From Frances Hodgkins to Hannah Ritchie, 14th March 1925, 61 Earls Court Square, SW5
‘Did I tell you Miss Barling has 4 good canvases at the W I A C – in fact the best in the show – my private view. She must show in a more modern gallery’.
Elsie Barling (1883-1975) was born in Newnham, Gloucestershire. Following the deaths of her brother and father, the family moved to Kent where she became a school teacher. Barling began an enduring friendship with Frances Hodgkins after being introduced to her by Amy Krauss. Barling later joined Hodgkins’ sketching class in Burford in the summer of 1923, accompanied by her close friend Dorothy Selby.
An occasional exhibitor, Barling had a devotion to painting that was limited by her need for steady employment as an art teacher. She taught at Betteshanger and Bryanston schools and as a teacher was spoken of with great affection and admiration. Full time employment left only school holidays for her own professional development. This meant that she was in many ways more disciplined than artists who were free from external commitments.
In 1927 Barling and Hodgkins visited Tréboul, Brittany and were joined by Dorothy Selby, Hannah Ritchie, Jane Saunders, Cedric Morris and Lett Haines before moving on to Concarneau. While Barling was fourteen years Hodgkins’ junior, the two evidently had a sincere friendship but there is every indication that Barling was her own person when it came to her painting.
Barling exhibited alongside Hodgkins at St George’s Gallery, London in 1928. Hodgkins wrote of the exhibition to Dorothy Selby;
‘The St George’s Gallery has written to ask me for 2 Water Colours to be sent in by the 25th ... hope Barling will be prepared – but then, curse her, she always is’.
The artist’s documented statement that she and Hodgkins often went together to Brittany and southern France does not mean that they painted the same subjects in these locations nor that they adopted a similar style. In locations common to them both (Brittany, Cornwall, Tossa de Mar), it is clear that Barling remained committed to form in a way that Hodgkins did not – a point well illustrated by the present work, A Fishing Port. This work also hints that Barling had paid some attention to the post-war trend in France known as the‘retour à l’ordre’or return to order, which eschewed expressionism of any kind for a sense of structure.
Their lifelong association had a profound effect on Barling. In an interview with June Opie in 1969, Barling stated;
‘She was about the most interesting person I knew. I lived a very plainish (ordinary) kind of life. Taught painting at big schools, at Bryanston and places, you see, and if I hadn’t met her I shouldn’t have gone abroad so much, probably. And I met all sorts of interesting people through her. I think she gave me more of an open mind altogether’.
A memorial exhibition of Barling’s work was shown at the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester in 1977.