Artist Biographies

Edith Somerville 1858 - 1949

Landscape painter and illustrator, Edith Anna Śnone Somerville was born on Corfu in 1858, the daughter of Col. Somerville of Drishane House, Castletownshend, Co. Cork. She was mainly educated at home by her governess and later spent periods at Art College in London. While still in her early twenties, her work was exhibited at the Irish Arts Society in Cork in 1883 and 1884. She exhibited frequently through the 1880’s, while spending numerous periods in Paris and began her collaboration with her cousin Violet Martin of Ross House, Co. Galway resulting in the series of the well known Somerville and Ross books. She exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1889 and through the 1890’s made various tours and journeys with her cousin, Violet, leading to the publication of Through Connemara in a Governess Cart in 1893. Her travels brought her from the Aran Islands to Denmark, from Wales to France and a monthly series written in 1898 culminated in the publication of Some Experiences of an Irish RM in 1899. Returning to Paris, she studied at the studio of James McNeill Whistler and became a member of the Paris Club. She first exhibited in the Watercolour Society of Ireland in 1901 and her later contributions to the society were generally original book illustrations. In 1903 she became Master of the West Carbery Foxhounds, while continuing to travel on the continent with her cousin, Violet. A suffragette, Edith became President of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. After Violet Martin’s death in 1915, Edith Somerville continued to publish novels and essays under the twin signatures of Somerville and Ross. She continued to exhibit her paintings while continuing her travels to Sicily and Spain and in 1925, designed the floor mosaic for St Barrahane’s church where she was organist from 1875 to 1945. Many of her landscape paintings are views of West Cork and she continued to live at Drishane House. In 1929 she visited the United States with her sister, Hildegarde and an exhibition at the Ackermann Galleries in New York realised Ł1,500. She later exhibited in Southern California and always kept a careful account of her income. In 1932, she was conferred with a degree of D Litt by Trinity College, Dublin. In 1938, two years after her brother, Boyle, was murdered in Castletownshend, she exhibited again in New York. An accolade from the Irish Academy of Letters followed in 1941 and two years later she took part in the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art. Edith Somerville said that ‘painting was her first love and that in her last years she even lamented that writing had taken away from her beloved easel and paint box.’ She died in 1949 at Tally Ho House, Castletownshend. Her paintings are included in the collections of the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery Cork, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Trinity College, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Ulster Museum.
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