Helen Cordelia Coleman, ARWS RI (1847-1884)
‘One of the most exquisite artists of our time’ (The Times, 12 March 1884)
Just before his death in 1864, William Henry Hunt declared that Helen Cordelia Coleman was his only successor as a painter of the intense form of still life that he had invented.
Helen Cordelia Coleman was born in Horsham, Sussex, in January 1847, the daughter of a physician. She received lessons in art from her brother, William Stephen Coleman (1829-1904), who had trained as a surgeon but worked as a painter and illustrator. Developing as a still-life painter in oil and watercolour, she specialised in small studies of fruit, flowers and birds in the manner of William Henry Hunt.
In 1865, Coleman began to exhibit with the General Water-Colour Society of the Dudley Gallery, her brother William being a member of the gallery’s management committee. She also showed work at the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, the Grosvenor Gallery and the Royal Academy.
When her brother became Director of Minton’s Art Pottery Studio, South Kensington (1871-73), Coleman was employed to design and execute paintings on pottery. Following the closure of the pottery in 1875, she continued this speciality on a freelance basis, alongside her elder sister, Rebecca (born circa 1840).
In 1874, Coleman married Thomas William Angell, postmaster for London’s southwest district and also an amateur artist. From that time, she exhibited under her married name, being elected a member of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1875 and, following her resignation from there in 1878, a member of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1879. In the latter year, she also succeeded Valentine Bartholomew as Flower Painter in Ordinary to Queen Victoria. Her later work was distinguished by ‘a force and largeness not often noticeable in a lady’s work’ (Ellen Clayton).
Coleman died at home, at 55 Holland Road, Kensington, on 8 March 1884.
Kristina Huneault, ‘Angell [née Coleman], Helen Cordelia (1847–1884)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 2, pages 148-149