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A Dynasty of Artists.
Tree of Artistic - Artisan Dynasty ( produced 2013 )
This article has been inspired by the document titled "A Nineteenth Century Family of Artists" which turned up amongst family papers in Brighton. It is assumed that it was written and typed by Marian Montford nee Dibdin, the daughter of William Joseph Dibdin who married into the Aglio family.
Her document is reproduced below with very minor corrections and a few inserts however it was felt that for completeness it was necessary to extend the list in 2010 at least with some sketchy details than may be filled out later.
The first document is valuable in two respect:
It gives some fresh insight into how the Absolon, Dibdin and Aglio family met up, a question that has fascinated the writer for two or three years and, because it will be based on first hand anecdotal history, it gives a little more personal depth to the biographies and autobiographies of some individuals.
Sadly the document stops abruptly after 7 pages.
After the article that follows this paragraph, there is a list of many individuals of the family who have shown artistic leanings. Included is just a comment or two as aspects of their lives are discussed in greater detail elsewhere.
A Nineteenth Century Family of Artists
by Marian Montford
The eldest of this Family Augustine Aglio [Agostino] was born in Cremona in Italy in 1777. He was the only surviving son of his parents. his father held the influential position on Notary Public in Milan. Very early young Augustine showed such signs of intellectual brilliance that his parents came to live in Milan for his education. When the Emperor Joseph II visited Milan Aglio was presented to him as the best classical scholar for his age in the school; as the result when he was twelve he was nominated by the Emperor to a place in Ghisilici College in Pavia University, when he should reach the age of eighteen.
This nomination not only ensured him of free quarters and training but also ensured that under normal circumstances he would enter the Emperor's service as already marked out for high promotion. During the years he was still at school he added intensive study of the Arts of Painting Sculpture and Architecture to his classical studies.
In 1795 when he should has entered on his University course, Napoleon's invasion of Italy closed the Universities. Napoleon's campaign had a political and well as military side to it. Politically he claimed that the invasion was to free the inhabitants from the tyrants who were oppressing them. Young Aglio in common with most of his fellow students were fired by the romantic view of the ancient Roman Republic and enlisted in the newly proclaimed Cisalpine Republic's Legion, thereby rebelling against the Emperor.
Two years later Napoleon's conquest of Italy was ratified by the Treaty of Campo Formio and after some time it was politically safe for Aglio to go to Rome to renew his artistic studies, as his hope of a political career was over.
In Rome he met William Wilkins a well to do English architect who was touring Italy, Sicily, Greece and Egypt seeking to record ancient monuments and sites, with pictures and sketches. He engaged Aglio as his assistant to travel with him. When he returned to England with the idea of establishing a School of Art in the University of Cambridge, he offered Aglio employment in England. In 1801 Aglio accepted the offer and found himself entered in Caius College with the status of an undergraduate and responsibility for heavy art teaching under a rather arbitrary patron. Friendship with Captain Frank Walsh offered him the chance of getting out of his contract with Wilkins and setting up for himself in London. He was a speedy success as landscape painter, lithographer and fresco painter, and by 16th March 1805 he was in a position to marry Laetitia Clark in St. Anne’s Church Soho. In the next few years his frescos decorated the Italian Opera, The Haymarket Theatre, the Summer House at Buckingham Palace, Drury Lane Theatre and many private houses. He also executed a large number of landscapes and engravings. His finest work in London was the magnificent Altar Piece for the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Mary, Moorfields. The engraving does not do justice to the original which was life size and in brilliant colour. His large picture of the Coronation of Queen Victoria completed in 1840 was much admired and his engravings of it were very popular. His Magnum Opus was a series of a thousand lithographs of ancient Mexican Paintings. This work was commissioned by Viscount Kingsborough. To complete it he went form the Bodleian Library in Oxford, to Paris, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Bologna and Rome. His task was to find and copy all the ancient Mexican paintings that had been brought to Europe after the Spanish conquest of Mexico and which had been scattered in various galleries and libraries. The work was of such importance that he received the support of Baron von Humbolt, Prince Metternich and Cardinal Vidoni. While in Rome he was allowed to use the Vatican Library. During this time he painted a large canvas in oils of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem which was based on sketches he had made while travelling with Wilkins.
The original painting has disappeared, but the writer has a small water colour copy made by Aglio after he taught himself to paint with his left hand when a stroke had paralysed his right hand. The copy was not quite finished when he died on 30th January 1859.
In chronological order the next on the "Family" is Thomas Colman Dibdin who was born 22nd October 1810. He was the son of Thomas Dibdin, a playwright, actor, musician scene painter; a man of the theatre, and his wife the actress Nancy Hillier.
His grandfather was the equally versatile Charles Dibdin, Musician, ballad writer, especially sea songs, singer entertainer and dramatist. It is probable that Agostino Aglio’s work decorating theatres made the Aglio and Dibdin Families acquainted.
In spite of the strong connections with the world of music and the Theatre, young Thomas Colman began with a safe job in the Civil Service in the Department of posts. At the age of twenty 23 he married Alice Jones. His work held no great interest for him, and his great hobby was landscape painting. He found that his sketches sold well, and soon in spite of a growing family he gave up his safe job to become a watercolour painter. He developed a technique which was very good for architectural pictures. Many of his Cathedrals commanded high prices. He added to his income by doing a certain amount of theatrical scene painting; the addition was very necessary as his family numbered eighteen children.
This leaves us with the fascinating question of how T.C.Dibdin met Ann Alice Jones whose father was living and working in Saffron Waldon and for who he worked later in life at Sydenham College South London.
For years he was among a group of artists living in and around Camden town, Belsize Park and Highgate, all of who were in very close touch with each other. Many exhibited at the Royal Academy and Suffolk Street Galleries. T.C.Dibdin’s watercolour work is quite distinctive. He was largely self taught, and used pencil, ink wash as well as conventional watercolour techniques in the same picture so long as he got the effect he wanted. The result is that he gained an amazing delicacy that conveys the atmosphere of London Street and rain washed pavements.
He painted much in France. His pictures of Rouen and Reims are probably the best known of his pictures of architectural interest.
There is also in existence a picture of "Antwerp Cathedral".
For some of his time he lived on Banstead, Surrey, where his younger children were born. The writer’s father remembered being taken to London while he was engaged on restoring the paintings in the dome of St.Paul’s Cathedral.
The next in age of the "Family" is John Absolon who was born in Lambeth, London 1815. He was a friend and contempory of T.C.Dibdin and was known to Agostino Aglio, the edler, He began painting portraits in oils at the age of fifteen. He assisted Grieve in the decoration of both Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres, being chiefly used to paint the figures. This is were he must certainly have known Agostino Aglio.
John Henderson Grieve was born in 1770, of Scottish origin, and came originally from Perth. He worked as a scene-painter in minor London theatres and from 1794 was also employed by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at Drury Lane. By 1817, he was working in theatres in Covent Garden where he remained apart from two spells at Drury Lane from 1835 to 1839 and in the two years before his death. Thomas Grieve, the elder son of John Henderson Grieve, was trained by his father and worked with him at Covent Garden and elsewhere from 1817. From 1846 to 1859, he worked at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and at Her Majesty's Theatre, but is perhaps most notable for his leading role he played among the team of scene-painters who supplied Charles Keen's regime at the Princess' Theatre, Oxford Street, from 1850 to 1859, particularly in the Shakespearean revivals of that period. Thomas Grieve also painted famous exhibition hall panoramas with William Telbin and others, including The Overland Mail (to India) from 1852, which is perhaps his most reknowned. He died in Lambeth in April 1882. William Grieve, the younger son of John Henderson Grieve, was born in 1800 and followed the same career course as his older brother by working with his father. However, from 1833, after a family engagement at the King's Theatre (later Her Majesty's) he stayed on as head scene painter until his early death in 1844. He was famous for his moonlight scenes and was reputedly the first scenic artist to be called before the curtain to receive the applause of the audience for his contribution to Robert le Diable at the King's Theatre in 1832. Unlike his father and brother, he also won acclaim as an easel artist, exhibiting landscapes and architectural views at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in the 1830s. He died in November 1844 in Lambeth leaving a large family. Thomas Walford Grieve, the son of Thomas Grieve and the grandson of John Henderson Grieve, was born in 1841 and trained and worked with his father from around 1862. He worked at Covent Garden with him and also at the Lyceum. He never achieved the acclaim received by his father or his older contemporary William Roxby Beverley, and died (apparently of cancer) after a long illness which for some years previously had forced him to give up work.
After four years studying in Paris he turned to watercolour and exhibited in the new Watercolour Society in 1939. He was appointed secretary of the Society and held the office for many years. Many of his paintings were popular and were engraved and sold widely. Two of the best know of these were "The Vicar of Wakefield in Prison" and "Bologne 1857".
But these three families were cemented together more closely. John Absolon had an elder sister Margaret (Madge) to whom he was deeply attached. Their father lived at one time in Bond Street, and family history has it that he was very strict. He had two other daughters beside Madge and all three were carefully educated; all had beautiful singing voices , and spoke and sang in both Italian and French.
Madge was born in 1813 and at the age of two and a half was lifted from her cot to see the sashes of the windows of the street lined with lighted candles. The impression of these illuminations in honour of the victory of Waterloo remained with her all her life.
Her father was so strict that when Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent had visited a neighbour’s house, he sent his three teenage daughters away immediately to a Boarding School in the country village of Brixton.
Beau Brummell, born as George Bryan Brummell (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840 (aged 61)), was the arbiter of men's fashion in Regency England and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of men wearing understated, but fitted, tailored clothes including dark suits and full-length trousers, adorned with an elaborately-knotted cravat.Beau Brummell is credited with introducing and establishing as fashion the modern man's suit, worn with a tie. He claimed to take five hours to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne. His style of dress is often referred to as dandyism, even though Brummell himself would have never agreed to that description.
John Absolon married a very young wife, and Madge lived with them. John had a numerous family very close together and Madge was an immense help to his wife, while he himself greatly valued her opinion of his work, which he often discussed with he. He often used her beautiful hands as a model, and was indebted to he wide reading for help in details of historical costumes, which many of his picture required.
Augustine Aglio (Junior) The hub of three or more families
Madge [Absolon] became acquainted with Mrs Aglio and her daughter in their singing of Italian songs. She also met the next of our Artists. Augustine Aglio the younger, [his fathers name was actually Agostino although one can imagine him using Augustine in England] who had been born in Highgate 1818. He was the youngest child of Augustine Aglio the elder. He was brought up as the heir to a handsome fortune from his mother’s family, and according to the custom of the time without any training for a profession. He inherited his fathers love of painting and it became the hobby that absorbed all his time and attention. He was on very friendly terms with the secretary of the Watercolour Society, John Absolon, and frequently visited his house and eventually married his sister Madge [Margaret] although she was some years older than him. His wealthy relatives disapproved strongly of his proposed marriage and threatened to disinherit him if he persisted. He defied his family and married the woman of his choice maintaining her and his family by his painting. He turned his hobby into his profession. He was an industrious austere living man and kept his family in modest comfort by his exertions. He was a water colour artist who became well known as an illustrator, especially of children’s books. He did some portrait painting, and the style of his painting known as "conversation pieces" which became very popular. Some of his work was bought by Baroness Burdetts Coutts for her framed collection. He also did some art teaching in select Girls Boarding Schools.
Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts(24 April 1814 – 30 December 1906), born Angela Georgina Burdett, was a noted nineteenth century philanthropist, the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and the former Sophia Coutts, daughter of Thomas Coutts. In 1837 she became the wealthiest woman in England when she inherited her grandfather's fortune of nearly three million pounds sterling via his wife Harriot Mellon, joining, by Royal Licence, the surnames of her father and grandfather to become Burdett-Coutts. King Edward VII is reported to have described her, "After my mother (Queen Victoria), the most remarkable woman in the kingdom."
He was a member of the Craven Club formed by a group of water colour artists and illustrators. Among the members were John Absolon and his son Louis The Club met on Thursday evenings; a subject was announced and each member had to illustrate it in a given time. A great exercise in composition and executive speed.
When he came up from Banstead Thomas Colman Dibdin always looked up his old friend John Absolon and his [John Aboson’s] brother in law Augustine Aglio. As the elder members of his large family left home T.C.Dibdin and his wife brought the younger children back to London and settle in Chalk Farm where a lively laughter loving family with musical, artistic and scientific interests. Their home was a centre of attraction to many comtempories. The younger children of the Dibdins became very friendly with the three Aglio sisters, Laetitia Marian and Mysie. Marian Aglio and William Joseph Aglio first met aged nine and ten respectively. He teased her by putting her pet cat over the wall, but he also climbed over the wall to get it back.
At fourteen Willie showed promise as a landscape artist and had a picture exhibited but never developed the talent. While still in his teens Willie went to Australia where he was for seven years, and while there was captured by the new art of Photography. The technical process of development interested him in Chemistry , and finally led him to become a distinguished analytical chemist after he returned to England.
In 1878 William Joseph Dibdin and Marian Aglio were married in Camden town, just uniting the three Artist families of Aglio, Dibdin and Absolon.
William Joseph Dibdin became Chief Chemist to the London County Council, and distinguished for his services. One of the most important of his research projects was on the work of bacteria in purifying water. He conducted a massive study of all the sources of the Thames and his work made a notable purifying of the Thames running through London. His other contribution was a massive study of the chemical reactions that cause the setting of both mortar and cement. There is a tale that when he was called in as an expert to report on the signs of subsidence in St.Paul’s Cathedral , London, he said to the Dean "My father restored the paintings in the dome, but I have moved lower down."
William Joseph and Marian had nine children who survived to adult life. [Sadly there was one daughter, Sophia, who died at birth.]
The second surviving daughter, Marian Alice, was born in Shepherd’s bush London, on 26th June 1882 and became a miniature painter and sculptor. She studied at the Slade School and Royal Academy. Marian married Paul Raphael Montford, the Sculptor, and they had three children.
Paulina Montford (Nina)
The elder daughter Paulina [Nina] studied at the Royal College of Art and produced a number of promising pictures. Chronic ill health following an accident prevented further work.
The son Adrian was at the Royal Academy as a sculptor and won the Prix de Rome.
The youngest son, Frederick Joseph Aglio Dibdin, of William Joseph Didbin born 28th June 1888 was distinguished in the 1914018 war by winning the Military Cross…………………………………
Marian Aglio Montford nee Dibdin
What more would have been written is unclear however there is more to be said and in the future publication should be made of detailed research now being carried out.
Regarding the Montford Family, they moved to Australia in 1923 after
the First World War mainly because of lack of work. This lack of work
could be explained by the fact that Paul was a classical sculptor and in
1920’s the fashion was moving towards a more modern approach and this
was coupled with the need to give work to those returning from the war.
Also Paul had been a conscientious objector and would have been known as
such within the establishment. While in Australia his main work was the
design and production of "The Shrine" the war memorial in
Melbourne, Victoria. Marian, it is believed, also worked with her
Paul and Marian Montford had three children Nina, mentioned above and Adrian and Bobby
Bobby Montford was a talented Ballet Dancer and later worked in the youth club movement. On moving to Brighton, she took an active role within the community.
More details of the work of the Montford family may become available at a later date.
If one takes "Artist" in the broadest sense of the work when reference ought to be made of
Charles Dibdin Poet, Songwriter and Playwright
Thomas Dibdin Playwright, and dramatist.
Mention must be made of another three of W.J.Dibdin’s children Rex Aglio and Lionel Aglio and a daughter Laetitia.
Rex was considered,, I think, to be a genius with all-round capability however injury in World War I and subsequent breakdown ensured that he was never again up to full strength and so never demonstrated successfully his full potential. He worked as a gas examiner, but had the attitude of an entrepreneur, the mind of an inventor and the nature and skills of an artist. There very moving letter to him from Agnes Robertson, thanking him for his contribution during a debate, presumably on the art process, in 1905, give some insight into his special genius.
9 Elsworthy Terrace NW
Dear Mr Dibdin
I should like, if I may to send a word of thanks for your speech at the debate last night. As far as I could make out you were the only person there who really grasped what I was driving at! I am fully convinced on the truth of what you said about the only thing needful for an artist’s development being not definite instruction, but a chance of working on his own salvation in the right atmosphere, -- surrounded the finest of the old examples. I have seen something of this as my father is an artist. I expect you certainly know Stevenson’s glorious essay on "Fountainebleau" (in ‘Across the Plain’). I thought of it when you were speaking.
Yours sincerely Agnes Robertson
It is believed that when showing the last water colour that he did "The Glimpse" to family members, he would say that if you looked close enough you could see the crosses of the crucifixion in the distant mist.
Laetitia was a talented singer and performed all over the country.
Lionel was a talented amateur watercolour artist and but his main work was as a property developer in the south of London area. He seemed to specialize in buying large country estates and building tastefully on the land, generally leaving the main house for some specialist use and insisting that all roads were laid around existing trees.
Cecily Dibdin nee Haycraft
Cecily, married to Lionel was a talented and well respected local
Pianist in the Sutton Area.
Joan, daughter Lionel and Cecily Dibdin, was judging from her work, a
talented artist and musician.
With pottery she produced lovely shapes and beautiful colours. As a child she had to learn the violin and the piano. She would rather have played the cello, especially as one existed in the family, but was told it was not lady like enough. After school she went to Royal Academy to study piano and drama and then, after the necessary break caused by the war, marriage, motherhood and widowhood, she completed her piano studies but withdraw from the possibility of public performance having had the advice from a prominent person in the profession that to succeed she would have to devout her whole life to the instrument.
Sadly Joan’s parents died when she was 13 and as an orphan under the control of the public trustees, she existed between boarding school on the south coast and a maiden aunt, ex head teacher in North Yorkshire. Her life during her teens must have been somewhat empty, emotionally, and I feel that considerable care would have been needed to encourage her true artist potential to develop. In 1942 she married Anthony Benoit Guise, who was a trained artist, but sadly he died during the war soon after her only brother.
Tony showed remarkable talent as young as 16 and backed this up with training at Art College in London. In the war he trained as a Second Lieutenant but drown in Celyon (Sri Lanka) before being sent to Malaya on active service.
Raoul Guise & Joanna Rowntree
In 1965, Joan and Tony’s son, Raoul, married Joanna Rowntree a talented artist and singer who trained as a nurse and later as a teacher.
From an ancestoral point of view this union brought together two families, with members of diverse professions, however the Rowntree side included people with considerable artistic talents.
The Rowntree family was known for its involvement in the grocery trade, chocolate manufacture and for considerable innovation in the field of social and community development. The Family was a leading Quaker family.
Frederick left his fathers business to become an Architect in London. One of his many works was the design of Chengdu University.
Colin joined his fathers practice as an Architect and then started up the office in York
Mary Rowntree nee Begg
Mary married Colin in 1915. She was the daughter of Samuel Begg the artist and was herself artistic, involved with the Bloomsbury Group.
Colin joined his fathers practice as an Architect and continues to operate in the south.
Alan Reed married to Ann, daughter of Douglas Rowntree
Ann Rowntree married Alan Reed, an Architect practicing in the south.
Molly, Frederick Rowntree’s daughter married Ralph Thorp, an Architect who trained in Leeds and then moved south.
Although of a more practical nature than fine art, I consider that architecture is a strongly creative occupation and good architecture requires the talents and sensitivities of an artist as well as the pragmatism of an engineer.
Sam Begg was the father of Mary. He was a professional artist working for much of his life for the Illustrated London News where he became close friend’s with Russell Flint. It was he that suggested to Russell that he should specialize in colour rather than stick with black and white for the Illustrated London News.
Elsie Marshall who died at the age of 95, a maiden lady, spent much of her free time painting. Working as a manager as of a comptometer department in North London she spent her holidays traveling, painting and attending painting courses. Although she did some oils, the majority of her work, which amount to between 500 to 1000 paintings are watercolour.