Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


EDITH HUME (Truro circa 1840 – after 1904)

The Shell-Gatherers

signed E. Hume in the lower left

oil on panel

10 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches          (25.8 x 36.2 cm.)


Private Collection, Florida, circa 1968 until the present time


Edith Hume née Dunn was born in Truro, Cornwall, the daughter of Harry Littlejohn and Frances Dunn. Her father was a prosperous tea and spice merchant, her mother a talented embroiderer and sketcher. There were five siblings – Emily, the eldest, then Harry Treffry, Frances, Edith and Ellen. Edith’s companion and confidant was Harry with whom she shared a childhood passion for wandering around Cornwall on sketching expeditions. Often their focus was the beach and its sea birds. Edith began her formal artistic training at Heatherley’s Art School in London where her brother was also enrolled. Heatherley’s was the first school in London to admit female candidates on an equal basis as their male counterparts. It was also a school that encouraged its students to develop their own style. Edith was one of four or five women enrolled including her classmate Kate Greenway. Other luminaries were Walter Crane, Sir William Russell Flint, Sir John Lavery, Sir Edward Poytner and Frank Salisbury. Classes began at 6 a.m. and often students worked for the next twelve hours. After that evening classes ran from 7-10 p.m. six days a week. The only official holidays were Christmas and Good Friday.[1]

A skilled painter, watercolorist and illustrator, Edith began publicly exhibiting in 1862 while living in Worcester. She also provided illustrations to periodicals such as The Quiver: An Illustrated Magazine for Sunday and General Reading.[2] By the 1860s her brother Harry had become Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio assistant. Edith began to travel a great deal on the Continent, particularly to Holland. In 1870 she married the landscape painter Thomas O. Hume and no longer exhibited as Edith Dunn but at Mrs. Thomas O. Hume or Mrs. Edith Hume. In total 83 works are recorded as having been shown by the artist at: The British Institution; Fine Art Society, Glasgow; Institute of Fine Arts; Grosvenor Gallery; Manchester City Art Gallery; New Water-colour Society; Royal Academy; Royal Scottish Academy; Royal Institute of Oil Painters; Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours; Royal Society of British Artists; Suffolk Street and the Walker Art Gallery among others. Hume’s works are in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London as well as the museums of Bournemouth and Sheffield.[3]

The Humes lived in London but eventually settled in the scenic district of South Harting at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex.[4] In 1904 Edith was instrumental in getting her brother’s book Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Circle published to which she also contributed illustrations. Until Rossetti’s death in 1882, Harry Treffry Dunn had not only been his studio assistant but also one of his closest associates.[5] His portrait of Rossetti hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Besides being of general assistance in the running of the household at Cheyene Walk, Harry produced replicas of Rossetti’s works. Upon his death he completed many of the unfinished commissions and helped organize the estate. Sadly after Rossetti’s death Harry’s own career floundered complicated by alcoholism.[6] In February 1899 he collapsed while sitting at his easel and died shortly thereafter.[7]

Edith Hume is best known for her sympathetic portrayals of fisherfolk on the beach. In her art the strong influence of The Hague School and particularly Bernardus Johannes Blommers is evident. Working mainly in Scheveningen, Blommers specialized in depicting the lives of the fishing community, especially the wives and children. This coincided with a period when the seaside and swimming in the ocean came into fashion. Fishing villages like Scheveningen became resorts that attracted visitors and artists from all over the world, almost assuredly including Edith. The Hague School artists from the 1870s onwards became incredibly popular as did a general taste for all things Dutch. This proved especially true in England, Canada and America.[8]

Edith’s portrayals of Dutch children are among her most captivating images. In this panel, backed by a vista filled with sky and sea, four Dutch children sit on a beach decorating a sand castle with shells. The youngest of the group has fallen asleep in the protective embrace of an older companion. Two bright beacons of light produced by the placement of the two girls’ white caps in the center of the panel serves to immediately draw the viewer’s eye into the composition. Having relinquished their bounty a pair of well-worn shoes form a charming element in the lower right that further draws the observer to the heart of the scene. Sea grass is blown by a gentle wind along the foreground while gulls soar in the background. It is a vision of innocence as well as an ode to the joys of the simple pleasures of childhood.



[1] Gale Pedrick, Life with Rossetti or No Peacocks Allowed, Macdonald, London, 1964, pp. 10, 17-18, 26, 29-32. Gale Pedrick was Edith Hume’s great-nephew and had access to family letters and lore as well as relatives firsthand accounts.

[2] Simon Houfe, “Edith Hume” in The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1996, p. 126.

[3] Biographical information taken from Thieme-Becker, “Edith Hume” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XVIII, Veb E.A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1909, p. 126; Algernon Graves, “Miss Edith Dunn” and “Mrs. T.O. Hume” in Dictionary of Artists Who Have Exhibited in the Principal London Exhibitions from 1760 to 1893, Burt Franklin, New York, 1901, reprint 1970, pp. 86, 147; Pedrick, op. cit., p. 32; Jane Johnson & A. Greutzner, eds., “Edith Hume” in The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1988, p. 264.

[4] Pedrick, op. cit., p. 32.

[5] Willem Michael Rossetti “Prefatory Note” in Harry Treffry Dunn, Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Circle, Elkin Mathews, London, 1904, pp. 5-6.

[6] Andrea Rose, Pre-Raphaelite Portraits, Yeovil, Somerset, c. 1981, p. 42.

[7] Pedrick, op. cit., p. 228.

[8] Hans Kraan, “The Vogue for Holland” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London & traveling, 1983, pp. 115, 118, 120.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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