entry for Ellen Mary Rope
Mary Rope was born in 1855, the seventh of nine children born to George
and Ann Rope of Grove Farm, Blaxhall, Suffolk. While her eldest brother,
George Thomas Rope, was a painter and naturalist,
"Nell" (as the family knew her) specialised in sculpture, particularly
bas reliefs in a variety of materials. She worked in London for much of
her artistic career, often sharing a studio with her niece Dorothy Anne
Aldrich Rope, also a sculptor, and near another niece, Margaret
Edith Rope. At
some time in the nineteen-twenties, she retired to the family farm in Suffolk,
where she died in 1934.
in Ellen Mary's Rope has waxed and waned over the years with changes of
taste, as a glimpse of the panel shown above might suggest but there has
been sufficient interest recently to justify the staging of an exhibition
of her work by H. Blairman
& Sons - and much of the information below comes from the catalogue
of that event.
relief of four children" ca. 1898**
is quite possible that people reading this have seen her work, or even possess
an example, perhaps without knowing it. Much of EMR's work at certain periods
used methods of casting that allowed several, even many, copies to be made
and in various materials, e.g. metals, plaster etc. There are several cases
where the same design is known to recur in different places, as exemplified
in the box to the right of the first illustration above - the angel and
child in the memorial plaque to her doctor brother
in Shrewsbury is also to be seen in
her local church at Blaxhall, Suffolk.
early artistic influences included the philanthropist and social housing
reformer Octavia Hill (1838-1912), whose Nottingham Place School in Marylebone
EMR attended from 1870, studying drawing under her tutorship. Later, EMR
attended Ipswich School of Art, exhibiting paintings and drawings alongside
her brother George Thomas.
1877, EMR joined the Slade, continuing to study drawing and painting, but
from 1880 she studied sculpture and modelling, which gradually came to be
her main artistic outlet. In 1885, she had three bas-reliefs accepted by
the Royal Academy and subsequently came to share a studio with Elinor Hallé,
a fellow student from the Slade. Commentators trace a development in EMR's
style over this period, instancing fin de siècle melancholy in the
figures in Demeter and Persephone ** - shown
at the RA in 1889 .
playing before Saul" exhibited RA 1885**
was active in the decorative arts, designing for the Della Robbia Pottery,
Birkenhead, from 1886 until its closure in 1906. Her work was very much
in the Arts and Crafts Movement tradition and was seen at each Arts and
Crafts Exhibition Society exhibition from 1889. She showed panels for ceiling,
wall, mantelpiece and nursery decoration as well as designs for an electrical
bell push, doorplates, a tea caddy and a letter box. Among the other sculptors
she came into contact with through the Movement was Robert Anning Bell,
a leading exponent of painted plaster relief. EMR herself produced panels
in this medium, such as Marigold, A Gleaner,**
a portrait of a girl in a harvest context.
Della Robbia design work brought her into more public view and her depictions
of fairies and children were particular favourites and well as more religious
themes, including angels. This exposure, together with her place within
the Arts and Crafts Movement, led to architectural commissions. Most significant
was an invitations to design four spandrels for the Women's Building at
the Chicago 1893 World Columbian Exposition. Each polychromed plaster relief
was nearly 6 ft tall, representing in turn Faith, Hope, Charity
and Heavenly Wisdom.
EMR, courtesy of Linda Taylor (found in a book)
commissions of this period included bas-reliefs
for the Women's University Settlement in Nelson Square, Southwark, based
on Chaucerian quotations, figures of Faith, Hope & Charity for Morley
Town Hall, Leeds and a 20ft long panel for Rotherhithe Town Hall (destroyed
in World War II).
for the popular market were sometimes coloured, sometimes left plain and
she aimed to be accessible to people of relatively modest means. Her panels
"were primarily designed to be executed at a low cost and repeated
if desired, so that they could be used by others than the very rich."
(The Builder). She also produced works intended for church decoration,
often through the Church Crafts League, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society. For example, in 1905-6 EMR executed a series of reliefs
in cement for St Mary's, Bolton-on-Swale, in memory of Admiral Talbot
Carpenter and his wife. Other commissions for memorials were an outcome
of the First World War, as exemplified at St Peter's, Blaxhall.
There was another
design that was applied in a number of contexts, originally for the
memorial to Mrs Mary Anne Moberly, wife of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury,
installed in the Cathedral in 1890. It depicted an angel sounding the last
trump and was reworked on several occasions in various materials, this one
in stone. Later examples were made for Stone House School, Broadstairs and
again in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Another commission in Salisbury
Cathedral was for a memorial to Edith Emily
daughter of the above. Memorials, in fact, occupied much of her productive
effort from 1917 until the mid-20s, during which time she ceased to exhibit,
"Patience and Hope steering the Boat of Education", plaster panel**
she shared a studio (first on Marylebone Road, later at 404c Fulham Road)
with her niece Dorothy Anne Aldrich Rope, then aged 20, who became first
her student and later co-worker, adopting much of her style and many of
her motifs. EMR also influenced two other nieces, the Margaret Ropes who
are the main focus of this website. As the
linked map (designed by Tor's friend Clara Dawson) shows, the aunts
and nieces later came to work in Deodar Road, Putney in studios in close
proximity to each other although EMR later moved home to Blaxhall. It is
in fact St Peter's, Blaxhall that contains her
only known work rendered into stained glass, executed to her design
probably by both of the Margaret Ropes, her nieces, "Tor" doing
the left light and "Marga"
the rest. EMR continued to work well into her seventies but died before
reaching the age of 80 and was buried at St Peter's, near her Blaxhall home.
catalogue from which the large majority of the above was drawn offers this
reassessment of Ellen Mary Rope's work:
"Based on the evidence of the recently discovered corpus of her
work and the details of her career, Rope appears eminently worthy of the
accolades she received from contemporary writers. But more than that, Ellen
Mary Rope is revealed as an artist who successfully combined a delicate
sensitivity and considerable technical skill, with a lively imagination
and intellect. Her work is a lasting testimony to this achievement."