one of their landlords, but I rather like the idea that there is a connection between the founder of the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and this part of the town’s history.

And maybe the ABBOTT family’s artistic connections made them the perfect landlords for the family of another artist…
Or perhaps it was just coincidence!

Note : There will be an illustrated talk about Tunbridge Wells Museum and its Collection by Dr Ian Beavis, the Museum’s Research Curator, on Tuesday 27 February, 2 – 3pm
Discover more about the history of the Museum and its key collections in this fascinating talk. The Museum holds collections of regional and national importance including outstanding collections of art, natural history, archaeology, photography, craft, toys and much more.
£3 (Friends of the Museum) and £4 (Non-Friends) (payable by cash only on the day)
Booking essential, please contact: events@friendstwmlag.org


(1) In the premises which had been the office of the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) 1910-1918 and the NUWSS-run War Relief Clothing Depot 1914-1917 – another coincidence!
(2) Read a biography of Henry Peach ROBINSON on Robert Leggat’s History of Photography website

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A school assembly, the WILLEMS family Part 2, and a sculpture

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On Monday I spoke to the morning assembly at Beechwood Sacred Heart School about the Belgian refugees and in particular the WILLEMS family – Christiane  and Clementine WILLEMS, aged 8 1/2 and 7 respectively, were the first pupils to arrive at the school when it opened on 2nd February 1915.

Beechwood Sacred Heart School first school photograph : Are these two little girls Christiane and Clementine WILLEMS?beechwood-1st-school-photo_2

Preparing for the talk, I realised that the next instalment of the WILLEMS family’s story is long overdue, and also that I missed the 101st anniversary of the presentation to the town by Tunbridge Wells’s Belgian Colony of the wonderful life-size bronze bust of Mayor Charles Whitbourn Emson on 22nd September 1915 (1)

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Bronze of Mayor Charles Whitbourn Emson by Paul Van De Kerckhove (1915)

This bust was made by Belgian sculptor Paul VAN DE KERCKHOVE (spelling varies) in 1915 while he was staying in Tunbridge Wells.  He undertook the work free of charge, and local artist Alexander H. KIRK (2) lent his studio on Upper Cumberland Walk to the artist.

Paul Armand Van De Kerckhove (1876-?) arrived in Tunbridge Wells from Brussels in September or October 1914, and by 1917 had moved on to London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917, 1918 and 1919.

After consulting Census records in Brussels, I believe he was the son of sculptor J. Antoine VAN DE KERCKHOVE “dit NELSON” (c1849-?) but I have yet to prove it…

The bust was presented to the town of Tunbridge Wells with great pomp and ceremony at the Great Hall by President of the Club Albert, Professor Joseph WILLEMS.  There were speeches and then a concert at which leading Belgian artistes performed, not least Monsieur Jean DELVILLE (Wikipedia link), himself a refugee in London, who recited “several of his dramatic and patriotic poems” (Kent & Sussex Courier 25 September 1915).(3)

“It was the whole of Great Britain which rose vibrating with indignation at the violation of our peaceful land – it is she who called, and took under her protection, the uprooted inhabitants of our unfortunate Belgium.” Professor Joseph WILLEMS

Professor WILLEMS made a most eloquent speech at the presentation ceremony, and I offer here the translation which was published in full in the Kent and Sussex Courier on  25 September 1915 :

“The Belgian Colony feel a profound joy in being able to express today in a special manner the sentiments which animate the hearts of all its members in regard to the hospitality of England. The Belgians are glad, Mr. Mayor, to express their gratitude for the persevering self-denial with which you have devoted yourself to their interests in the painful trials they have experiences. You have in Tunbridge Wells organised a scheme carried out in a most generous and considerate way, assisting thereby a very large number of Belgians. You have maintained this work, not during some weeks or some months only (the extreme limit to which Belgium assigned her exile), but for more than a year already. My compatriots will carry away with them, as I shall, the touching remembrance of the courtesy with which you have met all our requests, the excellence of your advice, and the unvarying kindness with which you have always received us.

“In the thanks which we address to you, Mr. Mayor, we associate all those who have supported your initiative in so wonderfully generous a manner, and who continue to aid you in the task you have so nobly undertaken. We thank in the warmest manner the Belgian Refugees’ Committee which has seconded your efforts with so much tact and devotion. Their many delicate attentions, their kindly encouraging visits, each of us recalls with emotion. Our thanks also are proffered to your colleagues of the Town Hall whose obliging kindness, often put to the proof, was never found lacking; to your physicians, your surgeons, your nurses, whose devotion has called forth our deep admiration; to your fellow-citizens, who have provided us with places for re-union and amusement; to all these generous hearts, who by a thousand considerate attentions have alleviated our sufferings – in a word, to all the inhabitants of Tunbridge Wells who have done their best to soften our lot, we say with all our hearts “We thank you”.

“But, ladies and gentlemen, that which we have before our eyes in Tunbridge Wells is but an isolated example of the magnificent work which the whole of Great Britain has presented to us. Yes, it is to her our deep gratitude goes forth. It was the whole of Great Britain which rose vibrating with indignation at the violation of our peaceful land – it is she who called, and took under her protection the uprooted inhabitants of our unfortunate Belgium.

“Finally, we are proud of being able to express our feelings in a durable and appropriate memorial. We have had the good fortune of possessing amongst us a talented artist, who, with delightful spontaneity, offered to undertake a work which the Belgian Colony could never have ventured to propose to him. Sprung from a family of artists, Monsieur Vande Kerckhove, by his individual genius, has attained the highest rank in his profession. His works are amongst those which enforce attention, and you will see for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, that in the execution of the bust of the Mayor the artist has proved himself worthy of his high reputation. This work, Mr. Mayor, we express the hope of seeing placed in the Council Chamber of your Town Hall. It will be a public proof of our gratitude, a souvenir of the stirring times in which our countries have aided each other; and after our return to our devastated but indomitable land, freed from the odious barbarian yoke, when any of you cast your eyes on this gift, you will recall with gratification the signification of this bronze, and will give a thought to the exiles of today whom you comforted so greatly in the time of their distress. In the name of the Belgian Colony, and as a token of our gratitude, I present to the town of Tunbridge Wells the bust of its respected Mayor.”


(1)  The bust is on display in the lobby of the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall. Do go and see it.
(2) Alexander Horace KIRK and his wife Constance MORTIMORE lived at Brook Cottage, Upper Cumberland Walk, and were both artists.  Alexander Kirk painted a notable portrait of  W.C.CRIPPS in 1914 on the occasion of Mr Cripps’s Silver Jubilee as Town Clerk. Constance Mortimore described herself as a “miniature painter” on the 1911 Census. Their only son, John Alexander Carnegie, tragically died at the age of 8 on 29 January 1918.
(3) The Mayor also received a commemorative album signed by all members of the Belgian community of Tunbridge Wells and district – no doubt similar to those presented to Amelia and Louisa Scott and the other ladies of the committee in 1916.

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Painter James ENSOR and Tunbridge Wells…

An entry in the Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 caught my eye early on : that of a Madame ENSOR from Ostend.

Was there a connection to Ostend resident, the painter James ENSOR (1860-1949), son of an English father and Belgian mother?  His mother perhaps?  An aunt?  Research revealed that he himself stayed in Ostend throughout the war, and that his mother died there in 1915.  So not her.

However, his sister Marie (‘Mietche’), used the name ‘Madame ENSOR’ following a failed marriage to Alfred John Taen-Hee-Tsen.  Could this be her?  It was known that she was in England during the First World War.

And there was more : on the same page was an Augusta BOOGAERTS of 54 rue de Theux, Brussels.  That was the names of James ENSOR’s life-long close friend (some thought mistress) whom he called “La Sirène” and whom he painted on a number of occasions.  And she lived at 54 rue de Theux in Brusssels…

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Augusta BOOGAERTS, 54 rue de Theux, Bruxelles, and Madame ENSOR, 31 Rampe de Flandre, Ostende

And digging a little more I found that Mietche’s daughter Mariette, known as Alex, had married a Richard Jules DAVELUY in 1908 – and that was the name of the Secretary to the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells –

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Monsieur R.J. DAVELUY – later in the album signing his name as Rich. Jules DAVELUY.  And alongside his inscription were Alex and their son Jules.

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‘Par votre accueil hospitalier Mesdemoiselles vous avez acquis notre plus profonde gratitude‘ Rich Jules DAVELUY, 27 rue de Flandre, Ostende.

Must be them…

27 rue de Flandre is now the Ensor Museum in Ostend.  I visited it last month : what a treat!  (And also a fabulous exhibition at the MuZEE of works by the two great Ostend artists, ENSOR and Leon SPILLIAERT….)

Next stop the Archives in Brussels and the Refugees Registration documents, where I found the confirmation I was after (apologies for the blurred photos…) :

marie-ensor
Mme Marie Ensor, 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, with Monsieur & Madame Richard J Daveluy and their son Jules
James Ensor's niece 'Alex'
Mariette Alexandrine Jeanne Taen Hee Tseu Daveluy, 27 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells
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Marie Ensor of 31 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

Marie ENSOR and her daughter ‘Alex’ had lived with the painter and were very close.  Alex was only 15 when she married Casino croupier Richard DAVELUY.  Her uncle opposed the marriage and there was a falling-out which lasted for a number of years.

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James ENSOR Family Tree with “La Sirene” included…
boogaerts
Augusta Melanie Boogaerts of 54 Rue de Theux, Bruxelles, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

James ENSOR met 18yr old Augusta BOOGAERTS, daughter of an Ostende hotelier, in 1888 in his mother’s shop (where Augusta was working for a short time), and so began a life-long friendship.  The story goes that his mother opposed their friendship, and even after her death, they never lived together.

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‘Portrait de Mademoiselle B.’ (1905) James Ensor – renamed ‘James Ensor et son amie’ in 1920

And my favourite :

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L’Appel de la Sirene (La Baignade) James Ensor 1896

COMING SOON to London : An ENSOR Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, 29th October 2016-29th January 2017.  Very excited!

“The theatrical, the satirical and the macabre come together in arresting fashion in the art of James Ensor. Curated by Luc Tuymans, this exhibition will present a truly original body of work, seen through the eyes of one of today’s leading painters.”

Royal Adacemy of Arts website