Rosamond Praeger – Holywood’s trail-blazing Artist/ Sculptress

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Rosamond Praeger
Rosamond Praeger

Rosamond Praeger’s Background

Sophia Rosamond Praeger, known as Rosamond, was born on 17th April 1867, in the small town of Holywood, less than 5 miles from Belfast. Her father, William Emilius, was a linen merchant from Holland.

William married Maria Ferrar Patterson on 13th November 1862 at the Meeting House of the 1st Presbyterian Congregation in Belfast.

The couple lived in The Crescent, Holywood and from 1867, Woodburn House on the Croft Road. They had six children – William Emilius, Robert Lloyd, Sophia Rosamond, Hendricus Johannes, Egmont Apjohn and Owen Maurice.

The Crescent, Holywood
The Crescent, Holywood

As a young child Rosamond attended a local day school administered by the non-subscribing Presbyterian minister Rev Charles McElester. She subsequently enrolled in Sullivan Upper School, established by Robert Sullivan, a Holywood native. The school was at this time situated on the High Street.

Robert Sullivan Blue Plaque
Robert Sullivan Blue Plaque

Interest in Art

Rosamond was always interested in art and showed true flair, she went to the Belfast Government School of Art, founded in 1849. Here she studied painting and was taught by George Trobridge. Trobridge was headmaster of the School of Art for 21 years. He was a renowned landscape artist in his own right, working in both oils and watercolour. He encouraged his students to look to nature for inspiration.

The Ramblers Sketching Club

In 1886 Rosamond Praeger became a member of the Ramblers Sketching Club. This group was formed in 1879 by John Vinycomb who was a senior designer with the Belfast publishing firm Marcus Ward. Together with 16 members of the art department, they set about to sketch and paint directly from nature.

The club held exhibitions of their work in the Royal Ulster Works library on Botanic Ave. Membership of the society continued to grow and included artists Dr James Moore and W H Patterson.

Their first large public exhibition, with work for sale, was held in November 1885 at 55 Donegall Place. At this time women were also allowed to join, with Rosamond being one of the first female members.

The Belfast Arts Society

In 1890 the club changed its name to The Belfast Art Society and started to include other forms of art such as sculpture, metal work and wood carving. In 1891 the artists held their annual exhibition on the 2nd floor of Belfast Central library.

Belfast Central Library
Belfast Central Library

The Ulster Academy of Art

The Society became the Ulster Academy of Art in 1930 and gained the prefix ‘royal’ from George VI in 1950. At this time they were based in the Old Museum Buildings, 7 College Square North. Many Irish artists have been members of the Society, for example, John Lavery, William Conor, Basil Blackshaw, Neil Shawcross and Mercy Hunter.

Studies in London and Paris

In 1888 Rosamond enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art in London. This school had been founded in 1868 by the lawyer and philanthropist Felix Slade. Here her tutor was French painter and sculptor Alphonse Legros. While in London she also became friends with the English sculptress Ellen Mary Rope.

The influence of these two notables increased Rosamond’s interest in sculpting and encouraged her to visit and study in Paris. Rosamond flourished in the artistic capital of France and was inspired by the works of female sculptors such as Marie Cazin and Camille Claudel.

Return to Ireland

Rosamond returned to Ireland in 1893. In 1911 she was living with her widowed mother and younger brother Egmont, at Ballycultra, Holywood. Having unsatisfactorily rented studios in Belfast, she decided to build her own.

She opened St Brigid’s Studio on Hibernia Street in her native town in 1914.

Rosamond Praeger Blue Plaque
Rosamond Praeger Blue Plaque

Rosamond Praeger worked mainly in plaster but also marble, stone and terracotta, though her relief panels were also in bronze. Her more famous works often depict children such as The Philosopher (now in Colorado Springs, USA) and Johnny the Jig near the maypole in Holywood, which she donated to the town in 1953.

She also accepted commissions from public institutions. In 1907 she completed a memorial to T Hamilton for Queens University and in 1938 a memorial for Edward Carson in St Anne’s Cathedral.

She designed and sculpted bronze plaques for the doors of the Falls Road Carnegie Library featuring female figures Literature and Art, and heraldic figures for the Northern Bank in Donegall Square West.

Falls Road Library
Falls Road Library
Falls Road Library Entrance
Falls Road Library Entrance
Falls Road Library Praeger Art
Falls Road Library Praeger Art

The sculpted panels on the headstone of James Inglis, founder of Inglis Bakery are also Rosamond’s work. This can be seen at Belfast City Cemetery (PlotC2-248). Other notable works include Fionnuala the daughter of Lir, The Waif, These Little Ones and the Fairy Fountain.

Inglis Headstone
Inglis Headstone

Her Brother – Robert Lloyd

Rosamond’s older brother, Robert Lloyd, was a famous naturalist. Robert Lloyd co-founded and edited the Irish Naturalist. He was interested in the natural history of Ireland, especially the flora. He wrote numerous articles on the subject and arranged the Lambay Survey (1905-1906) and the Clare Island Survey (1909-1915).

Robert Lloyd was president of An Taisce, the Irish Mountaineering Club and the Royal Irish Academy (1931-1934). He was also the first president of the National Trust for Ireland in 1947. Some of his works include – The Botanist in Ireland, The Way That I Went, Irish Topographical Botany and the Life of a Naturalist.

Kindred Spirits

Through her brother, Rosamond became close friends with R J Welsh, F J Bigger and the photographer A R Hogg.

She became a member of the Gaelic League and was a visitor at Ard Righ, Bigger’s home and a key meeting place for artists, writers and musicians.

Together with Francis Joseph Bigger she helped organise the 1798 centenary tableaux in Belfast. Rosamond even sculpted a statue of St Francis for the beautiful garden of his Antrim Road home.

Rosamond Praeger Illustrations

To supplement her income Rosamond also painted intricate botanical illustrations for her brother Robert Lloyd’s works.

In addition she wrote and illustrated 25 children’s books including A Visit To Babyland (1896), Further Doings of the Three Bold Babies (1898), How They Went To School [1903], Billy’s Garden Plot (1918) and The Fearful Land of Forgets (1921).

Her illustrations also appeared in the Irish Homestead magazine and the Irish Women’s Suffrage Federation publications. Rosamond had been committed to female emancipation from an early age.

Recognition for Rosamond Praeger’s Work

Rosamond’s work was widely recognised in artistic circles. She was president of the Ulster Academy and Honorary Academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy where she exhibited over 50 pieces in her lifetime.

In 1938 she was awarded an honorary MA from Queens University. While in the following year she was given an MBE. Rosamond was also a member of the Guild of Irish Art-Workers and the Belfast Naturalist Club.

Rosamond Praeger – Support for Charities

Rosamond worked tirelessly throughout her life to raise funds for charities close to her heart.

In her will, recorded in the Belfast Gazette 4th February 1955, she left her St Brigid’s studio ‘for the benefit of the children of Holywood’. She also left money to the children’s welfare charity the NSPCC and the animal charity NSPCA. In addition she bequeathed funds to the National Trust, £500 to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and £50 to the Holywood Working Men’s Club.

Rosamond Praeger’s Legacy

Rosamond Praeger died at her home Rock Cottage, Craigavad, County Down on 16th April 1954. She is interred in Priory Cemetery in Holywood. She is buried with her parents and younger brothers Owen and Egmont. Rosamond sculpted the headstone for the family plot.

There are permanent collections of Rosamond’s work in the Ulster Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland. Holywood Library has a Praeger Room, dedicated to brother and sister Robert and Rosamond , viewing by appointment. There is also a Praeger Trail around the town.

The Priory Holywood
The Priory Holywood

Rosamond Praeger – Gallery of Images

Click images to enlarge

Rosamond Praeger – More Information

For more information please see the publication : Sophia Rosamond Praeger by Joseph McBrinn 2007

Alternative Sources of Information:

  • Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Stranmillis Road, Belfast, BT9 5AB Tel 028 90400000
  • Holywood Library, Sullivan Building, 86-88 High Street, Holywood, County Down BT18 9AE Tel 028 90424232
  • National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square West, Dublin DO2 Tel +353 16615133

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