‘British Workwoman’ Artist Edith Hume

Figure 1 British Workwomen- Basket Making the British Workwoman (December 1887)

Edith Hume’s (née Dunn) (1841-1913) artwork regularly embellished the front pages of the British Workwoman between 1886 and 1913. In addition to providing aesthetic pleasure, the illustrations also served to convey moral messages and Christian values to its readers.

Hume was born and raised in Truro, Cornwall, in a Baptist and temperance household.[1] She studied at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in London in the 1860s, the only art school at that time which allowed women to attend life classes and work alongside male students.

Hume’s experience perhaps exemplifies how the nineteenth-century female artist was not forbidden to engage professionally with art; instead she was contained and limited in her creative output. [2] While her older brother the artist Henry Treffry Dunn (1838-1899), became the art assistant to the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and a was a highly regarded artist in his own right,[3] Hume’s artistic profile and impact were much less pronounced. Her early illustration work suggested a Pre-Raphaelite influence but she turned towards a domestic genre style for her contributions to earlier periodicals and for the British Workwoman.

Hume regularly exhibited in major galleries between 1862 and 1906 including the Royal Academy, the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art, the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts and the Society of Female Artists. At least a third of  her exhibited works had an obvious fishing or coastal-related title such as Fishing on the Old Pierhead (1874) and The Departure of the Herring Boats (1883). Hume’s interest in fishing and seaside scenes may have stemmed from her formative years amongst the fishing communities in Cornwall and from her visits to the continent, [4] as evidenced by her Watching for The Return of the Ships on the Beach at Katwijk, and Fisherwomen at Scheveningen, Holland [5] as shown in figure 2. Hume’s work was considered at this time to be heavily influenced by The Hague School.[6]

Figure 2 Hume. Fisherwomen at Scheveningen, Holland (1875). Source: Art UK.

Hume’s first illustration for the British Workwoman was to accompany the story ‘A Night Among the Herring.’ In April 1886 as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3. Edith Hume illustration accompanied the story ‘A Night Among the Herring.’ British Workwoman (Apil 1866)

Hume’s illustrations for the British Workwoman were dominated by figures, mostly mothers and daughters, in domestic, rural and coastal settings. A high proportion are involved in domestic activities, dairy farming, cottage industries or work related to fishing as shown in figures 4, 5 and 6. Hume’s images were fully aligned with the ethos of the magazine, not simply portraying women involved in collective physical labour, but suggestions of spiritual and moral guidance too.

Hume married the landscape artist Thomas Oliver Hume (1833–1916) in 1870, a widower with two sons from his previous marriage. Hume would have been immediately thrust into a mothering role, a difficult adjustment for a professional artist. Yet Hume maintained regular exhibitions of her artwork in the early years of her marriage. As a profession which to some extent could be conducted at home, Hume could continue with her artist career relying on domestic support to assist the smooth running of the home and to attend to the children.

Find more of Hume’s front-cover illustrations for the British Workwoman (between 1886 and 1893) on this website.

[1] Gale Pedrick Life with Rossetti; Or, No Peacocks Allowed. London: Macdonald 1964: 17 and 11.

[2] Rozsika Parker & Griselda Pollock. Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.1981:44.

[3] Dunn’s painting of Rossetti is on display at the Uffizi gallery, Florence, Italy, and his picture of Rossetti and Theodore Watt-Dunton hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London (Gale Pedrick, 1964: 1).

[4] Pedrick (1863) 32.

[5] Christopher Wright, Catherine Gordon, and Mary Peskett Smith. ‘British And Irish Paintings in Public Collections: An Index of British and Irish Oil Paintings by Artists Born Before 1870’ in Public and Institutional Collections in the United Kingdom and Ireland. London: Yale University Press. 2006: 452.

[6] Hans Kraan. ‘The Vogue for Holland.’ In The Hague School: Dutch Masters of the 19th Century,eds. Ronald De Leeuw, John Sillevis, and Charles Dumas, 115-24. London: Royal Academy of Arts, and Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1983:120.


One thought on “‘British Workwoman’ Artist Edith Hume

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.