Towards the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century Broadway played host to an artist colony. These artists, who were mainly American, were attracted to the village by its idyllic rural nature. Literary and artistic friends joined them for long stays in Broadway and many lodged in the Lygon Arms.
The Broadway Museum and Art Gallery’s Artist Colony Room provides an insight into their art and their lives. One of these Frank Millet, was originally from Mattapoissett, Massachusetts but then came to Europe when he completed a Fine Arts degree in Antwerp, Belgium and had studios in Venice and Rome.
In 1879 Millet married Lily Merrill with whom he had four children named after his artist friends: Edwin, who died in infancy, Laurence, John Alfred Parsons and Kate. In 1885 the Millett family were persuaded by Laurence Hutton, a friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, to move to Broadway. Morris and Burne-Jones had rented Broadway Tower as a studio in 1867.
The Millets were accompanied by Frank’s sister, Lucia, who wrote about their time in Broadway. The family at first rented Farnham House, then Russell House. Millet also rented, then bought, Abbot’s Grange behind Farnham House, which was then a derelict ancient built but which he restored as a studio for himself and his friends.
Millet exhibited at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy, London. His most famous work, ‘Between Two Fires’ is on display in the Tate Gallery. Millet was aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912 and died in that disaster. His body was recovered and he is buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. A lychgate was also erected in his memory at the entrance to the cemetery on Snowshill Road, Broadway.
The artist John Singer Sargent began painting his iconic impressionist work, ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’, at Farnham House in 1885, completing it at Russell House in 1886 while staying with the Millet’s. The museum has a print of this work on display but the original hangs in the Tate Gallery in London.
Sargent was born in Florence in 1856 to expatriate American parents. He had exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1877 but then in 1884 a full length portrait he exhibited of Madame Gautreau, a society beauty and wife of a wealthy banker caused a scandal and he moved to London to escape the controversy. He came to Broadway at the suggestion of an artist acquaintance, Edwin Austin Abbey.
‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ was exhibited to great acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1887 and this restored Sargent’s reputation and he subsequently became a much sought after portrait painter in both side of the Atlantic. He was an official war artist in the First World War and died in 1925 in London.
Among the other artists who were members of the colony were Abbey himself – originally from Philadelphia and one of the most celebrated illustrative artists of his time who rented Farnham House and then Russell House with the Millets; Alfred Parsons who was a self-taught artist, garden designer and garden writer who laid out the gardens at Russell House; Frederick Barnard an illustrator of Charles Dickens novels and the portraitist Paul César Helleu who was a life long friend of Sargent’s.
Literary figures connected with the colony were Henry James who was born in America but who travelled widely across Europe and is regarded as among the greatest novelists in the English language, James M. Barrie who is most famously remembered as the creator of Peter Pan, the American actress Mary Anderson and the English poet and author Edmund Gosse.
The Artist Colony Room was curated by Karen Bloch, chair of the management committee of the Broadway Arts Festival, which celebrates Broadway’s artistic legacy begun by the Artist’s colony. The next festival will take place 5th-14th June 2020.