Edna Clarke Hall's model for Catherine Earnshaw

In 1979 I walked up the staircase at front of the Tate Gallery and saw a small but electrifying panel display in the entrance hallway - a tribute to the centenarian and last of the great Slade artists of the 1890s, Edna Clarke Hall, who had just died. Prominently featured was Edna's large and striking monochrome drawing Catherine Earnshaw Walking (1924) from Wuthering Heights. In a moment of rapturous romantic sympathy I vowed to do something more about this inspired vision one day - if no one else had!

A lot of water had passed under the bridge by the time Robin Simon published my first report of this long drawn out romantic odyssey in The British Art Journal in 2015. It should go without statement that obsession and romance are inevitably entwined and so it was, and is, with Edna's varied and prolific illustrations to Wuthering Heights. They occupied her spirit, pen and brush intermittently for at least three decades. It took me slightly longer to capture and present a representative sample!

Edna was in her mid-forties when she produced this and many other works which have a strong echo of youth. Such repeated representations of youthful freedom in these romantic sketches, along with her prolific domestic sketches from life, is perhaps an indication of her need to revisiting earlier more carefree times in order to reconcile a sense of loss from suffering the chains of matrony as a young wife to an older man who disapproved of such fare. Sketching her sons growing up from 1905 was one element of the equation but the fortuitous arrival of teenage girls some years later became the key catalyst in forming Edna's monumental icons of Cathy.

This rear-viewed image of our heroine strolling across the English countryside encapsulates everything a romatic spirit could wish for as an aesthetic icon of the capricious soul in escapist flight. How captivating this figure is but how equally fascinating might be a viewpoint located further down the path in order to witness her approach. We could then establish if she is just a two-dimensional whim of the artist or a representation of a real girl? In this case the model for a graphic icon of one of our most celebrated works of literary heritage - Edna's vision of Emily Bronte's 'Catherine'. According to a biographical note in the Tate Britain catalogue entry, Edna's principal model for the teenage Catherine was the daughter of the Clarke Hall family's cook from about 1910. It is unfortunate that no further information on this prototype has, as yet, come to light, since she is such a key element in Edna's Wuthering Heights drawings from then onwards. This has led me to begin to piece together an iconographic trail from which we can attempt a more definitive appraisal of the genesis of this young icon.

Following the 21st Century kickstart given to Edna's art in 2006 and 2008 by the Abbott and Holder exhibitions, I came across a fine red-chalk drawing by Edna, Elise reading featured on the website of London art dealer James Huntington-Whitely. It was one of a varied group from the collection of Rex Nan Kivel, maestro of the Redfern Gallery where several exhibitions of Edna's art where held between 1924-41. Again the design was a bold rear view of a teenage girl but this time sitting and reading and included the artist's inscription, "Elise reading". Alison Thomas informs me that Elise Bogue, a thirteen years old Irish cousin, came to live with the Clarke Halls in 1911. So, in contrast to the dearth of suitable Heathcliffs, it seems as though Edna might have been almost spoilt for choice in models for Catherine. A cursory sift through my archives reveal several female subjects of similar appearance and two of these are also reproduced below: a watercolour with Abbott & Holder and a 'Catherine & Heathcliff' at Tate Britain. Another extensively used motif is from a life sketch of a prone young woman at the Ashmolean Museum and its use in a sketch in the Manchester Art Collection

Edna was a fine draughtswoman and the top prize-winning female Slade student on her graduation in 1898. Accuracy and economy of line were qualities that were deeply impressed on the Slade students by their master, the formidable surgeon-turned-artist Henry Tonks. Correct anatomical representation was a fundamental skill taught at the Slade and reliance on this aspect of Edna's sketching has led me to compare and select such drawings as these that should reveal more about Edna's 'Catherine' and where she came from. There are many more and a voyage of discovery into the artist's working methods and models is certainly one to enlighten our understanding as well as enjoy its progress. The investigation continues . . .

Max Browne, October 2015

. . . and what an amazing coicidence when, a month later, a bold and delightful watercolour came to light to provide another piece of the jigsaw - one almost certainly of the seminal sketches of the 'cook's daughter' for Cathy. Imagine her transposed from the seashore to the moor and . . eureka, you have Edna's young Catherine Earnshaw. The pose, flowing hair and demeanour all reveal her to form the solution to our inocographic quest but we have yet to discover her name . . .

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