Wakefield artist to get blue plaque

HONOUR: Louisa Fennell, watercolour artist.
HONOUR: Louisa Fennell, watercolour artist.

A blue plaque will be unveiled to celebrate the work of an award-winning Wakefield artist who died in 1930.

The plaque dedicated to Louisa Fennell will be revealed at The Hepworth gallery in the city in September.

It comes as the Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, a group researching the extraordinary lives of women from the district's past, share her story after delving into the history books.

Volunteer researcher for the group Nicky Harley said: "One of the greatest female watercolour artists of the last century, Louisa Fennell's works provide a magical snapshot of the Victoria era.

"Her success is measured in her treasured works which now languish in the vaults of the Hepworth Gallery."

Louisa had her first art lesson at the age of 13, and five years later won her first accolade at the 1865 Wakefield Industrial and Art Exhibition, beating her father who submitted two entries, the group has found.

Spurred on by her success, she attended Wakefield School of Art and for the next 25 years exhibited at the Society of Women Artists.

Aged 29, she won a place at the Penzance Art School, whose famed alumni include Wakefield sculptor Barbara Hepworth.

Two months later, she exhibited for the first time at the Royal Society of British Artists, a group so exclusive at the time that it had only 50 members, the most distinguished of artists, the Forgotten Women researchers said.

She spent her early 30s producing prints in Rome, whilst in her 50s, her work had a focus much closer to home. She painted her childhood haunts, showing a now-forgotten Victorian Wakefield, including the city's Shambles.

Following her death, her loved ones bequeathed her works to Wakefield Art Gallery to be preserved and shared with the people of the city.

Her blue plaque, supported by Wakefield Civic Society, will be unveiled on September 8.

It is the second blue plaque the group, who hope to achieve parity in the number of honours for men and women in the city, have helped to obtain and the first for them in the city centre area itself.

Sarah Cobham, who is leading the Forgotten Women project, said: "She's the first of 50 and what an incredible woman to plaque. I think it is really fitting that we have brought forward a woman who left such an amazing visual legacy but whose story was quite hard to track. It's a real testament to our team including Helga Fox, who was the main researcher."

The group will share Louisa's story in Wakefield Art Walk on Wednesday, July 25 from 5pm until 6.30pm at Brews Bites and Books and again at St Paul's Church Walton on July 26 at 7pm.

A spoken word workshop focusing on her will be held on August 3, from 10am until noon, at Custom's House and a community art session, based on her life, will take place at the Art House on the same day, from 1pm until 3pm.