Although Tate Archive houses many of the most famous names in British art I often feel drawn to the less well-known names in the Archive whose papers contain fascinating and unusual items.
One such collection is the one amassed by Anita Bartle. She was an author and journalist who lived in Clifton, Bristol, and who was the subject of an early portrait ‘Anita’ by William Orpen which is now housed at Tate. Her friendship with Orpen began in 1902 through her purchase of ‘The Window Seat’ which she paid for by weekly cheque over fifteen weeks. On her marriage to A. G. Brackenbury in 1906, Orpen gave her the portrait ‘Anita’ as a wedding present. At the beginning of the century, Bartle published an anthology, ‘This is My Birthday’ (1902) compiled from her column published in the Daily Chronicle. These daily extracts consisted of quotations relating to a famous person who was born on that day. `This is My Birthday’ is a wonderfully evocative late Victorian keepsake whereby families could make note of their extended families’ birthdays alongside other familial titbits. Bartle, however, used them for a different purpose as a means to collect autographs from contributors and others she met throughout her life such as Annie Besant, H.G.Wells, D.H. Lawrence, Nellie Melba, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy and Leo Tolstoy. As Bartle mixed in wider art circles, through her friendship with Orpen, contributors would often excel themselves by not only supplying signatures, but also annotated sketches, poetry, musical notations and epigrams. Artistic contributions in the books housed in Tate Archive, for instance, include small sketches by George Clausen, Charles Conder, Augustus John, Muirhead Bone, William Orpen, and Louis Wain. The books also contain musical compositions by figures such as Hans Richter, Ignance Paderewski, and Saint-Saëns and there’s even a cartoon of what appears to be Mickey Mouse by Joe Noble. If you were asked to make a contribution in a Birthday Book what would it be?
Written by Adrian Glew