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Rayner quick jumps: Ann Frances Louise Margaret Nancy Richard Rose Samuel Paintings Sources Dudley

NANCY RAYNER (1826- 1855)

Nancy - maybe Because Nancy died in 1855, she was not photographed for a carte de visite in 1859 or 1862 as the others were, so we have no image of her. This close-up of Rose's picture Divided Attention possibly shows Nancy at work, sitting here in fancy dress, which was very popular in the 1850s.

The man at her back could have been more than composition: she was known in the family for attracting young men - hence the title of the painting! [For a fuller view of the painting see Rose's page.]

The painting itself is dated 1856, the year after Nancy died, but Rose could have been painting from a sketch made when her sister was still alive.

Ellen Clayton begins her brief section on Nancy as follows: Nancy Rayner, daughter of the well-known water-colour painter, was the eldest of a large family, which has produced five sister artists – Nancy, Rose, Louise, Frances, and Margaret.

Nancy was born in London in 1825 or more probably 1826 (though Clayton gives 1827), when the family was living at 11 Blandford Street, Portman Square, Marylebone. She was christened Ann Ingram Rayner, but was apparently always known as Nancy, the diminutive version of "Ann". This would also have saved confusion with her mother's name, of course. She was Ann Rayner's second child, but as the first (William) died at birth or in infancy, she was always referred to as the eldest. Soon after she was born, the family moved to Derby, and her early years were spent there.

The SavoyardHer studies commenced at the age of ten, and even so early her drawings and sketches showed a precocious genius, which rapidly developed. Like her sisters, she was under the general direction of her father, but she owed much to the advice and friendship of such men as [George] Cattermole, [Octavius] Oakley, David Cox, Samuel Prout, Frank Stone. David Roberts took an especial interest in the gifted young girl. Her figure work included portraiture and she also studied clay sculpture.

(The Rayner family was friendly with David Roberts from about the 1830's to his death in 1864. He was widely travelled abroad and gave Nancy one of his original 'pencil' sketches from his Spanish trip - not signed but instead with his own hand nicely drawn on the reverse. And Nancy's superior portraiture talent owed much to tuition from Octavius Oakley)

Being the eldest, she was the first to make her appearance in the profession, becoming an associate of the Old Watercolour Society (later Royal Watercolour Society) and exhibiting for the first time in 1848 at the Royal Academy. Of all her sisters, she most closely copied her father's style (with its own inheritance from George Cattermole) and his practice of using a heavy admixture of bodycolour.

Right, Nancy's signed watercolour study in preparation for her painting The Savoyard. The final painting was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society in 1850 and sold to George Hanbury, Esq., Brewery.
Her talent was varied, and though generally known as a painter of picturesque and rustic figures, her interiors were considered to be equal in delicate realisation to some of the works of the Dutch painters. At the age of twenty-one she was elected a member of the Society of Painters in Water Colours [i.e. the Old Water-Colour Society], and she was unusually successful in securing fame and high patronage as soon as her works were brought before the public.

The painting on the right helps to explain her swift success. Photos of it were supplied by courtesy of Michalis Hadjikyriacos, whose father-in-law bought it in London sometime around the late 1950s - explaining why the work was known, but no-one remembered what it looked like. But this is almost certainly The Gleaners.

The photo here had some flash reflections which have been taken out, but creating 2-3 minor variations from the picture as actually painted by Nancy for exhibition at the OWS in 1850.

Town dwellers probably think of "gleaning" as collecting small bits of information, but its original meaning was searching a field immediately after a harvest for overlooked ears of corn. It was usually done by the local poor to put a little extra food on their table - with or without the farmer's consent. Hence the corn stalks in the painting.

The children depicted are very probably Richard Rayner on the left with one of his sisters. The sister was initially thought to be Margaret who, like Richard, has her own page elsewhere on this site. However the painting was a poor match against her known age and appearance in 1850. Instead she is now believed to be one of the few non-artists of her Rayner generation, Grace Dorothy Rayner (usually known as Doll). Richard would be 7, and Grace 11.
The Gleaners, 1850

Nancy's elevation from Associate to Member was not quite what it seemed. The male stranglehold of the Society had soon come to offend her as it did the other lady associates. Whereas male associates could graduate to full membership and a share of the profits and administration, this transition was prohibited for women. And when the four women associates - Maria Harrison, Eliza Sharp, Nancy Rayner and Mary Ann Criddle - put them under pressure, the Society was reorganised in 1850 and assigned them honorary Lady Member status (to still prevent them gaining profit-sharing full Member status). Roget's A History of the Old Water-Colour Society (1891) happily notes that 'The Lady Member elected on the 11th of February was Miss NANCY RAYNER' and goes on to laud her talent, but it was a defeat for her and her three colleagues against the other 26 male members and 17 male associates. Thereafter, the Society kept its female membership numbers low to minimise any future risk. Sadly, it was academic for Nancy anyway.

Two children at play Roget adds: 'Her works are not numerous, owing to the shortness of her mortal career... In the six years of her connexion with the Society, from 1850 to 1855, she exhibited only thirteen drawings[*]. Among her four in 1852 were two interiors of Knole. After that she had but one a year, the last of which was quaintly called "An Equestrian Portrait of an Officer in her Majesty's Service, taken at St. Martin's-le-Grand".'      [*but other paintings were shown elsewhere.]

Left: Summer Pastimes, showing two children playing, was acquired by George Hepburn in 2004 through Art Pictures Gallery. It is signed and dated 1850 and carries "ordered by the Duchess of Gloucester" on the back. The same painting is also known (more helpfully) as Portrait of the Gloucester children, 1850. Through the window in the picture here you can see what appears to be a flag flying over a castle tower, so the possibility exists that these were the Duchess's children or grandchildren.
Nancy's study for the Weary Traveller A comment from Andy King on the above painting suggests that there may be quite a few pointers in it. Possibilities include: it may be Windsor Castle framed in the window; there is an 'Eton Boater' straw hat and a white case on the window seat; the boy (in the red dress) has one knee on the 17th Century 'Barons' chair (a suggestion that he is next in line to a title); he appears to be pointing to a boat in the girl's hand (which might be a Naval connection); and there is probably some significance in the costumes the children are wearing.

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester was known to be a patron of Nancy's, and she also commissioned a painting of the Eldest sons of the Hon. Lt. Col. Liddell which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852.

Left: a study Nancy made for A Weary Traveller. The completed painting was exhibited at the OWS in 1851, along with two watercolours of Knole.

Conway Church, North Wales

Detail of Conway Church
The above image (and the detail at lower left) was provided courtesy of Peter Swanne of New Zealand, who owns this painting by Nancy. On the back of the frame it is labelled Conway Church, N. Wales, but we don't know more than that. However, we do know that Nancy's professional career spanned only 1848-55, and since this painting was sold, it was probably produced in that period.

Given her health problems and her limited opportunity for painting expeditions, she was probably with friends, or on a family outing, or most likely with her father (whose style this painting strongly follows). Of her siblings, only Rose and Louise were old enough and active enough to have gone with her as adults - though we know that Louise did go to Conway at some point.

The hurdygurdyman Nancy lived in Brighton for a few years around 1850, but became ill in 1851 - the year of her father's court case - and thereafter declined slowly at her parents' home in London.

Her career was prematurely closed by a lingering consumption [a wasting disease such as tuberculosis], of which she died at the age of twenty-eight [actually 29], in the year 1855 [on 14th August]. Her family, who have never ceased to mourn her loss, and who admired her artistic powers, do not care for any lengthened biography being given. [vol.1 p383-4]. That understandable sensitivity (even if 20 years on) has also meant that no further details of her life and skills were subsequently recorded.

Despite its obvious quality, this is one of Nancy's earliest professional paintings - The Hurdygurdy Man - dated 1848 and signed A.J. Rayner. As noted above, she was known as Nancy but christened Ann Ingram Rayner. The 'J' in the signature may be a misread 'I', but Louise had the same middle name and she adopted 'J' as her middle initial for a time, so both may have done it for the same reason. The painting recently went through the hands of Leicester Galleries, but we don't have a sale price for it.

Andy King says that this is one of Nancy's watercolours from when she was trying to get accepted for the OWS, and was obviously one of a series including 'The Savoyard' [see earlier] and a couple of other 'street seller' sketches. She had almost certainly had lessons

from Octavius Oakley in Derby who mainly did this type of subject and moved to London at about the same time the Rayners did. There is a nice lithograph done by Samuel Rayner of a Samuel(?) Barber drawing of Oakley at Derby Art Gallery (although it was wrongly attributed back in the 1990s and still might be).

The Tambourine Woman The painting to the right was initially identified as "The Gypsey Woman" (sic) from a sticker attached to the frame, but this was corrected to The Tambourine Woman shortly before it was auctioned in early 2008. The American buyer, Tom Kerr, immediately had the painting restored - and in that process it was discovered that it had last been given attention in Britain just before the Second World War, and came complete with two sheets of the Daily Mail for 3rd March 1939 packed behind it! The painting itself was dated 1852 but painted over so that it is barely visible, and there is no signature at all.*

*There are various possibilities for the date/signature suppression. Andy believes that it is quite likely that this is a painting that Nancy painted for the 1851 members exhibition of the Old Watercolour Society, where the artists were all known to each other, so it would be signed and dated. When it failed to sell, she might then have offered it to the Royal Academy for exhibition. Paintings there were selected strictly on merit, and only had their identification on a label on the back, so she might have made suitable obliteration on the canvas. Anonymity actually served Nancy because the scandal of Samuel's court case was causing serious financial discomfort to the family. However, even if she did do this, there is no evidence that the painting was exhibited at the RA. Afterwards, she may have failed to uncover or repaint her signature. Alternatively, Nancy might have thought that people would shun the Rayner name so she deliberately left it anonymous. And one other possibility is that a later owner thought he might pass it off as by another artist, for example Octavius Oakley.

In normal circumstances Nancy doesn't seem to have shared the habit of producing near-copies of her work as other members of her family did later. But the court case meant that the girls had to do as much as they could to support the family, so there may be some similar images around. One possibility is the sale of paintings originally only intended as studies. Andy notes that the family has a study for one of Nancy's paintings which shows she was experimenting with different backgrounds and poses for what was going to be a painting of a flower seller, and there could have been two versions of The Tambourine Woman arising from a similar process. He adds that the landscape background on the painting looks Scottish to him and again the family has a nice little (unfinished) Nancy study of about 1849/50 showing some of the younger members of the family and their horses on a painting trip in Scotland in a similar landscape.

Another such study is one (below) that surfaced in Kent in early 2008, brought to our attention by courtesy of Nick Browne. The inscription is not quite clear but seems to read Study from the Drawing-room Parlington by Nancy Rayner 1852. It is not known if a finished painting exists. The study comes with an unusual amount of background detail plus reasonable supposition by Andy King. Parlington Hall, Yorkshire, was the home of the Oliver-Gascoigne sisters Mary Isabella and Elizabeth, and by this date Mary Isabella had married Frederick Charles Trench who took the surname Gascoigne. Elizabeth married in 1852 but died without heir so the baby in the foreground is likely to be Mary Isabella's son Frederick R. T. T. Gascoigne who grew up to be a 'noted soldier and traveller'. The other people depicted are thought to be (left to right): the baby's Grandmother(?), Mary Isabella, Elizabeth (at the piano) and Frederic senior.

The Drawing Room, Parlington (study)

As noted on our resources page, women were still regarded as incapable of serious work at this period (the Bronte sisters were still publishing under male names) which obviously had its frustrations. Elizabeth and Isabella were both highly artistic. Indeed, Isabella counted woodturning among her talents to the extent that she published a very erudite book on the subject under a male pseudonym. It is possible that Nancy already knew of Isabella and Elizabeth, particularly if they attended the Royal Academy or Watercolour Society's exhibitions. With Nancy's own struggle against the art establishment for better recognition, it is feasible that the sisters were pleased to encourage a kindred spirit by commissioning this work. The study is now at Lotherton Hall, Leeds. If interested, you can find more about Parlington Hall at

Before we pass on from Nancy, there is a point worth highlighting. During that brief 8-year period of public visibility, she had 24 paintings exhibited in London, a total well ahead of her other sisters apart from Louise. Had she lived, and had she continued at that rate, she might well have overtaken the rest of the family. Whether the quantity would have had the same quality and appeal to be found in Louise's work is perhaps a different consideration. We've mainly seen studies, and few of her finished paintings pass through sale rooms to testify to their appeal (though this might be a pointer to satisfaction in itself, and The Hurdygurdy Man and The Gleaners both demonstrate real talent), but the precocious genius, unusual success and high patronage reported above suggest that, given a longer life, she might have eclipsed both Louise and their father.

Following her death, Roget notes finally that: 'On the 30th of November, 1855, at her mother's solicitation, a sum of 20l. [£20] was voted by the Society, by way of help to her surviving sisters.' This is only a single straw in the wind, but it indicates a persisting financial stress on the family, four years after Samuel's disgrace. And it's not surprising: Louise had only exhibited her first professional work in 1852, Rose in 1854 (though she did sculpture as well), and Margaret was still in her teens in 1855, so their earning power still lay mostly in the future. They must have been very difficult days.

No prices known to us.

No location known to us.
                  Harry Drummond, January 2009.

Please take note: we claim no art expertise, and in no way do we offer provenance for any paintings. What you see here was compiled out of interest in Louise Rayner's paintings and those by her family, but is based on sometimes very fragmentary evidence. As such, it is inevitable that there will be errors, though we naturally hope to reduce these over time.

We would gratefully receive any information or corrections that will help us to fill the gaps and resolve unproved links - for example confirmation of dates of birth, death, etc., and details of other addresses the family lived at (and roughly when). Images of any of the family's paintings would also be very welcome. Thank you!

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