Henrietta   Rae

(Hammersmith, London, 30 December 30, 1859 - 26 January 1928, Upper Norwood, London)

Henrietta Rae
Henrietta Rae was the wife of the painter Ernest Normand (married in 1884) and was one of the few female artists to tackle large-scale classical and allegorical subjects. Rae and her husband lived in Holland Park and were neighbours of Lord Leighton.

Rae began to study art at the age of thirteen, and was a pupil at Heatherley's and at the R.A. Schools. A medallist at the Paris and Chicago Universal Exhibitions. She exhibited from 1881, at the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery and elsewhere. Her principal paintings are:
'Ariadne' 1885
'Ophelia' 1890 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)
'Flowers Plucked and Cast Aside' 1892
'Sir Richard Whittington and his Charities' 1900 (fresco for the Royal Exchange)
'Portrait of Lady Tenterden and Echo' 1906
'Hylas and the Water Nymphs' 1910


Husband and Wife in Art -- Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Normand.

Marriage, it has been said, is generally the end of a woman's career in art. There would probably be less truth in the aphorism if the girl-painter found her mate in a brother of the brush -- which scarcely ever happens. It did happen in the case of Henrietta Rae and Ernest Normand, which may be held partly to explain the brilliant fulfilment by the former's pictures of the promise of her maidenhood.

Mr. and Mrs. Normand's union was one of the romances of the Royal Academy schools in London, where they were students together some seventeen or eighteen years ago. The circumstances attending Mrs. Normand's admission to the schools were such as to win for her the sympathy and admiration from all the students. Six times she competed for a studentship. The fifth time the name of Henrietta Rae was last in the successful list. Then it was found that through some blundering, one student too many had been elected and the last name was struck out. This was a cruel disappointment to the young aspirant after such heroic perseverance. It can only be said that Henrietta Rae's after-career tends to discount the value of academic competitions in art.

When Mr. and Mrs. Normand were Academy students, it may be added, marriages were never -- or scarcely ever -- made there. The young women and the young men at times worked in the same studios, and, as they were always getting in each other's way, their relations were apt to be strained. It was arranged that their work should be done apart, and there was at once a violent reaction of feeling. Flirtation flourished during the luncheon interval in the corridors until unsympathetic authorities rendered this impossible by placing there the most gruesome of anatomical specimens. An earnest worker himself, it may well have been the same quality in her which first attracted Mr. Normand to his future wife. Always determined to become an artist, Henrietta Rae left school at fourteen in order that she might spend her days in the British Museum drawing from the antique. A year or two later she went to Heatherley's well- known art school to draw from the life, and found herself the only female student in the evening classes. So far from suffering the hardships of the pioneer, however, Henrietta Rae received from the men there a deference and consideration which in these days when girls crowd the art schools are not always shown to her sex. It was with their encouragement that she gallantly sustained her long siege to the Academy schools. Thanks to an early beginning she was still as young as most of her fellow students when the deferred success came.

The son of a successful business man who has a warm appreciation for art, Mr. Ernest Normand has doubtless had his path smoothed as much as it can be smoothed by such a circumstance. But his success, like that of his wife, can be attributed to his own personal endeavour. Although his determination was never put to so severe a trial, he is still remembered at the Academy schools as one of the best workers they have ever had.

Mrs. Normand's first R.A. picture was hung in 1880, whilst she was still a student in the schools. Since that date neither she nor her husband had missed an exhibition until last year. As the examples given in these pages will suggest, there are points of sympathy as well as of difference, between the classical pictures of the wife and the Oriental and Scriptural subjects of the husband, and their travels from time to time in Egypt, Algiers and other parts of the East have probably been of equal value to both.

This year Mrs. Normand is represented at London's great exhibition of pictures by a painting of "Diana," and Mr. Normand by a decorative panel on the subject of "Pandora's Box." They are among the artists selected for the pictures at the Royal Exchange illustrative of the history of London, Mr. Normand's being the "Ratification of Magna Charta by King John", and his wife's the distribution of "Sir Richard Whittington's Charities". They are allowed two years in which to execute the commission. Mrs. Normand has painted a few portraits, her latest subject being next year's Lady Mayoress of London.

Pearson's Magazine, Vol. VIII. July to December, 1899.

Henrietta Rae, exhibited her first picture at the Royal Academy in 1880, when she was twenty years of age. Her first popular success was that famous picture which is to be found in all quarters of the globe to-day, "Psyche at the Throne of Venus." This picture was exhibited in 1895, after Mrs. Normand had been "painting hard," to quote her own words, "for nearly twenty years." Therefore, "out of my own experience," she says, "I can say to any young artist who may be depressed through lack of immediate success - Don't give up because you have failed to get that commendation for which you had hoped. Even when the cup of success was offered to me there was a big, bitter drop mingled with its sweetness, for one of the critics facetiously described my picture as a glorified Christmas card!"

HENRIETTA RAE was born at Grove Villas, Hammersmith. She was the daughter of Thomas Rae and Anne Eliza, née Graves. Her mother would have preferred her to study music, but she was interested in art from an early age. She was educated at various artistic establishments including the Female School of Art, Heatherleys, and from 1877, at the Royal Academy schools. She first exhibited at the R.A. in 1881, with "A Portrait of Miss Warman". In 1884, she attracted considerable attention again at the R.A. with "Lancelot and Elaine". In the same year she married Ernest Normand (1857-1923), also a well-known painter. The newly married couple established their home in Holland Park, Kensington, close to Sir Frederic Leighton P.R.A., who was the friend and mentor of Henrietta. She did not formally study with him, but his influence on her was considerable.

The Normands had two children, a son born in 1886, and a daughter in 1893. Henrietta Rae was a noted painter of the nude -- rather innocent chaste nudes by any modern standard. Following her exhibition at the R.A. of "A Bacchante and Ariadne", she received a letter imploring her to “pause on the brink” -- to desist from sinfully painting nudes. Her family doctor famously and facetiously told her to contact the writer, and tell her that the Normand’s recently born son had arrived in the world nude. In 1890, the couple went to Paris to further their artistic education. Henrietta studied at the Academie Julien, which, unusually allowed women students to study from life. [According to A.R.C. Chairman Fred Ross, William Bouguereau was instrumental in opening up the Academie Julien to enrolment by female students. -- Ed] In 1894, she exhibited at the R.A. "Psyche before the Throne of Venus". This large picture, the product of much labour was intended as her magnum opus -- an artistic tour de force which would establish her as a leading artist. In the event a number of critics commented on its prettiness and femininity, in reality dismissing it as a serious work of art. Henrietta was bitterly disappointed and reduced her ambitions from that time. The picture was bought by George McCulloch (1848-1907), the great art collector who was known to have spent over £200,000 on contemporary art.

Throughout her career Henrietta Rae continued to paint portraits and genre pictures. Her work was treated with respect by the Hanging Committee at the R.A. She received medals from the World Fair in Chicago in 1893, and in Paris. Ernest Normand died in 1923, and Henrietta died at their home at 4, Fox Gardens, Upper Norwood, London SE-19 on January 26, 1928. She left an estate of £5965 5s 6d. Henrietta Rae was interred in the Normand Mausoleum in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. The bronze plaque on the tomb commemorating her, was stolen.

OBITUARY - The Times, March 28th 1928

Mrs. Ernest Normand, the painter of classical subjects and portraits, who was better-known by her maiden name of Henrietta Rae, died on Monday at her residence at Upper Norwood at the age of 68.

Born on December 30th 1859 the youngest daughter of T. B. Rae, she began early to study art, and continued her training at Heatherlys, the Royal Academy Schools, and in Paris. She exhibited her first painting at the RA in 1880, and was represented there every year almost to the last. In 1884, she married Ernest Normand, who was known, like her, as a painter of subject pictures and portraits, and who died in 1923. Mrs. Normand was perhaps the better painter of the two.

She was particularly notable for her graceful and poetic nudes, of which the best known is "Psyche at the Throne of Venus", which was to her great indignation was described by one critic as ‘A glorified Christmas card.’ However she had to console herself a full measure of popular appreciation of her of her classical pictures; and in 1900, was commissioned to paint a fresco for The Royal Exchange, representing "Sir Richard Whittington and his charities". She also painted a number of portraits, of which the best was of the late Lord Dufferin exhibited at the R.A. in 1901. She preferred painting men’s portraits. Especially men with strong features.

Mrs. Normand was successful as a teacher, and not a few of her pupils, both men and women, afterwards did credit to her training. She and her husband were kindly people, and for years made their roomy house at Upper Norwood, with its beautiful garden, a hospitable centre for young artists and other friends.

Ernest Normand (1859-1923) was a notable painter in Victorian England. He painted history and orientalist paintings, and also undertook portraits. His work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.

In 1884, he married the painter Henrietta Rae (1859-1928). They both painted the nude in lush settings, and were criticised for an apparent tendency towards an excess of sensuality in some of their paintings. He and his wife were based in London from the early 1890s, where he had his studio and received support from the circle around Lord Leighton. Normand painted the "King John Granting the Magna Carta" (1900), fresco at the Royal Exchange in London.

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Henrietta Rae (Mrs. Ernest Normand) (1905)

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