Notes on S. Isabel Dacre

I’M ADDING more detailed pages for Isabel works. She and Annie had such a close relationship and painted in such similar styles that I think it is of value. They are accessed from the SUSAN ISABEL DACRE link in the top menu.

Figurative works are the ones which tend to survive, but her regularly exhibited works at the New English Art Club in the early 1900s were almost all landscapes, with titles such as In the heart of the Apennines, Spanish Mountains, The Misty Ochills and Spoleto from the Cappucini.

WHILE RESEARCHING for the above, came across this biographical essay on Isabel – she preferred her middle name – in the Altringham History Society Journal, no. 16 September 1998).


Miss Susan Isabel Dacre was born in Leamington* on February 17th, 1844 and came to Manchester whilst still an infant. Her childhood must have been very hard as in later life she could never be persuaded to talk about those early years. She attended a convent school in Salford, but when she was thirteen, her widowed mother took over the licence of The Stamford Arms and Bowling Green Hotel in Church Street. Altrincham. This had been a busy coaching inn, and the additional attraction of a bowling green, which had become famous in the Manchester area, brought clients into the town from many miles around, so that life became more comfortable.

[* Properly called Royal Leamington Spa, the name it was granted to use by Queen Vistoria in 1838.]

During their occupancy, and in the year 1857, the Art Treasures Exhibition was held at Old Trafford to which many notable people were attracted. One of the visitors who came to view the arts and crafts was Anthony Trollope, and for the duration of his visit he stayed at The Stamford Arms. Trollope was well known for starting his writing before breakfast and Miss Dacre was later to recall how he would spend the mornings completing his manuscript for Barchester Towers in a deep-set bay window in the snug, surrounded with a litter of papers. In the afternoons, Trollope would don one of his natty waistcoats, put on his clean spats and visit the Exhibition. He lent the family the finished manuscript to read and this early association endeared the book to Miss Dacre.

From the age of fourteen, Isabel moved to Paris to continue her schooling and afterwards to act as a governess, until 1868. The next year she spent her first winter in Italy. The following year, 1870, having returned to Paris, her stay was interrupted when the start of the Franco-Prussian War required all foreigners to leave the country, so she came back to England. Keen to get back France, she and her brother arrived too early and were obliged to help build barricades for the Paris Commune. It was a tricky situation which they found difficult to resolve.

She again took up teaching and as the result of a chance suggestion by one of her friends, that in her spare time she should try her hand at copying pictures in the Louvre, she realised she had artistic talent. Her attempt at reproducing the painting of De Heem was so good that Miss Dacre was encouraged to devote herself full time to being an artist. Meanwhile her mother had left the Stamford Arms, and had taken the licence of the Ducie Arms, at Strangeways, in Manchester, which at that time was probably a prosperous area. Miss Dacre, now twenty seven in 1871, returned to Manchester and enrolled at the Cavendish Street School of Art, to study under W. H. MuckIey.

In 1874 she was off again, this time for a two year stay in Rome with her friend Miss Robinson, later Mrs. A. L. Swynnerton, who she had known for most of her life (and whose life span coincided with Isabel’s). From 1877 till 1880, she returned to Paris for further training, this time being a fellow-pupil with Marie Bashkirtseff, and is mentioned as first in the concourse, in the famous diary.

In 1879, together with her friend Miss Robinson, she founded and was President of, the Manchester Women Painters Society, whose aim was to improve the acceptability of women painters. This lasted until 1884, when the Manchester Academy allowed women to become members. In addition, she was an active member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. From 1880, for three years, she stayed with her friend Miss Robinson in London, until that lady married, after which she came home to Manchester where she continued to paint. In 1904, Miss Dacre removed to London.

She was involved with the Suffrage Movement and was an intimate friend of one of its local leading lights, Miss Lydia Becker. A portrait lsabel painted of Miss Becker was donated to the National Portrait Gallery, but they rejected it, whereupon it was offered to the Manchester Art Gallery, in Mosley Street, but it was only accepted on condition it was cut down in size to fit a much smaller frame!

In 1889, Miss Dacre added her name to a list of some ninety-six other artists who had combined to produce a National Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage. Later, friends and admirers of Miss Dacre, purchased one of her paintings, ‘Little Annie Rooney’, and presented it to the City Art Gallery, in 1910 … In the autumn of 1927, in conjunction with two other artists, an exhibition of her work was held at the City Art Gallery, thus allowing the people of Manchester to appreciate her landscapes, mainly in Italy and other works. Two portraits of her were painted by Francis Dodd.

As a person Miss Dacre was affectionate, unselfish, and humorous, and made friends easily. As a result of her early hard years, she had a great humility, but, nevertheless, she had good sense of humour and when required was very capable of dealing with situations. She was renowned amongst her friends for being absent-minded and was forever mislaying her glasses and, for example, once on helping an older lady down the steep steps at Knott Mill and Deansgate Station, offered to carry her basket of eggs, then started to walk off with them, much to the old lady’s consternation. She was reputedly very knowledgeable about European literature and was a keen judge of novels and poems. Theatre was also one of her delights and she would rather go and see a bad play, than none at all.

In preparing these notes, it was found that nearly all Directories of British Artists omit to mention Miss Dacre; she is mentioned in The Royal Society of British Artists 1824- 1897 & The New English Art Club 1888-1917 (one combined volume), and her name only in two other books including Victorian Women Artists by Pamela Gerrish Nunn. Her obituary appeared in two Manchester papers, The Guardian: 21st February, 1933 and The City News: 25th February.

Chris Hill.


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