The Artist at Work

Marguerite Howarth lived locally in Woking and kept her sketchbook with her at home in Surrey, on holiday abroad and in retirement in Yorkshire, painting as she went. Because of this the majority of her work presents a picture of West Surrey but there are also sketches and paintings of Austria, the Alps, Corfu, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Yugoslavia and Morocco where she presumably spent her holidays as well as Scotland. This talented artist produced mainly commercial work before her marriage in addition to her private drawing and this consisted of cards and postcards for Medici as well as some local commercial poster designs. This is confirmed in an archive of her work which was sold at private auction after her death.

There is not too much art work in this archive the artist apparently being content to keep the printed work rather than her original work. Although there are comparatively fewer original copies of this earlier work, the copies of the printed cards and postcards are sufficient in number to provide evidence of the quality and design of Mrs Howarth’s work. Much of her early work is dated although she appeared to discontinue this practice after her marriage preferring to rely on writing her then address on the back.

Following her marriage she turned to precise architectural pen and ink drawings of houses in the local countryside on her move to Woking with her husband. These drawings may well be her most important work and formed the basis of a series of Black and White Studies in the Woking Review and eventually gave rise to a Woking Review calendar in 1958. She then appeared to experiment with putting a wash over black and white drawings see her drawings of Biddles Farm, Chobham and 7/11 Josephs Road, Stoke. Her water colours became a feature of Woking Society of Arts (whose President she became) and Guildford Art Society (of which she was a member) exhibitions.

What particularly attracted me to her work was her addition of line to her water colours enabling me to detect a painting by her from afar. When Peggy retired to live by the Wharfe at Grassington the bridge there was a favourite subject and her palette acquired a bluish tint reflecting her joy at the softer shades prevalent in her native Yorkshire for although she was born over the border in Lancashire in Nelson she was to me a natural Yorkshire woman. This change in palette helps to date her works since as has been said she only very occasionally dated her work.

Most pictures of Newark Mill that we know of are painted in her Surrey palette but contrast these with the picture recently sold by auction in Canada. She was not slow to paint more than one picture of a particular subject. In the case of Newark Mill she returned to the subject even after the mill had burnt down using her sketchbook and memory to produce an almost exact copy.

The archive is unique in showing how she developed two of her water colours now in the Guildford Borough collection, Towards Guildford Cathedral and Old Houses in Park Street. For each there is a preliminary pen and ink drawing preceding a final water colour. Later in life she produced delicate miniature water colours and these turn up from time to time but never of a Surrey subject. This was because when she grew older and became less able to cope with the larger water colour paintings she had retired to Yorkshire.

Her architectural pen and ink drawings of buildings in Surrey are of great value to all those interested in the history of old buildings. Not all our timber framed buildings in the County have survived and Thistle Cottage on Horsell Common and Newark Mill adjacent to the Wey at Ripley are examples of structures which have disappeared and now exist only in Mrs Howarth’s drawings.

Phillip Arnold
March 2015