Gabain, Ethel

Gabain, Ethel (1883-1950)

To view works by Ethel Gabain displayed on our website as current or past stock click here –Ethel Gabain

Born in Le Havre, France in 1883, and with a French father and Scottish mother, Ethel lived in France during her childhood and adolescence, though she came to a boarding school in England for her education from age fourteen. This was Wycombe Abbey School in Buckinghamshire, where her developing skill at art was noticed, as she was invited to paint a portrait of the headmistress. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art and from 1906 was at Central School of Arts and Crafts and attending lithography classes under F.E.Jackson. Additionally, at the Chelsea Polytechnic, she was able to achieve the independence that came with learning how to operate a printing press for herself. Lithography was to become, particularly in the earlier part of her career, a medium in which she was particularly distinguished and also financially successful. In 1908 she returned to Paris where she took a small studio and concentrated on producing lithographs. This began a period in which she often took as a subject a young female, alone, and with an air of melancholy. In this choice of subject matter she was continuing a tradition that had developed from Romanticism into the pre-occupations of many from the Symbolist movement with the inner world and the feminine. A variation on this theme followed later in her her career when she produced a number of works using the image of a young and melancholic bride and, in similar mood, she also took as source material the tragic and romantic tale of Pierrot the clown, passionately but hopelessly in love with a beautiful young ballerina called Columbine.

Gabain became one of the first members of the ‘Senefelder Club’ under its president Joseph Pennell and contributed six lithographs to its initial exhibition in 1910. The ‘Senefelder Club’ existed to revive and promote the art of Lithography. Writing in an article published in ‘The Studio’ in 1914 Pennell stated –

“In the five years of our history we have seen artistic lithography again restored to its right rank among the fine arts; we have succeeded in adding to our membership such practising artists as Anthony Barker, H. Becker, F. Brangwyn, John Copley, Miss Gabain, John Mclure Hamilton, Miss Hope, Spencer Pryse, D. A. Wehrshmidt, in fact all the artist lithographers of Great Britain who have made a name for themselves, save Rothenstein, Shannon…. (and there are a number of examples of Charles Shannon lithographs on this website)…. and Sullivan, and we hope ere long they will be amongst us as they are with us”……”we are proudest of the fact that, through the Club, we have in this country helped to bring about the revival of artistic lithography.”

As well as her very successful published editions of individual lithographs, Ethel was commisioned to provide lithographic illustrations , notably for two literary publications – ‘Jane Eyre’, limited to a special edition of 495 copies and published by Leon Piton of Paris, and in 1924 ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope.

The revival of the market for lithographs was not to last and Ethel expediently turned her attention to oil painting. Again, she achieved success and in this medium is best known for her portraits of theatrical figures – Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Flora Robson, Lilian Baylis were among her notable subjects.

Ethel’s career shows a marked ability to be able to successfully change and adapt. She was commissioned to be a war-time artist during the second world war, making very effective paintings and prints, particularly of women engaged in various types of war work. Some of these can be seen at London’s Imperial War Museum.

Ethlel met the artist John Copley at the Senefelder club and became married to him in 1913. They lived first in Kent at ‘The Yews’ in Longfield, and thus a Yew tree formed the design for a small remarque that ahe came to use in the lower margin of her prints, and sometimes too she would use the image of a pergola or sundial, also associated with their home. Later the family moved to Hampstead Square in North London and in 1925 moved to Italy for over two years as a help to John’s poor health. Both John and Ethel died in 1950.