Born Louie Luker in 1873 into a large and artistic family, Louie knew from a very young age that she wanted to become an artist herself. Both her parents were artists and her grandfather, Tom King Margetts, had been a carver and a designer of stained glass. Louie's mother, Ada, had been encouraged by her father, Tom, to develop her talents and became an accomplished still life painter. However, Ada fell in love with a young landscape artist, William Luker, and with their marriage she gave up art in favour of a domestic life, much against her father's wishes. She bore 12 children, of whom 6 survived, but became bitter and jealous when Louie showed artistic promise and expressed her desire to develop it. William Luker maintained his career successfully initially with his genre and landscape paintings which were accepted by the Royal Academy for many years in succession. Inevitably, however, the tide of taste in the art world shifted, leaving William behind. He doggedly persevered, painting the same rural scenes of cattle and pastures again and again until finally his work was rejected by the Academy and interest in him declined. He too became bitter, and increasingly critical of Louie's aspirations. Times became hard for the Lukers, especially as Louie's four brothers had grown up selfish and idle due to too much indulgence by their mother. Louie's talents were discouraged in favour of her eldest brother, Willie, who was declared by his parents to possess the true artistic genius of the family, but who never showed any inclination to use it.
In an attempt to break away from her unhappiness with her family life and to obtain an artistic training Louie enrolled herself at the South Kensington Art School. She was swiftly removed by her parents and sent to work as an art mistress at a local high school in order that she might help to support the family. Not to be deterred, and more unhappy than ever with her home life, she sent some of her work to Hubert von Herkomer at his art school in Bushey, Hertfordshire. On the strength of this work he offered her a three year scholarship but, as this was to cover the cost of tuition only, Louie was unable to accept the offer immediately. She took up a teaching post at a school in Truro, Cornwall, and in this way broke free from her family and found the means with which to save enough money to fund herself through art school. It was during these years that she started to paint her first portrait miniatures of local people which served to supplement her income and hasten the time when she could afford to commence her formal art training.
Finally, in 1900 at the age of 27, Louie left for Bushey. By this point Herkomer's school had become well known for its progressive ethos. Plein- (or open-) air work was encouraged and women were included in life classes, unlike other schools where the female students were denied this opportunity. Louie enjoyed her time in Bushey and got on well with Herkomer, participating fully in his theatrical productions, but furthermore her talent had at last been recognised and each year she was awarded the 'Enamel' for the best student. For the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 the school held a celebratory procession for which Louie was selected to paint one of twenty linen panels bearing 7 feet high portraits of past British monarchs. Her panel depicted Edward the confessor and was painted with transparent oils so that it could be lit from behind to illuminate the celebrations. Recognition from outside the school came when her miniatures were accepted by the Royal Academy, for example 'The red haired girl' which was exhibited in 1902 and now hangs in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her work exhibited at the Academy lead to a portrait commission from Lord North and it was his patronage that launched her as a portraitist into London's high society.
Louie left Bushey in 1904 with a testimonial from Herkomer which read: 'I wish to testify that Miss Louise H. Luker has been one of my most successful pupils, and I can in every way recommend her for portrait work, either in oils or in miniatures'. With this, and the help she received from Lord North, she was set for a successful career; she was already receiving commissions from the aristocracy and becoming popular. Another option would have been for her to study further under Julien in Paris as she had always desired. However, unpredictably she chose another path. Louie wanted her career, and wanted to succeed, but she also wanted marriage and motherhood and so she left England for South Africa, where she felt she would find a suitable husband and father. She arrived in Cape Town and started working, painting miniatures of the distinguished and wealthy residents and, as she had hoped, met Philip Burrell, a Johannesburg merchant from a respectable family and within a month they were married. Unlike her mother, Louie did not intend marriage to bring an end to her work, and she believed that after she had borne the two children that she wanted, Philip would not obstruct her return to painting. Furthermore, she would have financial security, not having to rely on her art to keep herself and thus taking pressure off her work. Her first pregnancy was unsuccessful and so in 1907, on learning that she was carrying another child, Louie returned to England where it was felt that the health of herself and the child would be less likely to suffer. Philip remained behind to arrange his business affairs and was to join her later, but at Durban in February 1908, whilst on his way to board his ship for England, he suffered a heart attack and died, throwing Louie's world into disarray. She was left with a newborn child, no home and with no financial support whilst still recovering her health from the recent birth.
It was under these circumstances that she returned to the parental home, but as soon as she had restored her health she was fighting again to leave and reclaim her independence. She recommenced her work as soon as she was able, but now it held even more importance as it had to support herself and her daughter Philippa. It was to be the means by which she would stand alone in the world as a financially independent woman, not conventionally supported by a man. This was no easy way to live for a woman of her class, but it freed her from the responsibility of living for a husband and large family, not sacrificing her talents as her mother had done. Fortunately she soon regained the popularity that she left behind when she embarked for Africa and in an article in The Ladies Field 13 July 1912 it was proclaimed that 'it has become quite the fashion nowadays to be painted by her'.
During this time Louie produced miniature portraits painted onto ivory of many notable individuals, including Prince George of Battenburg and Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein. In 1912 she was elected as an Associate of the Royal Miniature Society and exhibited at many galleries. But the strain of supporting herself, a daughter and a nurse began to show and her health broke down. A change of climate was recommended to improve her condition and so she left London for a six month visit to Canada.
She settled in Ottawa where a distant cousin, Martin Burrell, was working in the Canadian government as secretary of state and minister for agriculture. This was to Louie's advantage and she was soon painting the rich and influential members of Ottawa society, from politicians to millionaires created by the timber trade. Part of her attraction was that she was English and Ottawa was very much a new world city trying to emulate English culture and traditions; an English artist seemed to create the right impression. Such was her success that she was commissioned to paint miniatures of the Governor General, the Duke of Connaught and his daughter Princess Patricia, and Louie and Philippa became regular guests in his home. The intended six months stretched into two years and Louie came to tire of Ottawa and wished to return to England. She was particularly concerned that Philippa, now six years old, should start her schooling in London; until this point Louie had taught her herself. So in July 1914 it was planned they would return to London after a round the world trip planned and paid for by Louie's wealthy friends in the Canadian government. These plans were halted before they had even left Vancouver by the outbreak of the First World War. Rather than return to an England in the midst of war, Louie moved to Victoria, a small town with a large population of English settlers, and hoped to reproduce the level of popularity she had achieved in Ottawa. Unfortunately this was not to be. The town rejected Louie and her art and she failed to attract any solid work. Her money was running short and with little hope of earning more through painting, she set to work as a boarding house keeper. Eventually this too failed and in the face of unpaid rent and the demands of creditors she turned back, once again, to art. Taking a cowshed near a military camp, she swept it clean and turned it into a simple studio, placing a sign outside advertising quick portraits for 25 cents. These water-colour sketches on paper became popular with the local soldiers and Louie's ingenuity whilst working with very little, kept her and her daughter from destitution. When the local regiment finally left to fight in Europe she survived, as the venture had served as publicity which brought some commissioned work.
By 1916 Louie was weary of struggling to survive in such a provincial town and was on the move again, this time to California, where she stayed for three years painting Hollywood tycoons and film stars. Although enjoying America, she became dissatisfied with a life of constant change and foreign lands. So in 1919, with the war over and the passage home paid for by a wealthy friend, Louie and Philippa returned to London.
To re-establish herself in London Louie adopted a similar tactic to that used in Victoria. In 1922 she started painting quick portraits in a shop window in Beauchamp Place, charging five guineas a portrait, painting two sitters a day. This venture proved to be popular and soon she was earning more money than ever before. One of her first customers was Mrs Stanley Baldwin, who became Louie's new patron and in 1923, as wife of the new prime minister, she commissioned life size oil portraits of herself and her daughters. Louie by this time was feeling strained by the volume of work and, with her eyesight weakening, she turned away from miniatures and concentrated on these large scale oils, particularly as they commanded a higher price. Art was now hard grinding work for her and she came to be less and less satisfied with the results, although her sitters regarded them as a success. Feeling the need for more support in her life, she remarried in 1924 to John Moore, the brother-in-law of a friend. She hoped that this would bring stability to her life, but she merely gained another person to support, and after six months the marriage ended due to John's violence and alcoholism. As another attempt to promote herself and obtain useful publicity, Louie gained permission to paint Princess Mary in 1927. The resulting work was impressive, but failed to bring Louie any further commissions. In 1929 Louie and Philippa, now almost 20, collected all their money together and set off for India, as Philippa wanted to escape England for what she saw as the glamour and excitement of colonial life.
It was hoped that Louie would again start to receive high society commissions to support herself and Philippa before their money ran out. Armed with a letter of recommendation to the Viceroy Lord Irwin written by Mrs Baldwin, they settled in Simla, his summer home and awaited his arrival for the season. Very soon Louie was working from her hotel room, producing small oil portraits for £25 each. She and Philippa were taking great trouble to appear to be of greater means than actually was the case in order to be accepted into the colonial ruling class and when the Viceroy arrived and Louie received permission to paint him, it seemed as though they had succeeded. They joined in with all the social events of the Viceregal Court, receiving a stream of invitations. Attempting to keep up such a lifestyle Louie became over-stretched, living at a level she could not afford to maintain. Louie was dependent upon her patrons, and by associating with the most fashionable, wealthy and powerful she secured her living; if she lost contact with such people she would struggle to gain work. The Viceroy's portrait accumulated increasing importance: it had to be impressive or her popularity would fail. Louie was finding it harder and harder to work on because of this extra burden and time and time again the painting was abandoned. Whilst labouring over the Viceroy's picture she executed a very successful portrait of the Commander in Chief, Sir William Birdwood, who ordered a second to hang in his official residence in Simla, and then purchased a third to hang at Flagstaff House, his official residence in Delhi. From this it would appear that Louie had not lost her abilities, but that they were being affected by her worries and her fear of artistic and financial failure.
After the season had passed in Simla Louie and Philippa moved to New Delhi, leaving the unpaid debts of their unsustainable lifestyle behind them. They had succeeded in infiltrating the Viceregal court, but this infiltration had cost more than they could afford. Louie's failure to deliver the Viceroy's portrait led to a decline in her popularity and in New Delhi commissions and invitations were not forthcoming. She returned to Simla and then travelled on to Kashmir, painting Indian Royalty such as the Rajah of Mandi in 1928 and the Maharajah of Kashmir in 1929. Finally, after eighteen months of struggling, Lord Irwin's portrait was completed, too late to secure Louie's position in Viceregal circles and failing to bring the publicity for which it had been intended. She was unsatisfied with the result, feeling that it lacked life and was overworked, but her relief lay in the fact that it was, at least, finished.
In 1930 Louie and Philippa left India for a six month stay in Cairo. During this time Louie once again tried to establish herself, but by now her health was poor and her attempts to paint failed. They came back to London in 1931, but were not to remain there for long. Louie recovered her health and in 1932, with a new Viceroy to paint, she went again to India, this venture proving to be less successful than the last. Whilst preparing to paint the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, her health failed again and she lost faith in her artistic ability. She returned once more to England.
Louie was never again to produce professional portraits on a commission basis, although she did continue to paint, and earn money by it. Although not now producing grand portraits or intricate miniatures, art seemed to be an essential activity to Louie and she painted both for the money and for herself. She enjoyed sketching expeditions, either abroad to France and Italy, or in England to Cornwall, and even working around London. In 1942, whilst living in Harrogate, at the age of 70, she found a new method of promoting and selling her work, by exhibiting it in Ogden's, a local jeweller's shop. She produced water-colour sketches from photographs of politicians and royalty, such as Stanley Baldwin and King George. These proved to be popular, and a sketch of Winston Churchill led to further work, when it was purchased by a Brigadier-General Jones who showed it to the Prime Minister. Churchill was so impressed by the work that he ordered two copies for himself, and in 1950 the Brigadier-General ordered yet another copy. Louie also supported herself during the war in London with a job painting lampshades and boxes; she continued with this type of decorative work until 1951. In post-war England it was hard to find a market for such work; Louie despaired of the tastes of the new world around her and the place of the artist within it. In 1952 Louie received an annual grant from the artists general benevolent fund, and at last gained some financial security in her life. She continued to paint almost until her death in 1971, at the age of 98, no longer compelled by the demands of money and society.
The following information has been compiled from Philippa Burrell's trilogy of autobiographies, The Golden Thread, The Horses & the Charioteer and The Dance of the Opposites which are available online and material from within the collection.
Philippa Burrell was born in 1908 and as a child travelled extensively with her mother, Louie Burrell, as she endeavoured to make her living painting, becoming a favourite with many of her mother's subjects. In 1914 they became stranded in Canada due to the outbreak of the First World War and lived in Victoria, renting out rooms to lodgers. As the war progressed Louie's finances worsened so began to paint the portraits of soldiers at the nearby camp for 25 cents. Philippa became fascinated by the soldiers who told her stories of England. At the age of seven she became the regiment's mascot, complete with uniform and paraded every Sunday (U DBU/2/356-383). When the soldiers left to fight Louie's income again suffered and after two years in Victoria the Burrells left for Los Angeles.
In 1919 the Burrells were able to make their way back to England and, at nearly twelve years old, Philippa headed to Francis Holland School, Graham Street, London where her godmother, Miss Morison, was headmistress. The letters in U DBU/1 provide insights into events in Philippa's life at this time. Following her exams at Newnham College Philippa decided that she wanted to be free of the constraints of education and spent time wandering the streets of London, spending time with night-watchmen, tramps and buskers.
Louie Burrell's connections through her portrait painting led to Philippa being offered an unpaid job as an assistant to Miss Chard at 10 Downing Street, London at the age of seventeen. She was trained in filing, typing and shorthand and also took part in Mrs Stanley Baldwin's Thursday receptions. At an interview with the Conservative Central Office she told them she wanted to become a Member of Parliament and would like to work in a constituency to gain experience. However after three months of working in a room alone she realised that politics were not what interested her.
Philippa immersed herself in writing a novel, but its completion was followed by weeks of convulsive weeping, being unable to read or continue her walking, only eating and sleeping. Philippa saw travel to India as her escape from England, which she viewed as a prison. In 1928 Philippa and Louie Burrell set sail for Bombay. They arrived at The Cecil Hotel, Simla, but their financial position was always precarious and Louie's health and ability to paint were sometimes poor. They left for Delhi and within a few weeks Philippa was engaged to Harold from the Gordon Highlanders. However, when he went on home leave she broke off the engagement. She fell in love again, this time with a divorcee John, a subaltern in the 4th Huzzars stationed in Meerut, but it did not last.
Philippa's attempts to find a job proved fruitless and Louie's poor health added to her worries. Philippa decided to sell chocolate fudge in aid of the Red Cross, making it in the room of their hotel and keeping some of the money for herself, clearing £75 in the first month. The Red Cross secretary showed interest in where the money was going, but Philippa claimed heavy overheads and sent her token sums in an attempt to appease her. The Burrells left for Bhopal before she could be investigated further.
Aged 24 Philippa, with her mother, headed to Canada, via England. On her arrival in Ottawa Philippa began work on an epic poem with Louie painting posters for the Canadian Pacific Railways. Following an incident with a bear (U DBU/3/7), an accident suffered by Louie and Philippa's loss of creative inspiration they soon returned to England. They purchased West Wratting Mill, Cambridgeshire, as a working home, selling cakes in Cambridge market for money to restore it (U DBU/5/3).
In 1936 Philippa attended the Fourth World Theatre Festival, in Moscow and Leningrad. It was a mix of professional and amateur theatre. It was during the festival that she met the conductor Vladimir Shaveitch and, despite his wife and daughter, they became lovers. It was not to last as she felt trapped and Philippa returned to London.
Philippa had mastered her writing techniques at West Wratting, but struggled to find an idea that excited her until deciding on a drama written in verse and based upon a philosophy of nature, 'He Was Like a Continent'. She sent the finished work to a number of theatres, but it was universally rejected. She heard that 'great things were happening' in America and sold the mill and left for New York alone. Philippa left a copy of her play with all the theatre and agencies on Broadway, but it was rejected again.
An actor-director, Nicholas Grey, wanted to start a try-out theatre as he was aware of the difficulties of getting a new play on to the stage. He aimed to provide a 'shop-window' for managements to see them. He read Philippa's play, but needed initial capital in order to produce it. As Philippa had money left from the sale of the Mill she agreed to invest the £500 needed and things progressed with the hiring of a down-town theatre on the Bowery, the Roosevelt. A number of problems followed, but with the guidance of Robert Coleman, a drama critic of the Mirror, the play opened on 17th February 1938 with all 1400 seats sold. It received good notices from the critics, but Coleman told Philippa that 'The play is good. The production is not as bad as I expected but it is heavy and humourless and the opportunities in the text are not taken. Some of the acting is good but the two leads are terrible. You must take it off and get a first-class Broadway production'.
By now Louie had joined Philippa and they decided to travel again, this time to Cape Cod where Philippa began work on 'The Isle, the Sea & the Crown'. It was a story of 'Edward VIII's love for Mrs Simpson and his abdication and the story of England, from her prehistoric beginnings to her mystic future'. Philippa was to work on it for sixteen years. As the summer approached the Burrells moved up the New England coast to Hay Point on the island of Grand Manan, returning to New York a year after they had left.
With the threat of war Philippa made the decision to return to Europe so she could be a part of what was to enfold. Returning to England the Burrells split their remaining capital of £50 and Louie headed to Normandy to sketch while Philippa went to Berlin, immersing herself in the books and people around her. The letters in this collection provide an insight into Philippa's views and experiences at this time. She visited Adolf Kohler, who was head of the office that gave foreigners advice, in her attempt to find a literary agent. She proved unsuccessful, but a journalist acted as an unpaid agent, helping her to visit publishers with her play.
Philippa rekindled a previous relationship with Baroness Rosalind von Schirach who had close links to Hitler and this provided Philippa with access to places such as the headquarters of the German Women's Organization. Philippa's close relationship with Kohler ensured she was kept informed with how the war was developing and through his efforts she was able to board the last Warsaw to Paris Express before the outbreak of war (see U DBU/1/545 for a postcard sent en route). After passing through Paris Philippa arrived in London on 31 August 1939. For the next two years she continued to receive letters from Kohler.
Philippa went on to Wales where she continued with her writing, returning to London when France fell. She obtained a job working in the Central War Room of the War Office. Within six weeks she was a fully qualified member of the team that tracked the positions of every British Unit. She stayed for nine months before resigning and joining the army, entering Pontefract Barracks, No 9 ATS Training Centre, on 17th July 1942 as a driver. However, due to the shortage of officers she was put up for a commission. At the end of every course there was a Passing-out Parade and a Concert Party with the companies putting on performances. Philippa's play 'The Nightmare' was warmly received. Her dramatic interests were again utilised with her move to No1 Officer Cadet Training Unit, Edinburgh, on November 26th 1942.
In August 1943 she arrived at HQ ATS Severn District Heath camp, Cardiff and then proceeded to Newport, the HQ of the Bristol Channel Ports. It was here that Philippa met and fell in love with married Major Gordon Hannen. Philippa suffered a nervous breakdown and Hannen arranged for her to be invalided out in 1945. After the war Philippa and Hannen returned to London. He began divorce proceedings and moved to a bedsit near the Burrells. Following Philippa's move to a gamekeeper's cottage in Kent Hannen returned to his wife.
By using her war gratuity Philippa was able to publish a paper-back edition of 'He Was Like a Continent' in 1947, but it failed to raise any interest. This drove her to write 'The Brothers' while living in Farndale, North Yorkshire. She eventually found financial backing for the play from Hannen with Peter Zadek directing. Attempts to persuade Gordon Craig to produce the play resulted in a brief relationship (see U DBU/1, U DBU/2/675 and U DBU/4/17). The play opened on 13th February 1951 at the Watergate Theatre, London to poor reviews. Philippa considered leaving England again as she perceived that 'England has always done her best to crush her young writers but I will not be crushed
' However, she remained.
In 1951 Philippa attended the last night of the PEN Club Congress in Edinburgh, a human rights organisation fighting for freedom of expression. At the banquet she was entranced by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar and on their return to London met to discuss India and Philippa's play 'He Was Like a Continent'. In him Philippa saw the 'father-teacher-lover' that she had been looking for and their relationship endured until his death with meetings and weekly letters.
Also at this time Philippa was appointed to the executive committee of the Authors World Peace Appeal (AWPA) and this gave her a purpose outside of her writing. She subsequently travelled to various conferences, including Congress of the People for Peace held in Vienna in December 1952. Philippa had become ostracised by the PEN Club following a peace demonstration in London in March 1955. She had also attempted to shake the AWPA out of what she saw as their 'political timidity'. Her 'real allegiance' now was to the British Peace Committee 'where I found positive people and made new friends'.
Philippa went regularly to the Theatre Royal in Stratford East where director Joan Littlewood had a company. In May 1955 Littlewood obtained money to take two plays to the International Theatre Festival in Paris and Philippa accompanied them. On their return Philippa was invited by the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries and the League of Polish women to be part of a delegation of twelve women to go to Poland. These free tours aimed to present an image designed to counter that painted by the West. While waiting for a flight to take her on to Helsinki to attend the World Peace Congress Philippa spent several days walking and talking to the people of Warsaw. On the last day of the congress invitations were extended to the delegates to visit both Russia and China. Philippa headed for Leningrad, then Moscow before returning to London.
In 1956 Philippa headed back to India where her relationship with Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar provided her with social connections and an invitation to the World Theatre Conference in Bombay to read her play. Later she attended the Asian Writers Conference and the World Buddhist Conference. While in India Philippa was taught Yoga, meditation, Hinduism and Buddhism. She travelled to China via Hong Kong aiming to see the treasures of the old China, meet writers and study the new China before she returned to England via India.
Philippa and Louie purchased a house in Hampstead, London, which they converted into small flats, giving them financial security for the first time, but Philippa felt stifled and sold it six months later. She attempted to buy Scar Top on the moors above Hebden in Wharfedale, North Yorkshire, where she had previously lived, but was unsuccessful so purchased a caravan which she placed on a moor top in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. In May 1960 she bought Laverock Hall, an old crumbling farmhouse, which she rebuilt. Once completed Philippa spent her days in meditation, yoga and reading. At this time she also finished part one of her autobiography, 'The Golden Thread'. Following a number of falls her mother, Louie, now aged 90, moved into a flat Philippa had converted from a cowshed, but it didn't suit either of them and after six years Philippa sold Laverock Hall and they moved back to Hampstead, London. As Louie's health deteriorated Philippa placed her in a Home, but issues meant she returned to live with Philippa. However, her own health began to suffer as the stress of looking after her 96 year old mother took its toll. Philippa finally found a Home for Louie in Barnet, London. Later Louie's deafness caused the Burrells to communicate through 'scribbles' and they became a book.
As Louie was now settled Philippa was able to move to a smaller flat in Tufnell Park, London. She regularly attended meetings in the Wimbledon cottage of Anna Morduch, head of the Sufi order in England. In 1969 Philippa read 'The Testimony of Light' which was written by a medium, Helen Greaves, from messages sent to her by her dead friend, Frances Banks. She approached Helen Greaves for permission to adapt it for the stage. In January 1970 the adaptation was complete, but issues between Philippa and Helen Greaves meant that the play was never performed (see U DBU/5/21-U DBU/5/24).
Following Louie's death in 1971 Philippa began work on 'The Journey'. Unable to find a backer for the completed work she sold her cottage, car and furniture to raise funds to stage it herself. Eventually it opened at the Round House, Camden Town, London in March 1976, but bad reviews resulted in a shortened run and left Philippa £5000 in debt. In 1981 with money from subscriptions she printed 500 paperback copies of 'The Isle, the Sea & the Crown' with limited success. By now Philippa was living in a British Legion Home in the Midlands.
During her many moves Philippa had always retained an old Saratoga trunk, filled with her mother's unframed paintings. In 1979 she exhibited her mother's paintings for a week at the National Book League Gallery in Albermarle Street, London. Philippa began searching for places to house her mother's works in a number of museums, galleries and universities. Material in this collection documents her efforts and the issues that she faced (see U DDB/3). In 1994 she deposited a number of items belonging to herself and her mother with Hull University Archives, including paintings, letters and photographs. Philippa used the letters and photographs to compile a history of her family in 'Remarkable Lives, Letters & Photographs' (see U DBU/5/91). The University went on to award her an honorary doctorate in 1999 (see U DBU/5/89) and the remainder of Philippa's own papers were added to the collection following her death in 2004.