This page was written by Alison Bailey, who co-ordinates a group preparing articles relating to the history of Chesham Bois for this site
Louise Jopling, who lived in Chesham Bois at the end of her life and is buried in Chesham Bois Cemetery, was an incredible woman who deserves to be better known. A very successful painter and writer she was born Louise Jane Goode in Moss Side, Manchester 1843, at a time when British Women and girls were legally either the property of their husband or their father. The 90 years of her fascinating life was a period of unbelievable change and by the time of her death in 1933 British women had at last gained the vote, which as a supporter of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage would have been hugely important to her.
Born one of 9 children, her parents, Frances and Thomas Smith Goode, a railway contractor, were both dead by the time she was 17. This same year, 1861 she met and married Francis Romer, secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild in Paris. Her painting was encouraged by the Baroness and in Paris she studied at the state technical school and in the studio of the anglo-french artist and engraver Charles Joshua Chaplin, who unusually only accepted female students (the impressionist Mary Cassatt was also one of his pupils). Here she was able to study anatomy from nude models which would have been impossible for a woman at that time in Victorian England. Returning to Paris at a later date she also studied under the artist Alfred Stevens.
Even though her husband was sacked by the Baron because of his compulsive gambling, Louise Jopling remained on good terms with the family painting several Rothschild portraits. Her 1877 painting of Sir Nathan de Rothschild can be seen today at Hughenden Manor. Now living in London she attended Leigh’s School of Art and found herself at the centre of London’s fashionable artistic circles, mixing with Kate Collins, Val Prinsep, Frederick Leighton and Princess Louise. Her success as a painter was absolutely remarkable for the time and shows her courage and persistence. Two children died young and initially she faced constant rejection as a “lady” artist, having to battle to succeed in such a masculine world. Then when she began to be successful, after exhibiting at the Paris Salon, Frank Romer deserted her and the children and threatened to seize her paintings. He would have been legally entitled to do this as The Married Women’s Property Act, which would have protected her interests, did not become law until 1882. However he died in 1873 leaving her free to marry again in 1874. Despite her understandable concerns about marriage “I would be loading my self with extra duties, and all these duties would be as iron bars to my success” she was convinced that “the best thing I can do for my reputation’s sake, and my boy’s is to marry again”.
As a great beauty, Louise would not have been short of admirers and Lucy Pacquette has written a novel “The Hammock” in which she imagines a romance between Louise and the French artist James Tissot, who she knew in London. However her choice was the older, more conservative Joseph Middleton Jopling, a watercolour painter of some renown (although not as successful as Louise) and close friend of several leading artists of the time including James MacNeill Whistler and John Everett Millais. From this time on she was right at the heart of London’s successful artistic community, exhibiting her oriental inspired subject painting “Five O’Clock Tea” at the Royal Academy in 1874, “Five Sisters of York” at the Philadelphia International exhibition in 1876 and “It Might Have Been” at the inaugural exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. Sensational portraits of Louise by Whistler in 1877 (now in Glasgow University’s Hunterian Art Gallery) and by Millais in 1879 (now in the National Portrait Gallery) added to her fame and she was often mentioned in, and photographed for the society pages of the time commended for her fashionable dress and social success “her studio parties are always interesting and she knows so many people who are always somebody in literature and art”. The popular interest in the successful artists and writers at that time was similar to today’s fascination with reality TV stars and ‘celebrities’.
Another son, Lindsay Millais Jopling (named for his highly influential godfathers, Sir Coutts Lindsay, founder of the Grosvenor Gallery and John Everett Millais, the most popular artist of the time) was born in 1875. During her marriage to Joe Jopling, Louise was the higher earner and was so successful that by 1879 the family was able to move to a larger house in fashionable Chelsea where she commissioned renowned architect William Burges to design separate garden studios for her and Jopling. She painted society portraits of the titled and wealthy and also friends such as the author Samuel Smiles (National Portrait Gallery) and the actress Ellen Terry. She did sometimes find the responsibility of being the main breadwinner stressful and her achievements are even more remarkable when you consider that as a woman, her work was unable to attract the huge fees that male artists were achieving at the time. In 1883 she lost a commission for 150 guineas which went to Millais who was paid 1,000 guineas for the same project.
Throughout her long life Louise Jopling encouraged and supported other women artists, founding her own school of painting for women in 1887. When Joe Jopling died in 1884, she let out his studio to the sculptress Maria Zamboco. Frequently prepared to take on the art establishment she championed the right of female art students to work directly from live models without the customary ‘draping’, she successfully lobbied the Society of Portrait Painters to allow its few women members voting rights and was the first woman member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1902. In addition to painting commercial paintings like “Blue and White” she was also prepared to be more controversial in her work contributing “Weary Waiting” to the 1877 Royal Academy Exhibition. In contrast to earlier works this doesn’t depict being a wife and mother as a particularly positive experience. In 1889 she signed The Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage and later on even set aside her own painting to support the Artists Suffrage League creating posters and banners for the cause. [See a photo taken of her in about 1890, now in the V&A.]
Louise married a lawyer George William Rowe in 1887 and added writing to her incredible list of achievements. She published numerous articles and stories and a book on painting “Hints for Amateurs” and two books of poetry. They moved to Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire at some time in their marriage as she is listed on the 1918 Chesham Bois list of voters. (The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave limited enfranchisement to women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications but women were not given equal suffrage until 1928). In 1919 the Rowes moved from Woodlands, Long Park to Manor Farm, North Road but at the grand age of 76 she didn’t show any sign of retiring. She converted an adjacent barn (now Manor Barn) to a studio, was President of the Chiltern Club for Arts and handicrafts and the Buckinghamshire Arts guild and even published her memoirs “Twenty Years of My Life” in 1925. When she died at Manor Farm the obituary in the Bucks Examiner said that “When all has been said about her artistic activities, it is as a personality that Mrs Jopling-Rowe will be remembered. She retained her popularity to the last.”
Louise’s son Lindsay, after a successful career as an administrator in India, converted her Chesham Bois studio as a weekend house for his wife, Joan Izott Elwes, a musician, and their three children. After his death in 1967, his son John Jopling, a barrister sold the barn and moved to Fingringhoe. However Louise’s creativity has continued in her descendents with several musicians in the family. Her great-granddaughter Daisy is a successful violinist, based in New York with her own group, the Daisy Jopling Band.
This remarkable lady, who lived such a fascinating and incredible life, deserves to be remembered today. Dr Patricia de Montfort of the University of Glasgow is carrying out a research project into her life and has published a book. Louise Jopling: A Biographical and Cultural Study of the Modern Woman Artist in Victorian Britain, published by Routledge-Ashgate. More information can be found on her website www.louisejopling.arts.gla.ac.uk.
To see a selection of Louise’s paintings, click here.