Letter from Gertrude Crompton to Frances Hodgkins

30 May 1909
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30 May 1909
Pool House Westhall Hill Burford Oxon May 30th 1909
Dearest Sweetheart
What will you think of me? It is ages & eons since I wrote. I rather waited to get yr Montreuil address which you never gave me. But now I think I will send this to the poste restante & trust to your getting it. I wonder so much how you like Montreuil. You may be a little disappointed in it perhaps. I was at first & only discovered the really nice things outside Montreuil just as I was coming away. Take a bike and go to a little village south east a short two miles & a little off the main road. I can’t remember its name at this moment but you go out through the town and marketplace along the high road & turn left very soon. Don’t divulge the place to all yr pupils bad & good for it is a quiet spot to be much treasured & is full of fine material in the evening. A grand line of trees divides the little low houses and a great mass of farm buildings at the end. Mr Mayor divulged it to me & Mr Garstin & we 3 used to slip away in the evening after ordinary hours. You will have been revelling in the past fine weather & I thought of you enjoying the sunsets from the ramparts. They are very fine at Montreuil I remember. I wish I could hold your hand & watch them too. Think of me then. I see the sun go down here every evening at 8.15 or 20 when I am down in the water meadows painting often till 9 o’clock. Oh! My dearest I do want you here to give me inspiration. I am doing very badly. I don’t know whether to blame myself or the country or the time of the year or what, but I go out without any enthusiasm & bring home atrocities and yet the country is beautiful & open & free & splendid houses, all very old & romantic with gables & stone roofs & round towers in all manners & they interest me intensely from an historical & romantic point of view. In paint they are too grey & colourless as is all the country. It is not a patch on Holland even those green little lanes with nothing in them are far more full of feeling & colour than these willows & fine trees. Then of course May was very green & yellow & did not make for a nice palette. Neither were dear Stella’s productions very elevating or helpful. So I am rather depressed as to work. I have next to nothing I wd care to show. Though otherwise from the health point of view the place has been a great success & I am well & brown & much rested in mind and body. I go back on Thursday to Thriplands and then after a few days go to Canterbury to give a week’s class – the first work I have had for ages. (Did I tell you by the way little Marjorie Farwell [?] is going to marry a young banker on June 19th – not a very good match but she is of course very happy in her man). This seems irrelevant but work reminded me that I can no longer count on her as a pupil alas! & she was my steadiest.
Well to go back to the Cotswolds for I would like you to know a little about my surroundings. It certainly is a fine land full of a very decided character of its own. Open rolling downs & hill lines with verdant little valleys between & in the valleys or sometimes perched on the hills are the real old England villages unspoilt by civilization & untouched by modernity. Not a new red brick house or tin roof to be seen anywhere. Even the cows’ barns have stone mullioned windows with drip stones above & the roofs are deeply sloped in grey stone & sundials here & there stick from the walls or old fire [?]insurance plates are nailed on to the front of the houses in the street. The curfew is rung at 9 in Burford in winter but not in summer as there are no lights to put out! The old bobtailed sheep dog is used to herd cattle & everything is done by ancient tradition. Every house is different in Burford High Street & many a boot-makers or smith lives behind lancet windows or under groined roofs. The church is splendid too. Has an old alabaster tomb much carved & covered with coloured cherubs. The noble & virtuous lady who lays beside her husband after writing some vile doggerel on his many virtues concludes – “Love made me poet & this I writt. My harte did doe [?] and not my witte”. There is also the scratched name of one of the Levellers who was shot in the church by Cromwell after a nights imprisonment ‘Antony Sedley prisner’ on the old archaic font. Speaking of churches, we went over to see Fairford about 6 miles off a delightful village where Sargent & Abbey have huge studios. The windows in the church are widely famed & are quite unique. 28 of them supposed to be done by Albert Dürer. Anyway they are excellent & full of good design & drawing & very quaint charm. Vandyke admired them very much & considered they must have been done by a great master. Abbey must enjoy them very much & wd get much inspiration from them I imagine. One can see the figures with their queer 16th century clothes in some of his historical pictures. Of course we have not seen all the fine things the country has to show as we could not spare the time in this hardly snatched fortnight to do any sightseeing but there is evidently plenty of good material & some much better than this a little way away from here. We chose Burford as it sounded the best from hearsay. But we have seen much better places & it is only 6/- from London so is get at able. Personally I don’t have the same feeling for it as for Holland which I think will see me next year instead if anywhere sees me. But I think the poor house is the most likely place. No trade at all lately & no payment for many of last winter’s lessons or pictures so I am not sailing on the flood. If things get better I must get over to see you for a peep in the autumn but fear I shall only be able to run to a few days. But I do pine for a sight of you so & the smell of hay & the young green brings back our last June together & my heart is in the Lowlands wi ma bonnie bonnie lassie.
The little Stella is a kind good hearted little soul but is a little limited in everything but good natured & warmth of heart. I find myself nervously irritable at her untidiness & little worrying slovenly tricks. I am getting a rare old maid. I think when one is painting one is like a bear with a sore head & everything that is not quite perfect & harmonious jars. I can only think hard when alone & only really choose my subject alone & blessed if I stop to consider a place if Stella doesn’t immediately place herself between me & it. Or if I sit down to do it, sits down also alongside & does the same identical thing. I want to throw stones at the dear little thing sometimes to keep her off but I feel a brute for lacking in the abundance of affection & sympathy she pours on me, but art is a lonely mistress. She sits out alone on mountain peaks & will not come down if she sees a crowd below. Stella goes on Weds & I am quite looking forward to the two days alone I am ashamed to say. I shall be a crusty old apple in my age I am afraid. My inner shell grows more near & dear & what our landlady here calls ‘privat’ as the years grow on me.
Now I must tell you about a house here we have been over. It belongs to a Dr Hulton, Prof of History at Oxford. It is an old Carolean (which means Stuart!) house, very beautiful outside with many tall windows & steps up the front door & it stands in a little by-street of Burford & is called ‘The Great House’. Mr H. is an elderly (not very elderly) bachelor & is hardly ever there so we had small hopes of getting our foot inside. However fortune favoured us with an introduction to his housekeeper who let us in & I wish she had left us to enjoy the many delightful things to be seen - for besides the fact that the whole house is beautifully proportioned & paneled with balustrade curves to the staircase that are a dream - many of the walls & ceilings are painted & Mr H himself is evidently a man of much culture & refinement & has collected round himself a widely assorted mass of objets d’art - all of which bear evidence of a consistent personality & a decided line of taste. The little drawing room is hung thick with Jap prints, old Turneresque water colours, an old Venetian glass chandelier which has candles in it for regular use. Cupboards full of china, an Adams mantelpiece & little crooked backed chairs.
The study, the biggest room, littered everywhere with papers & books & his ink & blotting pad balanced perilously on the top. The wall all round hung with the Arundel prints – Botticelli’s Venus’ birth, Spring which seems a trifle out of place in a saintly minded bachelor’s den! He is evidently very pious & has taken much pleasure in the beautifying of the little chapel where there is a fine old mosaic triptych. Donatello’s St John – an old Italian crucifix & a beautiful bit of Spanish embroidery. Very rich & mellow. One might think of him as having a little of the Pater frame of mind without Pater’s pagan spirit. He brings home poor undergrads with him from Oxford & is evidently much liked by the neighbourhood. I heard him preach in church one week end he was here & thought his sermon a good deal above the heads of the congregation. He is not very prepossessing in appearance but is evidently reserved & never looks at the congregation when preaching. I think he is a man of lofty ideals but without the capacity for great enthusiasm or genius. Anyway he is interesting to speculate about.
I have heard nothing of the NIckalls though I asked them to come & spend Whitsuntide with me. I spent 2 afternoons looking at possible houses for them but with not much success & I fear everything is snapped up here that wd suit them. Mother is at Tanfield & I hear Olive & Hazel want to go there as soon as I get back. I rather dread going back. I hear Dad is on the rampage. One has to brace oneself to meet the weather with a stout heart & a hardy courage. He is always wildly energetic when Mother goes away and I hear he chose this particular time to clear out the box room & threatened to make a bonfire of the lot & was with difficulty restrained by the family! It wd be comic in someone else’s father! He is spending this Whitsuntide with Olive & Hazel at the cottage and they are praying for fine weather!
I send you a very badly done little snap shot taken from this window of our quarters here. Just the end of the old farm. The duck pond is actually beneath our window. I wish I could have taken in all the other gables which give it such a generous & homely appearance – the farm not the pond! But I cd not get it all in.
It is very late & I must go to bed. I only send you my very dearest love & all that is good have you in its keeping. Yr loving Gertrude
When does the [?] bird arrive. If I don’t refer to N.Z. it is because I can’t bear to think of it lurking in the distance like a horrid nightmare I wd pray every god that exists or doesn’t for something to happen to mend matters only I can’t think what wd do it & I feel very depressed & put all thought of the future away while we can yet keep it off.
I forgot to tell you “Pallias’ was very indignant at your going back said “something serious ought to be done about it”. I could have kissed the dear boy.
10 pages
Sender's address
Pool House, Westhall Hill, Burford, Oxon.
Institutional No.
Credit Line
Letters from Frances Hodgkins to Rachel Hodgkins. Field, Isabel Jane, 1867-1950 : Correspondence of Frances Hodgkins and family / collected by Isabel Field. Ref: MS-Papers-0085-23. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.