Averil Mary Burleigh (née Dell), ARWS RI SWA (1882-1949)
The versatile art of the painter and illustrator, Averil Burleigh, is distinguished by its strong sense of design. Initially influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and drawn to Mediaeval subject matter, she became increasingly known for her luminous temperas and watercolours. Averil Burleigh was born Averil Dell in Hassocks, Sussex, in the third quarter of 1882, the third of five children of the upholsterer, Henry Dell, and his wife Hannah (née White), the daughter of an Essex miller and agricultural labourer. By 1891, Averil had moved with her family to West House, West Street, Ditchling, and by 1901 they had all settled at 27 St Michael’s Place, Brighton. By that date, her father was working as an auctioneer as well as an upholsterer. She studied at Brighton School of Art.
In 1904, Averil Dell married the artist, Charles H H Burleigh, in Brighton, and they soon settled at 7 Wilbury Crescent, Hove, a house that they designed for themselves, and which included a top floor studio.
They would have a son, Duncan (1905), and a daughter, Veronica (1909), the latter becoming a painter.
Averil Burleigh was an early and prominent member of the Sussex Women’s Art Club, which was founded in Brighton in 1906. However, she became more widely established as the illustrator of The Poems of John Keats (Chapman & Hall, 1911) and three volumes of Greening & Co’s series ‘Novels from Shakespeare’ (1913-15). Her colour plates – with their flat, outlined figures – revealed the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and chimed greatly with the aesthetic of the magazine, The Studio, which featured six of her drawings in April 1913. By then, she had begun to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the Paris Salon. Gaining a reputation for her temperas and watercolours, Burleigh became a member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, the Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera, the Society of Women Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (1929) and later an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours (1939). By 1933, she was Honorary Secretary of the Sussex Women’s Art Club.
Burleigh held a joint exhibition with her husband at Hove Public Library in 1923, and two solo shows at the Fine Art Society, London, in 1925 and 1934. She also showed work with the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the International Society, the New English Art Club, and the leading provincial societies.
In 1939, the Burleighs were recorded as living in Hove with their adult children. However, they spent most the Second World War in Betws-y-Coed, in Caernarfonshire, Wales. Averil Burleigh died in Hove on 18 March 1949, and was survived by her husband and children. A memorial exhibition of her work was held later that year at Brighton Art Gallery. Her work is represented in the collections of Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries.