Helen Allingham (1848-1926) was an English illustrator and painter. Born Helen Paterson, the daughter of a physician, she was brought up in Altrincham, Cheshire. After her father’s death in 1862, Allingham studied at the Birmingham School of Design and in 1867 began to study at the Royal Academy Schools, London. During her early career, she supported herself by working as an illustrator, and received the commission for Thomas Harding’s new novel ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. From 1869 she provided illustrations for Joseph Swain and subsequently for the Graphic and Cornhill magazines. Allingham also exhibited her watercolours at the Dudley Gallery.
In 1874 she married the Irish poet William Allingham, and her consequent financial independence allowed her to abandon black and white illustration. Allingham’s circle of friends included Tennyson, Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, whose portrait she drew in 1879, and is now in the collection of the Naional Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. In 1875 she was elected an associate of the Old Watercolour Society and exhibited there regularly, becoming a full member in 1890 (women had been prohibited prior to this).
After 1881, when the family moved to Witley in Surrey, Allingham developed her characteristic style and in her watercolours. She delighted in capturing the views of the vernacular architecture of southern England, such as domestic cottage scenes, depictions of gardens, pure and figurative landscapes, and interior views depicting her own house and family. In each case she sought the informal and intimate character of her subject. Allingham’s highly detailed watercolours reveal a closeness of observation which was the result of careful study from nature. She was impressed by the rural subjects of Frederick Walker and learnt from his watercolour technique. Allingham also admired the work of her friend and neighbour Myles Birket Foster. While the majority of her work depicts the English countryside, she did also paint some scenes of Venice. Her contemporary reputation was considerable, her work well known from exhibitions and reproductions.