Winifred Austen (1876-1964) was a British illustrator, painter, etcher and aquatint engraver. Born in Ramsgate in Kent, her father was a surgeon in the Royal Navy and went onto become a doctor in London.
In her childhood, Austen and her siblings were encouraged to draw and paint their pets to keep them quiet during their father’s surgery hours, often competing for a sixpenny prize. From this young age, Austen’s talents were recognisable and she was enrolled in a private art school in London where she was taught by Louise Jopling-Rowe, one of the most prominent female artists of the Victorian era, and Cuthbert E. Swan, who was renowned as a painter of animals, particularly big cats such as lions and tigers. Both tutors had a profound influence on Austen’s work throughout her career.
Austen began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1908 and she received many commissions for book illustrations and magazines. Her work was reproduced in the Times, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, the Bystander, the Field, the Graphic and the Illustrated London News. Following this immense success Austen required the advice of an agent, Oliver O’Donnell Frick, who she would later marry in 1917. Frick was instrumental in encouraging Austen to concentrate on “pure art” rather than illustrations. Sadly, after just six years of marriage Frick died, and Austen moved to the Suffolk countryside, an area of Britain that she had always loved.
Austen purchased a two-hundred-year-old redbrick cottage called “Wayside” in the small village of Orford in East Suffolk and surrounded herself with pets and stray animals brought to her by neighbours, many of which became frequent subjects. The nearby estuary of the rivers Alde and Ore and Havergate Island, a nature reserve established to protect the avocets that had returned there to breed after an absence from England of more than a century, provided further inspiration. The surrounding countryside with the combination of sea, river and marshland offered an abundance of subjects and Austen was enthralled by the wildfowl which appear frequently in her later work.
Austen became a member of the Society of Women Artists in 1902, the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1907 and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1933. She was a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society from 1903. Austen was particularly skilful at bringing life to small mammals and birds and is remembered as one of the greatest British wildlife artists of her generation.