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How the Artist Madeline Green (1884-1947) became a Financial Goal

Carole and Peter Walker have been clients of Chesterton House since 2007. Their discussion around goals as part of creating their Financial Plan led to a quest to learn more about Peter's Great-Aunt, Madeline Green, which led to lots on interesting experiences for them both. Carole tells the story....

Writing in ‘lockdown’ in these uncertain times with the very many worries about the future and financial security, it probably seems frivolous to write about Great Aunt Madeline and her art. However, she is so much part of our lives that I hope you will forgive us for telling you more about her and how we have met three of our goals in our financial planning.

One of our financial goals in 2009 was that we wanted to hold an exhibition of the art we had acquired of the artist Madeline Green, Peter’s Great Aunt. We had bought a number of her etchings and a few watercolours and were aware that a number of the family had several items of Madeline Green’s artwork.

We had also kept track of items that were sold at auction and through the auction houses were able to make contact with the purchasers. At that time we were aware that four art galleries in the UK owned a Madeline Green oil painting (there are in fact five, and one in Australia). We approached Dulwich Picture Gallery who said they would be happy to loan their painting, ‘The Chenille Net’ for an exhibition.

Finding a venue didn’t prove to be the headache we thought it would be. Madeline Green spent most of her life living at 40 The Mall, Ealing so we contacted the Pitzhanger Gallery in Ealing and after seeing our portfolio of Green’s work were more than happy for us to help organise the exhibition, which was very well received and ran for three weeks in Spring 2011. It was a tremendous learning curve for both Peter and I.

The sheer logistics of collecting paintings from family members and delivering, and returning them, to Pitzhanger was quite challenging! Neither of us had done anything like it before.

With the IT wizardry and design abilities of my nephew, Elliot Banks, we also put together a catalogue ‘Moments in Time’. The catalogue, with a brief introduction giving details of Madeline Green’s family and artistic background, contained details of most of the paintings in the exhibition, including some of the artwork/etchings we had collected together with items loaned by the extended family as well as the ‘Chenille Net’ lent by Dulwich Picture Gallery. The exhibits were in oils, watercolour, pen and ink, charcoal and aquatints and showed a variety of themes – self-portraits of Madeline in a variety of dress, horses, dancers/dancing groups and animals.

For a few years, we rested on our laurels. We went on collecting Great Aunt Madeline’s work when we could, and for some reason, more of her work appeared for sale in the larger and lesser-known auction houses. We also acquired a watercolour through Chesterton House. I had written an article for the Chesterton House Newsletter following our exhibition in 2011.

Someone looking for information on Madeline Green came across the article and contacted Chesterton House asking to be put in touch with us. He wanted to sell a watercolour. We agreed on a price. The ‘brown envelope’ passed hands in the car park of Raglan Castle and we acquired the painting. This was not the first time we had exchanged an envelope of cash for Madeline Green’s works. We acquired several etchings, pen and ink and charcoal drawings from the boot of a dealer’s car one Saturday lunchtime in an exceedingly busy Sainsbury’s car park near Plymouth with shoppers looking quizzically on.

I also undertook further research trying to find out as much information as I could on Madeline Green’s life and work. Madeline lived with her sister Gladys. Neither of them married. Madeline died in 1947 and Gladys in 1951. Sadly following Gladys’s death, when the family cleared their home in Sloley, Norfolk, none of Madeline’s or Gladys’s paperwork, or diaries if they wrote them, were kept.

When filling in our financial planning forms in 2016 another goal stated that we would like to undertake a second exhibition of Great Aunt Madeline’s art. We had acquired more of her work and had found considerably more information about her, and with the help of a friend in Wymeswold were able to put together a Wikipedia page on Madeline Green. Another goal was the possibility of putting together a book on the subject.

Our efforts in collecting Madeline Green’s work have not always gone well. On one occasion a painting came up for sale at a well-known London auction house. The estimate was fairly reasonable and within our budget. We met our elder daughter, who lives in London, and attended the auction.

The lot was one of the last lots in the sale. We realised that most of the paintings were going at the lower end of the estimates, and by the time our lot was coming up for sale the room had nearly cleared and it was obvious that there would be no more telephone bidders. We thought our luck was in. However, when the bidding started there were a few bids online and then just us and one gentleman standing in the back left-hand corner behind us. A bidding war ensued.

We went well past the lower estimate and rapidly went well above the higher estimate. We were one bid below our agreed budget when the gentleman stopped bidding. It transpired he was an art dealer who admired Madeline Green’s work and had clients that also appreciated her art. He had originally decided to go on to another auction having bought early on in the sale.

However, he thought he would stay and bid on the Madeline Green painting – for, like us, he had seen how few people remained in the room and thought he would get the painting at a good price! We cringed when we came to pay and realised that not only had we nearly reached the top end of our budget, but the Auction House fees had increased considerably too. However, we do not regret it. It is a painting we really love and enjoy.

As the Pitzhanger Gallery were no longer holding semi-permanent exhibitions we approached Gunnersbury Park and Museum near Ealing. They were keen to have an exhibition of Madeline Green’s work. The exhibition was opened on the 11th February this year and was due to close on the 25th May. The coronavirus put pay to that. The Museum was closed from the beginning of March.

However, the Museum plans to extend the closing date of the exhibition once the Museum reopens once again. This second exhibition ‘Reflections of an Artist, Madeline Green’ shows a wider selection of work than was possible in the earlier exhibition.

I was also able to put together a book with the same title. Rupert Maas, the Picture Dealer, Writer and Broadcaster, with a special

interest in the work of British women painters, and another admirer of Madeline Green, also kindly wrote the Foreword to the book. He concluded: “Madeline Green’s pictures are haunting, backlit visions from a strange, bloodless interior world, painted exquisitely with wry humour. There is no one else like her. Where has she been all our lives?”

Where indeed? Madeline is one of many female artists of the period that have been overlooked. We feel her paintings deserve to be better recognised. She is classified as a ‘figurative and modern artist’ yet many of her paintings are delightful depictions of animals, particularly horses. Her artwork is unique, and she often used herself as a model, dressed as a woman or a male figure (although you are always aware that it is a female model dressed as a man).

Her art is very subtly done using a body colour underneath and glazed with pure colour and oil. Her oil paintings are very thinly and exquisitely done. She was also very adept using aquatint and etching techniques, which we believe were her bread and butter art. Her watercolours are magic. We have been very fortunate that our financial situation and the goals we set ourselves allowed us to bring Madeline Green’s work to a wider audience.

Carole Walker

Great Niece to Madeline Green by marriage

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