Nostalgia by Alison Bailey

There has been recent criticism of the UK government for being ‘ageist’ amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Dame Joan Collins joined the debate in her column for The Spectator, saying that government policy was “utter discrimination against the hardy individuals who have no health issues” and “more harmful, was bolstering the existing belief among the general public that the old should keep out of everyone’s way”.

Inspired by this extraordinary 86-year-old I thought I would tell you some more about artist Louise Jopling’s amazing life. She only moved here permanently at the age of 76 and made a remarkable contribution to our local community during the remaining 14 years of her life.

A regular visitor to the area, in 1919 she bought Manor Farm (now The Manor) on North Road, Chesham Bois with her third husband, George Rowe. It was obvious from the start however that she had no intention of coming here to retiring. Arts and Crafts architects Forbes and Tate were immediately commissioned to convert the largest barn, now a separate property, into a spacious artist’s studio so that Louise could continue to paint.

That same year she founded the Chiltern Club of Arts which had a major impact on the social life of our community and continued until 2009. She was president of the Bucks Art Society and in 1932 opened a permanent art gallery for the society in the Griffin Hotel in Amersham.

The 81 paintings on display included her own, Flora. What a shame such a gallery no longer exists! In addition to painting, she also continued to write. She had already published numerous articles, stories, a book on painting, Hints for Amateurs and two books of poetry which are still in print. At Manor Farm she wrote her memoirs, Twenty Years of My Life 1867 – 1887 which were published in 1925.

What an extraordinary life Louise Jopling led! It deserves to be far better known, particularly as she was one of the most famous women in Britain in her day, achieving both critical and popular acclaim. As a professional artist she led a remarkably independent life and was the main bread winner in her first two marriages. Louise was one of an elite group of female artists, including Emily Mary Osborn and Elizabeth Butler who achieved public success at art institutions and whose activities were closely followed in all the leading newspapers and magazines. Louise and her second husband, Joe Jopling often featured in the society pages.

Louise was regularly photographed and commended for her fashionable dress and social success. Portraits of Louise by James Whistler (now in Glasgow University’s Hunterian Art Gallery) and by Sir John Everett Millais (now in the National Portrait Gallery) added to her fame.

The interest in successful artists and writers at that time was similar to today’s fascination with reality TV stars and celebrities. Louise’s circle included other artists such as Kate Perugini, the daughter of Charles Dickens, and Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter, who was an accomplished sculptor. The actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry were part of the same social circle, as was the writer Oscar Wilde. At a party at the Joplings’ house in 1883 Oscar Wilde and James Whistler had this famous exchange after a witticism by Whistler, “How I wish I had said that” remarked Wilde. “You will, Oscar, you will” replied Whistler.

Louise had connections with the Rothschild family. Her first husband, Francis Romer worked as secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild in Paris. Her talent was recognised by the Baroness who saw some of her pencil sketches and encouraged her to study painting.

Even though her husband was sacked by the Baron in 1869 because of his compulsive gambling, Louise Jopling remained on good terms with the family. A frequent guest at Sir Anthony de Rothschild’s house at Aston Clinton, she became close friends with his daughters Constance and Annie, whose portraits she painted.

House parties at Aston Clinton included politicians, artists, musicians, and royalty, and led to many lucrative commissions. Constance encouraged her to rent a cottage locally as a weekend retreat and Louise’s love of the Buckinghamshire countryside dates from this period.

Her 1877 painting of Sir Nathan de Rothschild, in the uniform of the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, can be seen today on the staircase at Hughenden Manor. Her portrait of Sir Nathan’s daughter, Evelina, is currently on loan to Waddesdon Manor. Her work is in many public collections including the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight and the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth.

Throughout her long-life Louise Jopling encouraged and supported other women artists. She founded her own art school for women and in 1902, she made history by being the first woman to be elected to the Royal Society of British Artists. Louise was also a committed campaigner for Votes for Women.

In 1935, two years after her death, the Chiltern Club of Arts held their annual exhibition in Amersham Town Hall. The exhibition included nearly 40 of Louise’s paintings. In place of honour was Millais’s portrait of her, which had been given as a christening present to his godson, Louise’s youngest son, Lindsay Millais Jopling. According to the local press of May 3, 1935 “the gem of the collection was a self-portrait, loaned by the Manchester Art Gallery”.

You can read more about Louise Jopling’s remarkable life on Amersham Museum’s website Please get in touch if you are lucky enough to own a Louise Jopling painting. Many were sold in our area.