elen Allingham (née Paterson), the only woman to illustrate the serialised novels of Thomas Hardy, was born on 26 September, 1848, near Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, the daughter a rural physician, and was brought up in Altrincham, Cheshire. The family settled in Birmingham after the death of her father in 1862. She studied at the Birmingham School of Design under Rainbach, and in 1867 went to London to study first at the Female School of Art, and then at the Royal Academy Schools, where she was strongly influenced by Foster and Fred Walker (a noted illustrator who was the original of Little Billee in George Du Maurier's Bohemian novel Trilby), and the Pre- Raphaelite painters Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Frederick Leighton.
While in London, she stayed with her aunt, Laura Herford, who had been instrumental in opening the Royal Academy Schools to women. Allingham's initial career was as a black-and-white illustrator, her first success being in the illustrated magazine Once a Week, followed by various children's books for Cassells, plates for that firm's magazine, and London Society. According to The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, she illustrated a number of children's books, including Mrs. Ewing's novels — perhaps Mrs. Overtheway's Remembrances (1869), The Land of Lost Toys(1870), Timothy's Shoes (1871),A Flat Iron for a Farthing (1872), The Peace Egg (1873), and Lob-Lie-By- The-Fire (1874). The remainder of Mrs. Ewing's thirty-two children's books appeared during the period when Helen Paterson Allingham had withdrawn from illustrating books altogether.
Despite the pathos she injected into her representations of children, she was overshadowed by her friend and fellow illustrator Kate Greenaway. Indeed, the two had trained together at Heartherley's, but did not renew their youthful friendship until 1888, when they met at a party held by Lord Tennyson and his wife at their London residence in Belgrave Square. The following year, Greenaway holidayed with the Allinghams on the Isle of Wight.
Kate and Helen Allingham, in whose work certain similarities were to become apparent, took to the country on frequent painting expeditions and became the greatest of friends. More and more Kate became interested in easel painting and concerned about exhibition material, finding with Helen Allingham some of her favourite subjects — red brick cottages and landscapes in Surrey and Buckinghamshire. (Holme 134)
From 1869, Helen Paterson Allingham had supplied illustrations for the London engraver Joseph Swain, and exhibited her early watercolours at the Dudley Gallery, building a strong reputation. In 1869, she was one of the founding members of staff on The Graphic, one of a new breed of large-scale, high-quality illustrated weeklies.The Graphic in 1876 separately published two of her drawings for its special Graphic Portfolio. From 1874 she was a regular contributor to the Illustrated London News and the Cornhill Magazine — including full-page plates and initial vignettes for the serialised version of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), commissioned by editor Leslie Stephen without Hardy's knowledge. In that year she married the Anglo-Irish poet and intimate of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Allingham, whose book The Music Masters (1855) had been one of those illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelites Rossetti and Millais, who also illustrated his Day and Night Songs (1854). Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, in 1824, William Allingham was fully 24 years her elder, being 50 at the time of his marriage while she was just 26.
In June,1874, William Allingham had succeeded James Froude as editor of Fraser's Magazine, and on 22 August he married Helen Paterson. His detailed diary of Victorian London halts just prior to his marriage, and begins again in October, when he and Helen are back in London, at their new home, 12 Trafalgar Square, Chelsea. Since her marriage occurred as she was completing her graphic work for the Hardy novel, the November and December illustrations do not bear the initials "HP" but the signature "H. Allingham." In a letter to James Osgood dated 6 Dec., 1888, and again in a letter to Edmund Gosse dated 25 July 1906, Hardy described her as "the best illustrator I ever had" (Letters, 1: 181 and 3: 218). Returning from St. Juliot, Cornwall, where he had spent Christmas with his fiancée, Emma Gifford, Thomas Hardy had bought the January, 1874, edition of The Cornhill, and had been delighted to find Far from the Madding Crowd as the lead item, prefaced by the first of Helen Paterson's excellent illustrations. According to Paul Turner's recent biography of Hardy, "When he met her four months later, her 'peculiar charm' was enough to make him wish, at sixty-six [i. e., in 1906] that she had married him instead of William Allingham" (43). Certainly, aged 34, he was considerably closer to Helen in age than was William Allingham. Apparently, so pleased was he with her work on Far from the Madding Crowd that Hardy approached Helen Allingham directly regarding the illustration of A Laodicean for the inaugural edition of the European version of Harper's (4 June 1880). The next day in a letter now in the Dorset County Museum she replied that, having entirely given up book illustration, she had to decline "TH's 'flattering invitation'" (Letters 1: 74).
Following her marriage to the renowned poet and member of the Rossetti circle, freed from the necessity of earning a living, she turned more to watercolour, achieving associate status in the Royal Watercolour Society ( A. R. W. S.) in 1875, and becoming the first woman to achieve full membership (R. W. S.) in 1890, shortly after her husband's death on 18 November, 1889. Her marriage had admitted her to Britain's preeminent literary circle of the age, which included Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Her drawing of Carlyle in his garden in Cheyne Walk, with his pipe and cat, is well known by reproductions. When Ruskin met the Helen Allingham at the Old Water-Colour Society's Gallery in 1877, where the drawing was hung, he asked her why she painted Carlyle like a lamb when he ought to be painted like the lion that he was. [Hardie 113]
Of her watercolours, Ralph Peacock wrote that "Mrs. Allingham claims quite a special place for herself in any sketch-survey of the work of English women painters. Few women have shown a more definitely English sympathy in landscape than she has." She produced rustic countryside scenes, with cottages and village people, in a sympathetic style avoiding overt sentimentality. As Arlene Jackson notes in her chapter "Hardy and His Illustrators," "Beside the charm and peace of her rural scenes, she also brought to her treatment of the English cottage a fine accuracy of detail" (34). Frequently reproduced, especially on late-twentieth-century collectors' plates, her sunny images of Surrey's and Kent's green lanes, quaint cottages, and idealised woodlands were and remain immensely popular.
Looking at her work it is difficult to realise that she used nine colours only, five of them being yellows: her palette . . . consisted of cobalt, rose madder, aureolin, yellow ochre, raw sienna, sepia, permanent yellow, light red and orange cadmium. (Hardie 113)
However, her studies abroad, such as in Venice, seem to have been less successful. She was also a portraitist, among her sitters being historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (the 1879 picture is in Edinburgh's National Portrait Gallery), whom she had met as a result of her marrying William Allingham. Watercolours by Helen Paterson Allingham are to be found in the Birmingham Museum. She died in Haslemere, Surrey, on 28 September, 1926.
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children's LiteratureOxford: Oxford UP, 1984.
The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy. Volume One: 1840-1892; Volume Three: 1903- 1908, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, 1982.
Hardie, Martin. Water-colour Painting in Britain, Vol. 3: The Victorian Period, ed. Dudley Snelgrove, Jonathan Mayne, and Basil Taylor. London: B. T. Batsford, 1968.
Holme, Brian. The Kate Greenaway Book. Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1976.
Jackson, Arlene M. Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.
Turner, Paul. The Life of Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, 2001.
William Allingham: The Diaries, ed. H. Allingham & D. Radford, intro. John Julius Norwich. London: Folio Society, 1990.
Last modified 22 February 2007