Eleanor Vere Gordon Boyle

(1 May 1825 - 29 July 1916)

English artist and author of the Victorian era. She has been considered the most important female illustrator of the 1860s.

She was born in Scotland, the youngest daughter of Alexander Gordon of Ellon Castle, Aberdeenshire. In 1845 she married Richard Cavendish Boyle (1812–86), a younger son of the 8th Earl of Cork; R. C. Boyle served as the rector of Marston Bigot in Somerset (1836–75) and later as Queen Victoria's chaplain. Because of her social position, she rarely exhibited or sold her artwork -- actions that would have been déclassé in the standards of her time and place. She did allow a rare exhibition of her art at Leighton House c. 1902. Consistently, in both her visual art and her books, she employed her initials, E. V. B., to mask her identity.

Boyle applied her skill as a watercolorist to illustrate children's books. In 1852, a small volume titled Child's Play matched Boyle pictures with traditional nursery rhymes like "Little Boy Blue." She illustrated a wide range of similar books, including Tennyson's "The May Queen" (1860) -- she was a friend of the poet -- and the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" (1875) -- she depicted the Beast as a sabre-toothed panther. In 1868 she illustrated Sarah Austen's translation of Friedrich Wilhelm "Carové's The Story Without an End"; and in 1872 she became one of the first British artists to illustrate the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, and set a new standard of quality for Andersen illustration.

Boyle was familiar with many of the Pre-Raphaelites; Dante Gabriel Rossetti called her "great in design." She was a cousin of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford, another woman artist of her era.

In 1893 Boyle published "A Book of the Heavenly Birthdays", a small aid to meditation that combined her watercolors with poetry by William Morris, Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walter Savage Landor and others. The book provides an example of "the eschatological thrust of much of her work...."

Boyle was interested in garden design; she re-created the Evelyn garden at Huntercombe Manor in Burnham, Buckinghamshire from 1872 on. She wrote books on gardening, like her "Days and Hours in a Garden" (1884), "A Garden of Pleasure" (1895), and "Seven Gardens and a Palace" (1900). Her "The Peacock's Pleasaunce" (1908) is a collection of belle-lettrist essays.

Three of her children, two sons and a daughter, pre-deceased her. She was survived by a son and daughter.

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Boyle [née Gordon], Eleanor Vere (1825–1916), illustrator and author, was born on 1 May 1825 at Auchlunies, Aberdeenshire, the youngest of the nine children of Alexander Gordon (1783–1873) of Auchlunies, son of George, third earl of Aberdeen, and his wife, Albinia Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Cumberland and Lady Albinia Cumberland, daughter of George, third earl of Buckinghamshire. Her mother was an amateur painter. Her early childhood was spent at Auchlunies and she was educated at home. She often visited Maryculter, the seat of her uncle General Gordon, in the nearby valley, and even after the family moved to Hampton Wick in 1833 they frequently travelled north, particularly to Ellon Castle, Aberdeenshire, which her father inherited in 1840. She also went regularly to Hampton Court, where her grandmother, Lady Albinia Cumberland (formerly maid of honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III), occupied grace-and-favour apartments.

On 23 September 1845, at a ceremony in St George's Hanover Square, Eleanor Gordon married the Hon. and Revd Richard Cavendish Townshend Boyle (1812–1886), the youngest son of Edmund, eighth earl of Cork and Orrery. Her husband was vicar of Marston Bigot, Somerset, and in 1847 became chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. They lived at Marston rectory, Marston Bigot, at that time a remote and old-fashioned area, spending their holidays in Switzerland, the south of France, and Italy. The first of their five children was born in 1846, the fifth and last in 1854.

Although Boyle undoubtedly received art instruction as a child, it was not until the birth of her own children that she developed her talent—under the influence of the works of Albrecht Dürer, the Pre-Raphaelites, and John Ruskin's Modern Painters, and with the benefit of informal advice from William Boxall, Charles Eastlake, and Thomas Landseer; the latter taught her to etch. Between 1852 and 1877 Boyle (who was known professionally as E. V. B. or the Hon. Mrs Richard Boyle) illustrated fourteen books, the majority fairy tales or nursery rhymes. Child's Play (1852) with seventeen drawings (the first time nursery rhymes had been illustrated) and A Children's Summer (1853) with eleven etchings on steel by the artist (illustrating prose by her cousin, Mary Boyle, and verse by W. M. Call) won praise from John Ruskin, Thomas Landseer, Tom Taylor, and Francis Turner Palgrave, and led to the suggestion that she should be included, with Lady Waterford, in John Millais's sketching club project of 1854. There followed Waifs and Strays from a Scrap-Book (1862), Woodland Gossip (1864), A Leaflet from a German Christmas Tree (1865), In the Fir Wood (1866), The Story without an End (1868), A Dream Book (1870), a new translation of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales (1872), Beauty and the Beast (1875), The Magic Valley, or, Patient Antoine by Eliza Keary (1877), and A New Child's Play (1877). She also illustrated Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (for Favourite English Poems published by Sampson Low in 1859) and Lord Tennyson's May Queen (1861). Idealized children, often in mysterious natural surroundings with meticulously rendered plants and animals, predominate in her illustrations, most of which, from the 1860s, were reproduced photographically and some subsequently printed in colour. Boyle also exhibited fourteen designs for illustrations and independent works at the Society of Female Artists (Society of Lady Artists from 1869) (1859–79), five at watercolour exhibitions of the Dudley Gallery (1872–80), thirteen at the latter's black and white exhibitions (1877–80), and three at the Grosvenor Gallery (1880, 1881). Constantly involved with charitable work in her husband's parish, Eleanor Boyle often used the proceeds from her sales and publications for good causes: she financed the provision of fresh drinking water in Lower Marston and refurbished her husband's church.

About 1871, on Richard Boyle's retirement, the family moved to Huntercombe Manor, near Burnham in Buckinghamshire, where Boyle re-created the extensive garden, planting roses on a large scale and 20,000 snowdrops. From 1878, when her husband suffered a stroke, Boyle's artistic output lessened considerably and she devoted herself to writing. Nature, gardens, and what she called ‘the day of small things, of Nature's delicate masterpieces’ (E. V. Boyle, The Peacock's Pleasaunce, 1908, 92) were her main subjects in ten books published between 1884 and 1908, many illustrated with small black and white vignettes. Days and Hours in a Garden, dedicated to her husband, who died in 1886, was her most popular work, ten editions appearing between 1884 and 1898. Also successful were Ros rosarum ex horta poetarum (1885), an anthology of poetry about roses to which Tennyson and Bulwer-Lytton contributed verses, and Seven Gardens and a Palace (3rd edn, 1900)—a collection of essays by Eleanor Boyle reprinted from the Anglo-Saxon Review, Blackwood's Magazine, Country Life, the National Review, and the Pall Mall Magazine—describing gardens she had known since her childhood. She presented a copy of this last work to her friend Queen Alexandra.

Boyle's views on art were also published. A patroness of the Frome School of Art since its foundation in 1868, she twice addressed its students (in 1870 and 1899), encouraging a ‘patient following of Nature for love of Nature's truth’ and education of ‘the perception of beauty’ while decrying impressionism and the ‘profoundly joyless’ art inspired by Burne-Jones (E. V. Boyle, The Peacock's Pleasaunce, 1908, 249, 258, 253). She herself continued to sketch; in 1902 an exhibition was held of her work entitled ‘Sketches, dreams and drawings’ at Leighton House, Kensington, London. Her last work, drawn for Tennyson in 1911, was Love hath us in the Net.

Much of Eleanor Boyle's considerable wealth having been lost as a result of unwise investments by her son-in-law, a banker (to whom her fortune was entrusted after the death of her husband), her old age was spent in comparative poverty. She died in Brighton on 29 July 1916 and was buried in Marston Bigot churchyard.

English female artists, E. C. Clayton, 2 vols. (1876)
Women of the day, A biographical dictionary of notable contemporaries, F. Hays, (1885)
The Times (18 Aug 1916)
© Ownership: [Oxford Dictionary of National Biography] div

Eleanor Vere Gordon
F, #62045, d. 30 July 1916
Eleanor Vere Gordon was the daughter of Alexander Gordon. She married Reverend Hon. Richard Cavendish Boyle, son of General Edmund Boyle, 8th Earl of Cork and Isabella Henrietta Poyntz, on 23 September 1845. She died on 30 July 1916.
Her married name became Boyle.
Children of Eleanor Vere Gordon and Reverend Hon. Richard Cavendish Boyle
1.Isabella Albinia Boyle+2 d. 25 Aug 1929
2.Hamilton Richard Boyle1 b. 3 Feb 1848, d. 12 Nov 1909
3.Major Charles John Boyle+1 b. 17 Mar 1849, d. 1 Nov 1922
4.Algernon Edward Richard Boyle2 b. 17 Sep 1854, d. 26 Jun 1914


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