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First Women Illustrators of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Hope Weston

April 15, 2023

We can now post the third of Bob Forrest’s articles providing some more information on certain of the first women illustrators of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, who were covered in an earlier post by Danton O’Day – see  In this article, Bob provides more background on the artist Hope Weston, and considers how she tried to see Khayyam from a new angle. Our thanks again to Bob for sharing this research with us. Further information on this artist will be published on Bob’s web site

Fig. 1 Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Hope Weston is not to be found in any of the standard dictionaries of artists and book illustrators. To discover more about her I began with the assumption that since she was the illustrator of two books and the author of a novel (of which more below), all published in London during the 1920s, she would probably have been born in the UK between 1880 and 1900. A search on for a Hope Weston born in the UK in that time interval found only two. The first was a Hope Weston, born in Coventry in 1898, but who, sadly, died before the end of that year. The second was Doris Hope Weston, born in Birmingham on 25 August 1892. In the 1911 census she was recorded as an Art Student, aged 18, living with her parents, Harry Weston and his wife Eliza Hope Weston, at 20 St Stephen’s Square, Bayswater, London. This, of course, was promising, but just in case I retained the UK birth, but dropped the 1890±10 year of birth and searched for a Hope Weston with exact key-word art / artist/ illustrator. Only Doris Hope Weston showed up, making it highly likely that she was the one I was looking for. Taking that for granted, electoral rolls showed that she was mostly living in London during the period 1921 to 1939 inclusive, though with a spell in Chichester in 1928-9. Also “Doris Weston, Artist” took a trip to Sydney, Australia in October 1923, returning in July 1924.

That trip to Sydney turned out to be interesting, for whilst there she attended an art exhibition at which she happened to be interviewed by an art journalist called William Moore from The Sydney Daily Telegraph. In his “Gallery and Studio” column on 31 May 1924 (p.13) he reported that having asked her about what she thought of Australia, she replied, “Australians remind me of children who have escaped from their mother and are having a fine old time…How you do enjoy yourselves here! Sunday at Coogee is like a holiday at Home – the band plays the latest dance music, a moving mass of people fills the parade, and the whole scene just throbs with life.” Of greatest interest to us here though is the last section of Moore’s account:

“Miss Weston, who received her art instruction from Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole, has illustrated several books for London publishers. She did the illustrations for an edition of Omar Khayyam, issued by Routledge and Sons, and recently completed the drawings for “Princess Joy”, a child’s book issued by Bale and Daniels (sic). Her work has been shown at the exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in water-colour, and the Camden (sic) Hill Art Club.”

Fig. 2 Princess Joy

We shall return to Omar Khayyam and “Princess Joy” below, but meanwhile, given that she was an art student in 1911, her art instruction would seem to have been at the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole School of Art, founded in Campden Street, London, 1910. Indeed, in The Daily Telegraph on 10 October 1923 (p.5), in an account of an exhibition of the Campden Hill Club, we read that “some of the teaching of the late Byam Shaw seems to have borne fruit in the studies by D. Hope Weston.”

In 1927, Hope Weston’s novel The Restless Team was published by Andrew Melrose of London – it was, alas, unillustrated. As one reviewer in The Aberdeen Press and Journal on 2 June 1927 (p.3, col.3) put it:

“The book throughout is rather overwritten; life is lived, even in trifles, at top speed…Those who like their novels strong and well seasoned will relish this study of art, artists and Bohemia, but they must not ask for too much delicacy in situation or verisimilitude in character and situation. The steady hitting of the highlights of life tends to become wearisome.”

Having read the novel, though it does have some interesting aspects, overall I tend to agree, I’m afraid.

But to return to exhibitions, from The Times on 22 November 1929 (p.12, col.2) we learn that at the Chester Gallery in London “may be seen Miss D. Hope Weston’s portraits in oils” in which “the heads are more than life-size, the colours violent, and the expressions of the sitters approaching towards caricature.”

Little is to be found about Hope Weston in the 1930s, save that she exhibited a “powerful and perceptive” portrait in chalk of Janet Mitchell, author of the novel Tempest in Paradise, in the London Portrait Society’s show at the New Burlington Galleries in April-May 1936. (Mitchell was Australian, but she worked as a journalist in England between 1934 and 1940, and her novel was published in London in 1935.) In The Observer on 6 March 1938 (p.14, col.5) it was reported that “Hope Weston” exhibited a landscape (no details given) in the Women’s International Art Club exhibition held at the R.B.A. (Royal Society of British Artists) Galleries in London.

After the Electoral Register for 1939 she rather disappears from view until her death in Painswick, Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 12 July 1968, where she had lived at 1 Paradise Cottages since at least 1966.

Fig. 3 Princess Joy

To return to the books illustrated by her, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, with eight illustrations in colour by Hope Weston, using FitzGerald’s first version, was published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. in London (and in parallel by E.P. Dutton & Co. in New York), in 1923. It was undated but the accession date of the Kegan Paul copy in the British Library is 18 June 1923, and the Dutton edition was reviewed in one American newspaper in October 1923. It is Potter #119. The credit for publication to Routledge & Sons in the newspaper quote above, like the reference to Messrs George Routledge in Weston’s “Foreword” as the instigators of her approach to Omar, arise from the fact that in 1912 the firm of George Routledge & Sons had taken over the management of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

According to Weston’s “Foreword”, the request from Messrs George Routledge was that she should “endeavour to see Khayyam from a new angle, to visualize him as he appeared to his contemporaries, to study his mind before FitzGerald gilded his thoughts,” adding, “It was a tremendous task this effort to express in colour the thoughts in the mind of the old mystic.” It would seem, then, that Weston believed that the true Omar was a mystic, presumably a Sufi, whereas many of us would strongly disagree with this, and incline more to the view that actually FitzGerald was right to depict Omar as an agnostic with a disdain for organised religion and, if not a Hedonist, at least an advocate of enjoying this life – glass in hand – for there is probably no after-life. At any rate, it was her unusual approach which led Weston to explain her illustrations in her Foreword. Thus she explains Fig.1 (above), illustrating quatrain 16 (“Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai &c”), thus:

“The Battered Caravanserai is the symbol of the world of actuality from which the Messenger of Death leads his cortège across the snows through the door of Night. Behind he leaves the things of the body to pass out across the unknown region leading to that dream of man, ‘the land of the spirit’.”

I leave readers to decide for themselves whether Weston succeeded in her mission to depict the true Omar. The second – and so far as I can see, the only other – book illustrated by her was Lily Hall’s Princess Joy of Everywhere and the Fairies, subtitled “an Allegory of Life with Fairy Interludes.” Published in London by John Bale, Sons & Danielsson Ltd., it was undated but the accession date of the copy in the British Library is 1 November 1922 and, unlike her Rubaiyat, it was widely advertised and reviewed in the newspapers as a Christmas book for that year. It contained six black and white illustrations. Fig.2 serves to show the Fairy aspect of the story, and Fig.3 its allegorical aspect.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 16, 2023 12:46 pm

    Bob Forrest does it again with another insightful tour into the life of a Rubaiyat artist.

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