Title: Bedroom, Bar House Beverley
Item Name: Painting
Maker: Elwell, Mary Dawson


Bedroom scene, four poster bed, two windows in background, two chairs, a table and other furniture. The painting shows the same bedroom as an earlier painting by Mary (see 1997.55), but with the addition of the four-poster bed. The view through the window shows the Conservative Club (later destroyed by fire) and the passageway locally nicknamed "Wylies Racket" - due to the noise made by James Elwell's woodcarving business. Kate Hobson, a Beverley art critic, praised the painting for its "clear sunlight and colours of mauve and yellow. Mary was passionate about colours and often juxtaposed complementary colours for extra effect. Mary lived in Bar House after her marriage to Fred Elwell in 1914. The gilt plaster and wood frame, is laquered black and glazed. This is the original frame and it may have been designed/decorated by Mary herself.

Year: 1935
Materials: oil; wood; plaster; gilt; canvas
Measurements: L:83/62cm, W:96/75cm
ID_Number: ERYMS (BAG) : 1997.63

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Related Exhibitions

Something about Mary
A small exhibition at Beverley Art Gallery in 2009 devoted to the works of the artist Mary Elwell (1874-1952), wife of the well-known Beverley painter Frederick William Elwell. As well works from East Riding Museums own collections, the display featured an interior scene on loan from the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool and poems written by Richard Dillon (lecturer in Creative Writing at the Open University) in response to the paintings. A painter of interiors and landscapes, Mary Dawson Bishop was born in 1874. Following the premature death of her father, the family moved to Manchester where Mary was educated at Ellerslie College. Described as a ‘fairly exclusive school’, the college would undoubtedly have provided instruction in painting and drawing, which were still considered desirable ‘accomplishments’ for young ladies at this time.

Although it remained difficult for women to obtain a rigorous training in fine art, by the closing decades of the nineteenth century – when Mary was embarking on her artistic career – the situation had improved. The Slade School of Fine Art opened in 1871 offering far greater opportunities for women than those presented by the Royal Academy Schools at the time. Self-help manuals remained an option, providing rudimentary instruction in painting and drawing. Alternatively, women could take lessons with a private tutor or travel to Europe in the hope of securing a position in an artist’s studio. Both options necessitated private funds and were only available to wives and daughters of the well-to-do. Nevertheless, despite improvements the artistic training available to women remained significantly inferior to that on offer to men.

Little is known of Mary’s early life or her initial artistic training. As her family was comfortably off, she may well have had a private tutor. Following her marriage to the affluent oil broker George Alfred Holmes in 1896, there were ample funds available for private instruction and foreign travel. The couple settled in Beverley and by 1904 Mary was sufficiently accomplished to exhibit her work at the Royal Academy of Arts. That same year Mary sat for her portrait to Fred Elwell.

George Alfred Holmes died in August 1913, leaving Mary a wealthy widow. The following summer, just weeks after the outbreak of the Great War, Mary married Fred Elwell. Although she was undoubtedly influenced by Fred’s work and in all probability received instruction from him, Mary maintained her own distinctive style. She is at her best when painting interiors (both inhabited or uninhabited) when her work reflects the comfortable yet confined and restricted lives generally experienced by women of her class at this time.

In 1947 Mary suffered the first of a series of debilitating strokes. Having made her final appearance at the Royal Academy in 1949, she died on the 28th August 1952.

Related People

Elwell, Mary Dawson

Related Publications

Mary D. Elwell, S.W.A. Stepping from the Shadows
Loncaster, Wendy