Caroline Toulmin Paterson (1856-1911), also known as Mrs Caroline Sharpe
Caroline Paterson was a Victorian watercolourist and illustrator. She specialised in domestic landscapes and interiors, often featuring children and always depicting a quintessentially idyllic view of rural England. She also forged a successful career as a children’s illustrator and, despite marrying in 1892, continued to work and exhibit until 1904. Caroline Paterson was born in Altrincham, Cheshire, in 1856, the daughter of Dr Alexander Henry Paterson and his wife, Mary Chance Paterson (née Herford), she was one of the seven siblings of the artist, Helen Allingham (née Paterson). She came from an artistic family; her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford, and aunt, Laura Herford, were both accomplished artists in their day. In 1860, Laura Herford was famously the first woman to attend the Royal Academy Schools, after she was admitted by accident when she submitted work under her initials, ‘L.
H’, disguising her sex. She was a champion of equal artistic education for women throughout her career and encouraged the early talents of her young nieces, Helen and Caroline.
In 1862, Alexander Paterson, died of diphtheria contracted from treating his patients in the local parish during an epidemic. His youngest daughter, three-year-old Isabel also succumbed to the disease, and the family moved to Birmingham to stay with Mrs Paterson’s family. Though little is known about Caroline Paterson’s formal education, her style and technical skill significantly resembles those of her sister Helen, who studied at the Birmingham School of Design and the Royal Academy Schools. Their aunt Laura Herford continued to be a strong influence on the young artists; in 1867, Helen moved to live with her in London and, in 1883, both Helen and Caroline’s names are seen on a petition to the Royal Academy to allow women to attend life drawing classes. Later that year, after a twenty-year campaign, women were finally permitted to study a partially draped model. The length of this campaign gives some context to the difficulty women artists faced, at this time, in receiving the same standard of training and education as their male contemporaries.
Paterson specialised early in idyllic domestic landscapes and interiors, her work often featuring children at play, being mischievous or caring for another. Her pictures have become known for their evocation of a paradigmatic Victorian view of the tenderness and innocence of childhood. She was also a talent portraitist, as seen in an early watercolour portrait of her Grandmother, Grandmama Davis 1781-1889, possibly her maternal great grandmother. Throughout the 1880s, she forged a successful and productive career as an illustrator of children’s books and Christmas cards. In the census of 1881, she is recorded as an ‘Artist Painter in Water Colour’, whilst visiting a boarding house in Lancaster. In 1886, she was commissioned by Marcus Ward & Co, one of the leading publishers of the day, to illustrate a Christmas book, Three Fairy Princess. The book was an immediate success and led to a rise in her popularity as an illustrator. The critic for The Magazine of Art wrote in ‘Art in December’ (1886) that, ‘Caroline Paterson’s illustrations for “Snow White”, “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty” make it one of this year’s best Christmas books’. Paterson’s output was impressive, in 1890 alone she illustrated, Claude and Claudia, A Tale, by Mrs H Martin, Little Sir Nicholas, by C A Jones and Stella’s Cup, byMay Elsdale, among others.She also illustrated William Allingham’s Rhymes for the Young Folk alongside Helen Allingham, Kate Greenaway and Harry Furniss. She continued to undertake illustrative commissions whilst maintaining a presence in exhibiting societies in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, as well as the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Dudley Gallery, London.
By the 1891, Paterson was living at Gayton Crescent, Hampstead with her mother. The family had a long association with the famously artistic area and, by this time, Helen Allingham, who was widowed in 1888, was living a few roads away, at Eldon House, Lyndhurst Road, with her three children.
In 1892, at the age of 36, Paterson married Sutton Sharpe, a bank clerk, and moved around the corner from her mother and sister, to 42 Willow Road. Though it is often said that she remained active only until her marriage in 1892, examples of her work signed ‘C Sharpe’, such as Buttercups, suggest otherwise. It is likely that her career was briefly curtailed by the birth of her children, a daughter, Margaret, born in 1895, and son, Frank, in 1896.
By 1911, Paterson, had returned to 12 Gayton Crescent, and possibly to her mother’s house. In the census, she is listed as the wife of Sutton Sharpe and the mother of two children but also as a ‘Painter Artist’, which suggests she continued to work throughout her marriage and motherhood. She died in Hampstead, in the same year, at the age of 55. She was survived by her husband, children and sister, Helen.
The absence of biographical research on Victorian women artists in comparison with their male contemporaries, despite the number of pictures in existence by such women artists, has been made evident in researching and writing this biography. Paterson’s perseverance with her career after marriage, went against the conventions of a patriarchal Victorian society where women were expected to give up work once married, makes her success remarkable, beyond her relatively short life and impressive output.
It would be imprudent not to mention that Caroline Paterson’s legacy has been somewhat eclipsed by that of her sister, Helen Allingham, who had a much longer life and career. This was likely for a number of reasons, Helen Allingham’s marriage to the poet William Allingham, undoubtedly brought her to a wider artistic circle and greater success but particularly because William died almost forty years before his wife. After his death, it seems that Helen returned to London to resume her career out of necessity and had the opportunity to expand her consistent and commercial talent, continuing to work and exhibit with great success until her death in 1926.