Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards met when they were students and they became life-long friends who lived and worked together as artists for sixty years. Much of this time was spent in North Devon and this collection of watercolours, which is held at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, is a testament to the love they both felt for this particular corner of England.
They were both parts of the generation of emancipated young women around 1914 who were able to take advantage of professional training and become part of the main tradition of British painting. Their artistic life was not in any way parochial, as the wide range of paintings from the Lake District, Yorkshire, Wales and London will testify, and works by one of both of them can be found in major collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Wales and the Abbot Hall Art Gallery at Kendal.
Although they belong in the record close to those like Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell, without the notoriety, their work takes its place firmly within the long tradition of romantic-topographical painting in Britain. Neither attempted to follow the many artistic ‘movements’ of the time, and their styles show the continuing vitality of primarily 19th century artistic conventions into the 20th century. In other words, they painted what they saw, with affection, tremendous respect for detail and above all with an eye for the beauty underlying everything that they recorded.
During the 1929 exhibition Snowdon, by the Pen-Y Gwryd Track and Mountain Lake, North Wales were selected and show how much painting tours with Mary Stella Edwards were influencing her work. Her last selection in 1932 saw the more local painting In Cheddar Gorge exhibited which was also, in the same year, exhibited at an exhibition in the Public Art Galleries, Brighton.
Judith Ackland travelled on sketching and painting tour with Mary Stella Edwards, on several occasions, mostly before the outbreak of the Second World War. The archive shows photographs of Judith painting in full weather gear, as well as climbing up mountains – both in Wales and the Lake District.
Before her death in 1971 Judith and Mary exhibited multiple times at many shows in London, including the New English Art Club, the Alpine Club and Society of Women Artists and many others. Watercolours exhibited by Judith included images from sketching tours, but more often included local views like Clovelly Quay or Summer Afternoon N Devon.