Christmas gift of a gilder's set for her friend Gertrude Mary Woodward.[c.1896-1911] Stock Code: 133403
NotesA gilding set presented from Beatrix Potter to her close lifelong friend and fellow artist Gertrude Woodward, inscribed "with best wishes for Christmas & New Year from Beatrix Potter", on the inner paper wrapper. Gertrude Mary Woodward (18541939) was a professional colour-wash illustrator who was commissioned to undertake palaeontological drawings, including the infamous Piltdown fossils. Gertrude was employed partly by the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), and there, around 1894, she met Beatrix, who spent hours at the museum intensely drawing specimens and fossils.
The two had much in common and became close friends. Notably, when Beatrix decided to publish Peter Rabbit privately in 1901 she turned to Gertrude for advice on printers, who recommended the London firm Strangeways and Sons. Beatrix later recalled in a 1941 letter to her publishers: "I heard the name and address of the printers through a friend at the N. History Museum with whom I was working. Her father Dr Woodward edited the Geological Magazine; and she knew something about engraving and printing: you are obliged to have clay faced paper for the coloured books but it is inartistic" (Letters, 23 February 1941). Beatrix met Gertrude's father Dr Henry Woodward in 1896, when he assisted her with the identification of some fossils she had collected: he "identified Beatrix's echinoderm ashahacia forbesi and explained that it came from the Lower Trigonia Grit (he also later identified her trilobites)" (The Linnean, p. 34). Dr Woodward, keeper of Geology at the South Kensington Museum, was an eminent naturalist and palaeontologist who created the catalogue for the British Museum's fossils. As president of the Geological Society of London in 1895, he proposed that women be allowed entry, although his efforts were unsuccessful.
Gertrude occasionally acted chaperone for Beatrix during her brief courtship with Norman Warne. After Norman's death, their friendship continued, with Gertrude visiting her in the Lake District. She was later one of the witnesses at Beatrix's small wedding to William Heelis on 15 October 1913. Three weeks before her wedding, Beatrix wrote to Gertrude on her way down from the Lake District that she was returning to London reluctantly: "I might be tempted to bolt... I was feeling the going away very much, but William has actually been invited up for a weekend soon... Please give my kind regards to Dr Woodward. My parents send theirs & my mother hopes to see you soon - they are nearly always in at 5 o'clock tea, but I dare say I may see you first if I'm near S.K. museum" (Letters, 24 September 1913). In her will, Beatrix left the sum of 50 to Gertrude, witnessed 31 March 1939, but just six months later, on 2 September, Gertrude predeceased her friend.
Here, Beatrix appears to have put together a starter kit for gilding as a Christmas gift for Gertrude, with all the equipment needed for a beginner. It includes a gilder's cushion, several booklets of both gold leaf and transfer foil to experiment with, two "gilder's tips" - thin brushes, used for the transfer of gold leaf from the gilder's cushion to the work. The design of the cushion, still in use today, features a chamois leather pad with a leather finger strap on the bottom, handled in a similar way to an artist's palette. The cushion is used to hold the gold leaf while preparing or cutting it, and the attached foldable paper (of which only a few fragments are still preserved here) acts as a windshield for the leaf. Accompanying the kit is a grey wrapper addressed to Gertrude at her Chelsea home in 129 Beaufort Street, not far from the Potter's family home at Bolton Gardens, from the British colourmakers Madderton & Co. Ltd. It seems probable that it originally accompanied an order of pigments posted to Gertrude, who then repurposed it to wrap up the fragile and flighty bundle of gold leaf books more securely. Beatrix likely made the gift to her friend in the period between 1896, when Madderton & Co. became a limited company, and 1911, when the census records that the Woodward family had moved to Arundel Gardens.
One of Gertrude's sisters, Alice, was also a professional artist, who worked both as a scientific illustrator and a prolific children's book illustrator. Through her friendship with Gertrude, Beatrix would certainly have been aware of Alice's success. Beatrix's biographer, Linda Lear, notes that "there is no specific reference to Alice Woodward in Potter's journal, but it is impossible to imagine that both Alice and Gertrude did not encourage her ambition to write and illustrate a 'booklet' for children".
Gilder's set, together 11 items: 4 booklets of transfer gold leaf from Geo. M. Whiley, interleaved with glassine and pink tissue, 3 with the original printed front wrapper; 2 gilder's tip brushes of squirrel hair; 1 blank postcard; 1 small envelope; 3 small fibreboards, one of which is inscribed in pencil "Gold leaf 2/- book". Wrapped in white laid paper with seated crowned watermark, inscribed by Beatrix Potter in manuscript, together with a stiff grey card wrapper addressed in another hand to "Miss G. M. Woodward, 129 Beaufort Street, London, S.W." on printed paper label of "Madderton & Co., Ltd., Loughton, Essex, sole makers of the Cambridge colours"; together with a wood-backed chamois gilder's cushion with leather thumb-holder to rear and remnants of the brown paper windshield (215 x 142 mm). Housed together in a glass-fronted wooden oval case.
Of the gold leaf booklets, 3 are mainly complete, the other disbound; brushes with a little hair loss, but mainly complete; white paper wrapped slightly foxed and creased where folded to contain gilder's kit; grey card wrapper folded and repurposed to enclose the set. Overall in excellent condition.
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