Campbell, Beatrice Moss (1883–1970), Lady Glenavy , artist, was born 30 April 1883 in Dublin, second among seven children of William Elvery , merchant, and Theresa Elvery (née Moss), singer and music teacher, whose parents were English quakers. William Elvery's ancestors were silk merchants from Spain, called Alvarez. Beatrice's early childhood was spent in Carrickmines, Co. Dublin; in 1896 the family moved to Foxrock and she attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Her mother's family was artistic – one aunt was the artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (qv) – and Beatrice and her sisters were talented artists and singers; her younger sister Dorothy Kay (qv) became a noted portrait painter in South Africa. Aged sixteen, Beatrice won a three-week scholarship to study in the South Kensington school of art. Back in Dublin, she modelled for William Orpen (qv), then teaching in the school; they became friends, and she regretted never studying painting under him. She concentrated on sculpture under John Hughes (qv) and had great success, winning the Taylor scholarship three years in a row (1901–3). The first year she won, the judges, seeking evidence that she had worked unaided, asked her to model a head from life in their presence.
Her first exhibit in the RHA was a bronze statuette of a boy in 1902. Thereafter she was a lifelong exhibitor with the RHA, showing almost annually until her death (except for the period 1908–12). Friendship with the older Sarah Purser (qv) introduced her to Dublin's artistic milieu and to the arts and crafts movement. In the movement's 1904 exhibition she showed ten items, including terracotta statuettes, a holy water stoup, and a plaster cast of a lectern, which was cast in bronze in Paris that year and placed in her former parish church in Carrickmines. The movement's historian, Paul Larmour, calls this lectern ‘a remarkable piece of organic art nouveau . . . There is nothing else like it in Ireland’ (Larmour, 108).
In 1904, after a brief period studying in Paris with her sister and fellow students Estella Solomons (qv) and Cissie (Frances) Beckett, she took lessons in stained glass from A. E. Child, and was then persuaded by Purser to join her Tower of Glass (An Túr Gloine) studio. She remained six years, executing windows for St Stephen's church, Mount St., Dublin; St Nicholas’ church, Carrickfergus; and a war memorial at the Church of Ireland church, Carrickmines. Although her work was generally well received, she did not rate her skill in the medium highly – ‘I never got the right feeling for glass or the detached, austere quality necessary for ecclesiastical art’ (Glenavy, 40) – and her window for a Gort convent led to a critical review of Purser's studio by W. B. Yeats (qv). She did not, however, confine herself to glass but also designed for silversmiths and illustrated books for children. For Iosagán agus Sgealta Eile (1907), by Patrick Pearse (qv), she provided a black-and-white frontispiece and four colour illustrations. For the Cuala Press, run by ‘Lily’ (qv) and ‘Lolly’ Yeats (qv) she designed calendars, Christmas cards, and fifteen hand-coloured prints, which continued to be issued until after the second world war.
Her social life in Dublin was busy; an active member of the United Arts Club, she was called by Lady Gregory (qv) ‘the beautiful Miss Elvery’, and Orpen's portrait, showing her long-necked, graceful, and vivacious, bears out this description. Tiring of glass, and wishing to become a painter, she left in 1910 for the Slade School in London. There Henry Tonks was less complimentary than her Dublin teachers; he found her work facile: ‘The speed, the slickness, the skill. It is horrible!’ (Glenavy, 52). Orpen also came to this view: ‘her only fault was that the transmission of her thoughts from her brain to paper or canvas, clay or stained glass, became so easy to her that all was said in a few hours. Nothing on earth could make her go on and try to improve on her first translation of her thought’ (Orpen, 69–70). Back in Dublin, Beatrice took a studio in Kildare St. and taught for a time in the Metropolitan School of Art, before her parents arranged a marriage with Charles Henry Gordon Campbell (qv), eldest son of the future lord chancellor of Ireland, James Campbell (qv). They married 1 August 1912 and moved to London (living at Selwood Terrace, South Kensington), where Gordon was called to the English bar. It was not initially a love match but they were well-suited – Gordon liked artistic, bohemian circles and they became friends with D. H. and Frieda Lawrence, the painter Mark Gertler, the publisher John Middleton Murry, and his wife, the writer Katherine Mansfield, who described Beatrice as ‘a queer mixture for she is loving and affectionate, and yet she is malicious’ (Mansfield, 60).
Gordon became secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce in the Irish Free State and in 1922 moved with his wife and children to Clonard, Terenure. His government position meant that within six months the house was burnt down by anti-treatyites, who were, however, almost comically accommodating – local men, they expressed distress at the job and allowed Beatrice to save the children's Christmas presents. Beatrice – who in 1931 became Lady Glenavy after Gordon succeeded to his father's title – was an important member of Dublin's social and artistic scene. She helped establish the Dublin Drama League and assisted Shelah Richards (qv) in the production of two plays in 1936. Her friendships were wide and varied and her conversation imaginative and engaged. Dressed in beige – what her son called ‘variations on a theme of porridge’ (Patrick Campbell, 27) – she entertained constantly; her house had what she termed a ‘caravanserai’ character and was constantly full of people.
Appointed an associate of the RHA in 1932, she became a full member in 1934 and took her turn at teaching. She also joined the more radical Dublin Painters’ Society and held in February 1935 a one-person show at their premises, 7 Stephen's Green, but she never showed with the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, though her work was more avant-garde than that of most academicians. At its best in still lifes and figure compositions, her work has ‘a sense of drama and an enigmatic or near-surrealist appearance’ (Kennedy, 184). Brian Kennedy notes that she was the first Irish painter to go surrealist (though she never thought of herself in this way) and although she was serious about her work – taking lessons at an advanced age from Patrick Hennessy (qv) – she was also diffident. Her memoir does not trace her development as an artist and mentions only one work with approbation – ‘The intruder’ (exhibited RHA 1932). Now in the NGI, it depicts in bold, rich colours a female centaur beckoning a young man from a group of picnickers. It immediately attracted attention; Richard Orpen (qv) wanted the academy to buy it, but they thought it obscene.
About 1941 the Campbells moved to a large Georgian house in Rathfarnham, and twenty years later they transferred to a smaller house in Sandycove. After Gordon's death in 1962, Beatrice published her memoirs, And today we will only gossip (1964). The title was well chosen: the book is not self-revelatory but full of characters she encountered. Monk Gibbon (qv) called her a ‘unique mixture: of talent and diffidence; of gregariousness and contempt for the herd; of gentle consideration and a savage determination to wound. Only those who knew her well knew her at all; and even to them she remained something of a mystery’ (Irish Times, 2 Dec. 1980).
She died 21 May 1970 in Dublin and was survived by her two sons, the writer and humorist Patrick Campbell (qv) and the novelist Michael Campbell (qv), and predeceased by her daughter, Bridget, an Irish international lacrosse player and talented scientist, who was killed by a bomb during the London blitz.
Her work is in inter alia the Ulster Museum, the NGI, Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, and the Crawford Municipal Gallery in Cork.