Clara Ellaline Hope Leighton – Four Hedges
Clare Leighton (sometimes Clare Veronica Hope Leighton) (12 April 1898 – 4 November 1989) was an English/American artist, writer and illustrator, best known for her wood engravings.
Clare Leighton was born in London on 12 April 1898, (1) the daughter of Robert Leighton (1858-1934) and Marie Connor Leighton (1865-1941), both authors. Her early efforts at painting were encouraged by her parents and her uncle Jack Leighton, an artist and illustrator. In 1915, she began formal studies at the Brighton College of Art and later trained at the Slade School of Fine Art (1921–23), and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied wood engraving under Noel Rooke.
After completing her studies, Leighton took time to travel through Europe; among her stops were Italy, France, and the Balkans. Through her sketching of the landscapes and lower class workers, she developed her affinity for the portrayal of rural life. (2)
During the late 1920s and 1930s, Leighton visited the United States on a number of lecture tours. In 1939, at the conclusion of a lengthy relationship with the radical journalist Henry Brailsford, (1) she emigrated to the US and became a naturalised citizen in 1945. In 1945 she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1949.
Over the course of a long and prolific career, she wrote and illustrated numerous books praising the virtues of the countryside and the people who worked the land. During the 1920s and 1930s, as the world around her became increasingly technological, industrial, and urban, Leighton portrayed rural working men and women. In the 1950s she created designs for Steuben Glass, Wedgwood plates, several stained glass windows for churches in New England and for the transept windows of Worcester Cathedral, England. (1)
Leighton had two brothers, Roland and Evelyn. The older brother Roland Leighton, immortalised in Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth, was killed in action, December 1915. Evelyn became a captain in the Royal Navy and died in 1969.
The best known of her books are The Farmer’s Year (1933; a calendar of English husbandry), Four Hedges – A Gardener’s Chronicle (1935; the development of a garden from a meadow she had bought in the Chilterns) and Tempestuous Petticoat; The story of an invincible Edwardian (1948; describing her childhood and her bohemian mother). Autobiographical text and illustrations are available in Clare Leighton: the growth and shaping of an artist-writer, published 2009.
Clare Leighton died 4 November 1989 and her ashes are buried in a cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut. (1)
(1) Colin Campbell, ‘Leighton, Clara Ellaline Hope (1898–1989)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
(2) NMWA biography