Many of the interiors painted by artists of the Fitzroy Street and Camden Town circles reflected the humble and financially straitened reality of their own lives, for example Spencer Gore’s The Gas Cooker 1913 (Tate T00496). The Chintz Couch by Ethel Sands, however, depicts an unashamedly elegant and fashionable interior representing a life of leisure and material wealth. The painting shows one part of a room with a small couch covered in chintz material, standing against a wall hung with a number of framed pictures and prints, none of which has been identified. To the right of the couch there is a side table upon which is placed a tall blue glass vase holding an arrangement of white arum lilies. A band of white light streaks across the left-hand side of the couch and continues up the wall, suggesting a window with curtains partly open on one side. Sands has used a sparing, dry application of paint, and the colour of the largely uncovered board plays a major part in the colour and tonal relationships of the painting.
Sands inherited a comfortable fortune after the premature deaths of both of her parents which enabled her to live an independent life, painting, travelling, socialising and entertaining. Women who wished to pursue a professional artistic career at the turn of the century often faced the practical difficulty of finding sufficient funds to finance a decent artistic education. At the Académie Julian in Paris, for example, the fees for women were double those charged to male students.1 Sands’s private income gave her the economic resources to practise art and the subjects of her paintings reflect her experience as an affluent and intelligent woman at the beginning of the twentieth century, unhindered by the pressures of earning a living or raising a family. Like many of her contemporaries, she chose to paint subjects drawn from everyday life but, in her case, not an everyday life which was accessible to many. It was the reality of her own privileged existence which provided the inspiration for her art and she frequently depicted scenes set within her various homes, in Oxfordshire, London and later in France.
Gill Perry, Women Artists and the Parisian Avant-Garde, Manchester and New York 1995, p.17.
Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London 1977, p.60.
Ethel Sands, letter to Tate Gallery, 23 February 1958, Tate Catalogue file.
Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell, London 1983, p.108.
Information supplied by Dr Crosby Stevens, Curator, Brodsworth Hall, September 2003.
Information supplied by Lesley Hoskins, Curator, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Middlesex University, April 2003.
Hilary Hockman, Edwardian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source, Newton Abbot 1994, p.98.
Mary Schoeser and Celia Rufey, English and American Textiles from 1790 to the Present, London 1989, pp.143–4.
Information supplied by Sue Kerry, Archivist, Warner Textile Archive.
Hockman 1994, p.98.
The 1907 version is reproduced in Jacques-Emile Blanche, peintre (1861–1924), exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen 1998, p.154.
Baron 1977, p.47.
Vanessa Bell, letter to Roger Fry, 21 July 1912, in Regina Marler (ed.), Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, New York 1993, p.121.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Michèle Barrett (ed.), London 1993, p.3.
Alan Bowness, Judith Collins, Richard Cork et al., British Contemporary Art 1910–1990: Eighty Years of Collecting by the Contemporary Art Society, London 1991, pp.15–17.
Baron 1977, p.85.