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24 June 2020

We had the admirable Ellen Sharples on the front of the recent Biannually (which should be arriving about now abroad). Here she is with her daughter Rolinda, and here are the details about their life in Bristol: ‘In 1811 she settled there permanently with her son and daughter and concentrated on establishing a portrait practice. Rolinda’s career took on a different and more ambitious direction, for she began to paint large portraits and complicated group scenes in oils. James, Jr., who lived a more independent life from his mother and sister, continued to paint portraits. The family was successful, but both her children predeceased her. Rolinda died of breast cancer in 1838, and James Jr. died of tuberculosis in 1839. Of her loss, Ellen wrote to a friend,”that in my recent losses, my feelings must have been agonising; for you knew how uniformly exemplary were the affectionate kindness of my dear highly gifted son & daughter to their mother, how devoted she was, placing all her happiness in them….” When Ellen died in 1849 aged 83 she left a substantial estate of £4,000 to the Bristol Academy for the Promotion of Fine Arts which was instrumental in financing Bristol’s first art gallery, now the Royal West of England Academy.’ You can be sure from the intelligence and kindness of their expressions that they would not have approved of the slave trade for one second. And yet remembering how we felt about apartheid in the 1960s and what we could do about it, we cannot censure them for not taking action: many of us now feel consumed with guilt that we did not march every week, write letters every day and generally make our views felt about what was going on in South Africa. While we led our privileged 1960s lives, concerned but absolutely powerless. Cf. the incredible The World that was Ours.

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