‘Four corners to my bed
Four angels round my head
Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
Bless the bed that I lie on’
What Does This Mean?
James Greig explains this rhyme in his essay “Isobel Lilian Gloag and Her Work“, published in The Magazine of Art, Volume 26 in 1902:
” [This] is a rhyme familiar to every child in Britain, and assuredly it has never been more fascinatingly illustrated than in Miss Gloag’s picture. The … cherub lying on the quaint bed is a vision of innocence and peace; the..rapt faces of the angels have an indescribable charm, and one knows that the mother sitting at the window sewing in the soft evening light is thinking of her darling in the … crib.” (p. 291)
According to Christie’s, Spielman’s 1901 review of the Royal Academy describes Four corners to my bed as “brilliantly coloured”, the “lines of the composition are ingenious…” In 1902, James Greig writes, “Technically the picture is excellent in arrangement and true in tone and colour.” (p. 291). However, Greig continues,
“Miss Gloag says that women have little sense of composition. and there is some truth in the remark; but in her case it does not apply.” (p. 290). (emphasis mine)
Hmmm…I wonder if Isobel Lilian Gloag really said that…?
Let’s find out a little more about this artist.
Who Is Isobel Lilian Gloag?
Born in London, the daughter of Scottish parents from Perthshire, English painter Isobel Lilian Gloag (1865–1917) is known for her oil and watercolour portraits, as well as posters and stained-glass designs. According to Christie’s, “Isobel Gloag studied at St. John’s Wood, the Slade and South Kensington Art schools. She exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1893.” Suffering from health problems throughout her life, she died in London on January 5, 1917, aged 51.
Art Education: Merry-Go-Round
Gloag began serious art study at St. John’s Wood Art School, but “was not in sympathy with the academic system of training.” (Greig,1902). She later studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Unfortunately, health concerns often interrupted regular training, so she entered the studio of M.W. Ridley’s for private instruction, followed by work at the South Kensington Museum.
Are You Saying I’m Impetuous?
According to James Greig (1902),”Then a longing to go to Paris came upon her. To think is, with Miss Gloag, to act, and she packed her paint-box and went to what is still the art Mecca of the world.” In Paris she studied with Raphaël Collin.
“Then a longing to go to Paris came upon her.
To think is with Miss Gloag to act,
and she packed her paint-box and
went to what is still the art Mecca of the world. “
Tell Us What You Really Think!
Concerning Gloag’s time in Paris studying with Raphaël Collin, Greig (1902) writes,
“Under him she studied assiduously, quickly gaining mastery of technique, and gradually developing her fine colour-sense. The freedom of Parisian studio life, the enthusiasm of the students from all quarters of the globe, and the frank exchange of ideas deeply impressed Miss Gloag, who declares that she received more good from her fellow- workers than from anything M. Collin ever said or suggested.”
After her time in Paris, Isobel Lilian Gloag returned to London where she exhibited 19 works for the Royal Academy of Arts. She was an elected member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the New Society of Painters in Water-Colours.
Poor Health, Bright Spirit
James Greig (1902) writes about Gloag’s health:
Unfortunately, Miss Gloag’s work has been interrupted by … one long struggle against ill-health. For months at a time she is forced to lay aside paint and brushes, and even at her best she can work only in very short spells. Despite her suffering, however. she is cheery in spirit, clear and active in mind. and full of enthusiasm for her work.
Despite her ill health, Gloag forged a successful art career, known for her oil and watercolor paintings, as well as posters and stained glass. Gloag’s earlier works were inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites, while later works were more modern, cited as examples of post-Victorian Aestheticism. She made several designs for the stained-glass artist Mary Lowndes.
Greig (1902) writes:
“Her drawing is accomplished, but it is as a colourist that Miss Gloag made her name, and the themes she has chosen, old time legend and romance. have afforded her splendid opportunity for displaying her talent. Purple and scarlet, green and gold, blue and pink, are the keynotes of her palette; and from these she evolves subtle tones. tender shadow, and beautiful harmonies.”
Please, someone out there, tell me what illness this woman had. I have found very little biographical information on her so far, and will not rest until this medical mystery is solved. Yes, I’m weird that way. 😎
Click for Enlarged Detail:
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- Isobel Lilian Gloag, R.O.I., N.W.S. (1865-1917)
- Four corners to my bed
- signed and inscribed ‘Four corners to my bed/Four angels round my head/Matthew, Mark, Luke & John/Bless the bed that I lie on./IL Gloag/4 Carlyle Studios/96 Kings…’ (on the artist’s label attached to the reverse)
- oil on canvas
- 54 ¼ x 54 ½ in. (137.8 x 138.5 cm.)
- Source: Christie’s
James Greig (1902), “Isobel Lilian Gloag and Her Work“, The Magazine of Art, Volume 26 pp. 289–293, edited by Marion Harry Spielmann, https://books.google.com/ , (accessed 29 Nov 2018).
Wikipedia contributors, “Isobel Lilian Gloag,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Isobel_Lilian_Gloag&oldid=868810163 (accessed December 1, 2018).
Read about Aestheticism and women artists:
- Nunn, Pamela Gerrish (2011). “Alienation, Adoption or Adaptation? Aestheticist Paintings by Women”. Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens (74): 141–154. doi:10.4000/cve.1364.
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