M.S.Elwes: The Forgotten Artist who Discovered Garden Cottage

My research about William Woodley, the beekeeper who lived at Worlds End-Beedon, has brought me to the discovery of a water-colour painting.  The painting is of Garden Cottage (William Woodley’s home) and it was painted by an obscure female artist by the name of M.S. Elwes or more fully Mary Somerville Elwes. There are several artists with the surname Elwes, and Simon Elwes in particular made his name during the Second World War as a war artist.  But I have found no link with M.S. Elwes to the other artists who share the same surname.

Mary Somerville Elwes 1879 - 1961
Mary Somerville Elwes 1879 – 1961

Mary Elwes was born in 1879 at Wells, Somerset, England.  She was the eldest daughter of Edward Leighton Elwes, who at the time of Mary’s birth was the Vicar of Over Stowey.  The family were well-to-do and the household comprised of several servants. Her father eventually rose to the position of Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral.

During her life, Mary made many trips abroad.   Mary joined the French Red Cross to help wounded service men during the First World War.  Her service was recognised with the British War Medal.

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Passenger lists show how wide she travelled between 1920 – 1945, she visited South and North America, North Africa and Southern Europe.  She would earn a living by painting, undertaking art commissions and lecturing.  She spent the entire Second World War in North America.  She travelled back home to England in November 1945.

Mary made a visit to The Cape (South Africa) in 1952 and that was the last record we have of her foreign excursions.


Garden Cottage, Worlds End, Beedon. (Painted between 1945-1961?)
Garden Cottage, Worlds End, Beedon.
(Painted between 1945-1961?)

She painted a water-colour of Garden Cottage and although there is no date on the painting I have a few ideas about the time period within which it was painted.  The blue shed in the painting was not recorded on the Ordnance Survey (OS) map until 1912 and was absent in the 1900 OS map.  I conclude the painting was done post-1900.

My conservationist friend also had some ideas about the painting.  She felt the style of the frame and mounting (not shown) suggests post-First World War.  The clothes the woman in the painting was wearing, vaguely suggests a dated post-World War Two.

Mary is abroad a lot of the time from at least 1914 to 1945 but she died on 27 November 1961 at Bath, England.  I believe the painting is most likely to have been done between 1945 – 1961.  And whilst this is nearly forty-years after William Woodley’s death in 1923, I don’t think Garden Cottage would have changed much during those years.  This water-colour painting is a valuable contribution to describing William Woodley’s home.

I have thought about why Mary travelled through Worlds End and whether there was someone nearby she was visiting but no obvious answer presents itself.  The beauty of the flowers outside Garden Cottage in the painting makes me understand why she stopped and painted the scene around the house.  I  wonder whether Mary sold the painting to the householder at the time and also whether she made any other paintings during her visit to Worlds End.  The painting resides in Beedon and belongs to a relative of Mr Woodley.

If you can add to the life-story of M.S Elwes, or have one of her pieces of art, or you are a relative of hers, please get in touch.

Side View of Garden Cottage 2014.
Side View of Garden Cottage 2014.

[Update 25 May 2015:  I have written another blog about Mary Somerville Elwes – click here)

11 thoughts on “M.S.Elwes: The Forgotten Artist who Discovered Garden Cottage

  1. I have a water-color by Mary Somerville Elwes painted from my grandfather’s bay window in Stony Creek, Ct. in 1937. A note on the back of the drawing states that she is a cousin of Simon Elwes the noted portrait painter and also a cousin of Admiral Somerville who sank the French fleet that would not give up in 1940. She was evidently a lecturer as well and gave many lectures such as “English and American Gardens”, “Gardens in Twenty One Countries” and “Hints to Flower Painters”. It also states that she was born in Somersetshire, England under the shadow of Wells Cathedral. It also mentions that “In an exhibition in London of ‘French Battlefields and English Gardens’ Queen Mary purchased a water-color of English flowers and complimented Miss Elwes on her pictures of devastated France”. The painting has been in my family since it was painted. I walked down the path that is shown many times as a young boy,

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 May 2015 — 8:38 pm

      Don, a big thank-you for sharing this information about Mary Elwes. It just shows how powerful wordpress is at connecting people and ideas.

      I was wondering, please could you post/send photographs of your painting and its note? I am quite intrigued!

      My email is:-
      beehive.yourself@charlton-estate.co.uk Or, why not write a blog about M.S. Elwes with attached photos?

      Looking at the New York passenger list, Mary arrives in New York on 5 March 1937. Stony Creek seems quite close to New York. It looks a beautiful place in Google. I wonder how many paintings she did when was there?

      thanks again and I hope to hear from you soon.

    2. Margaret stockton 26 March 2017 — 10:18 pm

      I have three paintings from my grandparents and I am wondering f if it’s the same artist!

      1. Hi Margaret and thanks for the post. Would it be possible if you could email me photos of the paintings and I will gladly give you my thoughts. My email is beemail@beehiveyourself.co

      2. Donald Clarke 9 May 2017 — 4:54 pm

        Found this past reference to an auction of one of MSE’s paintings. Thought it might be of interest.

        Don Clarke


      3. Thanks Don. I see a cathedral in the background; could this be Wells cathedral in England?

      4. Since it’s really not in my neck of the woods I can’t answer that. Since she was raised in that area I do suppose she could have done some of her paintings in that area.

  2. Catharine Rowlands Gastmeier 17 June 2015 — 1:15 pm

    I have a water colour painted by Elwes that is a harbour scene in Bermuda. I belonged to my grandfather. Painted May 29th 1945 – Flatts Village Bermuda from across the channel by the aquarium. My grandfather was a minister in Bermuda at the time(Ernest Rowlands.
    What is the value of her paintings -thinking insurance- and my will.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 17 June 2015 — 2:41 pm

      Thank-you ever so much for leaving a comment. I believe Mary Elwes sat-out the War in Bermuda and your painting very much confirms this. I have no idea what the value of your picture nor what Elwes paintings are generally worth. Her work infrequently comes to market and I believe this is the only website which has given Mary Elwes any interest. I suspect the her value work will increase in the future should the art-world become more aware of her work.

      If you wouldn’t mind, I would love to see a photograph of your painting and perhaps I could write a piece about it for my blog?

      You can contact me on beehive.yourself@charlton-estate.co.uk
      kind regards

  3. Mary Elwes was my godmother and my mother’s eldest sister. She often visited my parents in Chieveley which is a village near Beedon. She is buried in Chieveley.
    I remember taking her to Southampton to embark on the white Line ship for South America I951.
    My sister’s and I have several of her paintings.

    Another of her sisters Joan Jopling was a contralto singer whose voice was greatly admired by Sir Edward Elgar who wrote some songs for her.
    J P E Glover

    1. Thank-you for getting in touch. The Chieveley connection perhaps explains how Mary Elwes found Garden Cottage in Worlds End, Beedon. I must visit the cemetery in Chieveley and see if I can find her grave. Out of curiosity, what are the paintings of, that you and your sister possess? (I would love to see photographs). My email address is beemail@beehiveyourself.co

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