Blithewold has in its collection more than 500 paintings by Marjorie Van Wickle Lyon. Some are exhibited in the Mansion; many more are stored safely in the Archives and Collections facility on the third floor. We have considered our collection static for the most part, only having had three of Marjorie’s paintings donated in the past 25 years. Among our collection are two treasured watercolors painted around 1897 when Marjorie was thirteen years old. She was taking painting lessons in the summer from Bristol artists, Louise Pratt and Hannah Drury.
When Marjorie began to paint seriously in 1939 she took classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. As her work improved she felt confident enough to send paintings to her friends and relatives as gifts; indeed, she ultimately showed her paintings at the Copley Society in Boston and other galleries and sold not a few of them. Marjorie continued painting and exhibiting into her 90s, taking her last painting trip to Rome, Monte Carlo, Paris and Sicily in 1974 at the age of 90.
Recently, we received a letter from Marjorie’s great-nephew, Timothy Allison-Hatch, reminiscing about his childhood visits to Blithewold. He mentioned two paintings his great-aunt had given him. I asked if he could photograph them for our records, and when he did I was very surprised to see that one of them – a charming scene of the Blithewold waterfront with the pump house – was signed MRVW, the initials of Marjorie’s maiden name. This certainly dated the painting to the early Bristol days, both by the initials, and also by its gentle style so different from her later paintings. It is quite similar in execution to Marjorie’s earliest known painting, Lighthouse at Bristol Ferry, done in 1897 when she was thirteen years old. Marjorie’s artistic talent was clear from a young age.
When I told Tim this, he very generously decided to donate the painting to Blithewold. Now we have re-matted it, fitted it with UV-filtering glass, and returned to its original frame. It will hang permanently in the hallway just outside Marjorie’s bedroom.