Startled Deer in a Landscape
Research by Marie Riley
This painting was previously attributed to Richard Ansdell (1815-1885) although his great great grand-daughter, Sarah Kellam, an expert on his work, does not recognise this to be an Ansdell painting. We have recently been advised by Fylde Council that Christies have re-attributed it to Clarence Roe. They state that it is ‘signed with initials' although it is difficult to make out any kind of signature on the painting.
According to Marshall Hall in 'The Artists of Cumbria', Clarence Roe was born and spent much of his life in Cumbria. Hall wrote that he is ‘likely to be one of the artist sons of Robert Henry Roe (1793-1880)'. (1) Christopher Wood in 'The Dictionary of Victorian Painters' (2) gives these same dates for Robert Henry Roe but they are incorrect. Confusion has arisen between Clarence’s grandfather, Robert Roe (1793-1880), who was an engraver, picture restorer and print seller with a successful business in Cambridge and his artist son, Robert Henry Roe (c1823-1905). The BBC Your Paintings website is one of the few sources not to conflate Robert Henry with his father. (3)
Clarence was the eldest son of Robert Henry Roe and Emma Baily. He was born, not in Cumbria or Glasgow, as some sources indicate, (4) but in Birmingham. The family moved to Hampstead in London within the year but then lived in Scotland during the mid to late 1850s where Robert Henry painted several Scottish scenes. By 1860 they had settled in West Yorkshire where Clarence, then aged ten, was to spend most of his life. (6) The Roe family were notable for the number of painters they produced, often with different specialisms. This included Clarence’s three brothers, Robert Ernest Roe (1851-1930), (6) Herbert Percy Roe (1852-1883), Colin Graeme Roe (1856-1910) (7) and also one of his sisters, Eva Constance Roe (born 1859), who describes herself as a portrait painter in census listings. Clarence’s uncle, (Robert Henry’s half-brother), Alfred Frederick (1864-1947), better known as Fred Roe, was a notable artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy and was elected to the RBA in 1895. (8) Two other uncles, Robert Gordon and Charles Edward, were art students but later became clergymen. (9) Charles Edward (1862-1940) painted a portrait of his brother, Fred, which is now owned by Buckinghamshire County Museum. (10)
Clarence’s maternal grandfather, Edward Hodges Baily RA (1788-1867), was a prestigious sculptor whose works included the famous statue of Nelson on Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square. (11)
Clarence led a colourful life. At the age of twenty he married sixteen year old Almira Sherborne, daughter of a Bristol artist, Henry Sherborne. The couple had one child, also Almira, born in 1871. His wife presumably died some time between 1871 and 1875 when he remarried. His second wife, Rosa Adelaide Hulme, divorced him four years later. In her petition filed on 29 October 1878 she cited not only his desertion and adultery with a number of women but also of him having ‘wilfully and recklessly’ infected her with venereal disease. The divorce was granted in November 1879. (12) The following month Rosa gave birth to a daughter who lived only a few weeks. He married a third time in 1881 to Ellen Fenely Fletcher.
Alcohol seems to have played a large part in Roe’s downfall. In 1883 he was fined five shillings for drunkenness in a public house in Sheffield. (13) Three years later he was declared bankrupt in Kendal, Westmorland. (14)
In 1890 he was found guilty of stealing a leather bag and articles of clothing from Leeds railway station. He had alighted from the train from Harrogate and the items belonged to another passenger. His defence lawyer argued that Roe had a similar bag and was too drunk to realise that it wasn’t his property. The judge said that he had known the prisoner’s name and that of his family of artists in the West Riding of Yorkshire for many years and it was painful for him to have to pass sentence. He believed that Roe had brought it on himself by giving way to excessive drinking which prevented him from living in affluence as he might. Roe was sentenced to three months imprisonment, including a month’s hard labour. (15) In the 1891 census his wife, Ellen, was in a hotel in Scarborough alone with her children. She described herself as an artist (landscape).
There seems to be no trace of Roe in census or other official records until 1909 when he was imprisoned again after being sentenced for travelling abroad without a ticket. He was transferred from Leeds Prison to Menston Pauper Lunatic Asylum on the 7 September. (16) The cause of his ‘lunacy’ was attributed to alcohol. He claimed to have been wrongfully committed, saying he was entitled to travel without a ticket as he was a director and large shareholder of the Midland Railway Company. He also claimed to possess large sums of money, own a 200 horsepower motor car and a large estate near Sheffield. He was said to be delusional. On his admissions record he is listed as married but his nearest relative is unknown. The records note that his attention was inclined to wander and he was sometimes incoherent but had an excellent memory of events that had occurred thirty or forty years previously. As well as his poor mental health he was suffering from chronic bronchial trouble. (17)
Whilst in the asylum Roe’s condition quickly deteriorated, both physically and mentally. He slept badly and had increasing hallucinations, imagining that he saw his friends at night. On the 11 November he had a seizure and died at 8.45pm the next day. Following a post mortem his cause of death was listed as General Paralysis of the insane. This is a condition arising from syphilis. (18) He was buried in an unmarked grave in the asylum grounds. (19)
Roe’s age at death was 59, incorrectly recorded as 74. He was survived by Ellen, whom he was most likely estranged from, and their four children. His daughter, Almira, from his first marriage had pre-deceased him in 1901. Almira had followed her father’s example of living unconventionally. In 1893 she had been cited for ‘incestuous adultery’ in a petition for divorce by her father’s sister, Ada, though she was not biologically related by marriage to her uncle, Joseph Hill, with whom she later co-habited. (20)
An obituary in the Yorkshire Post noted that ‘for more than a quarter of a century (Roe) was one of the best-known figures in art circles in Yorkshire,’ once earning more than £1,000 a year from his art. It went on to refer to his ‘Bohemian tendency to work only when in the mood' and to observe that much of his talent was ‘dissipated by inattention and lack of self-discipline'. He was compared to his father, reputedly one of the finest raconteurs in London in his day. Clarence himself was described as ‘a prince of storytellers'. (21)
Another obituary noted: ‘A dealer who knew Clarence Roe for 35 years says that unquestionably he was a man of great talent, wasted by inattention and lack of self-discipline. He could, had he cared, says this authority, have been the greatest landscape painter living’. (22)
The most likely setting of this painting is the Scottish highlands, the scene of many of Roe’s works. Three deer and a stag cluster together on a mountainside, perhaps startled by a flock of birds. One large bird soaring towards them seems to have caught the attention of two of the deer. The stag looks attentively in the other direction, head raised, its magnificent antlers set against the background of a clouded sky. The landscape has a slightly eerie quality. The colour palette, as might be expected for a rural outdoor scene, is limited mostly to green, brown and gold, perhaps suggesting early autumn. A rectangular tower can be seen in the distance beyond which is a loch. Three more deer are just visible in the mists on the right of the picture. It is similar, not just in setting but in subject matter and style, to other works by Roe such as On the Alert (23) and Mountain Scenery with Stags (24) and also reminiscent of paintings by his father, Robert Henry, for example, Mountainous Landscape with Deer at the Water’s Edge (1874) (25) and Red Deer in the Highlands (1880). (26)
(1) Hall, Marshall, The Artists of Cumbria,
Marshall Hall Associates (1979), p 68
(2) Wood, Christopher,
The Dictionary of Victorian Paintings,
Antique Collectors Club (1978), p 402
(5) The family’s movements can be tracked by census information and by the birthplaces of their eight children.
(6) Examples of Robert Ernest Roe’s paintings can be viewed on the BBC Your Paintings Website @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/search/painted_by/robert-ernest-roe_artists
(7) Examples of Colin Graeme Roe’s paintings
can be viewed @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/artists/colin-graeme-roe
(9) Most of the information about members of the Roe family in this article has come from research of primary sources, including census listings from 1841 to 1911, GRO indexes, parish records and probate.
(12) England and Wales Civil Divorce Records 1858-1911. Petitioner Rosa Adelaide Roe, Petition year 1878, Divorce Court File no 5927
(13) The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent,
23 January 1883
(14) Liverpool Mercury, 29 September 1886
(15) Yorkshire Post, 8 January 1890
(16) Lunacy Patients Admission Registers,1846-1912, admission date 07 September 1909
(17) I would like to thank Mark Davies, a researcher and author of 'The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum through Time', Amberley Publishing (2013), for providing me with details of Clarence Roe’s records at Menston Asylum, now High Royds Hospital @ http://www.highroydshospital.com/
These records are held at Wakefield archives WYAS, Wakefield office, ref C488/7/29 @
(19) Menston Hospital Cemetery Internment Plan
This document was supplied by Mark Davies (see ref 14).
(20) England and Wales Civil Divorce Records 1858-1911. Petitioner Ada Laurette Maude Hill, Petition year 1893, Divorce Court File no 15526
(21) Yorkshire Post Death Notice,
24 November 1909
(22) This undated obituary is contained in a newspaper cutting filed with Roe’s records from Menston Asylum.