Beatrice Offor

The following interview is is dated 1907 and provides some fascinating details to Beatrice's life.

A WOMAN PAINTER OF YOUNG WOMEN.

Miss Beatrice Offor, Creator of the famous "Offor Heads."

(By G.H.S., in "The Young Woman.")

Within a few yards of one of London's main thoroughfares, with its rush and roar of a thousand wheels, nestling behind commanding business premises, there are a dozen secluded studios. In the neighbourhood there are many other ateliers of a similar nature, for this district, known to many by the name of Chelsea, is known to others as Artists' Land; but none to compare with this little group, hidden away behind imposing masses of bricks and mortar.

One of these charming studios, which have such an old-world charm about them, and bring back to one memories of historical Chelsea, bears the simple inscription on its portal "Beatrice Offor." There is an indescribable something in the air of the passage outside, a certain coldness, that is anything but inviting to the visitor, but once cross the threshold and this is forgotten. Inside all is warm, cheery, bright and hospitable, and everywhere there is the charm and simplicity which betoken the hand of the hand of the homely woman. Comfort is writ large over this beautiful room, and the giant fireplace breathes out a silent welcome. But this bright, airy apartment is not the place where some fashionable dilettante, some artistic idler, whiles away the time; it is a workshop in very truth, for on all sides are to be seen evidences of a busy hand. At the far end of this studio there is a large, imposing picture that grips ones attention. It shows with dramatic intensity a Poor Soul's craving. All around this masterpiece are grouped in profusion other pictures, pictures of all sizes and many subjects, that show at a glance that the originator of them is a person of many talents, gifted and capable. Here is a picture of Ophelia that imparts to one a feeling of melancholy, while over there is a beautiful painting of a brilliant scene, with two lovers prominent in the foreground.

But the greater number of the pictures which adorn this artist's storehouse are of simple maidens' heads, delightful in their charming daintiness ; and this is as it should be, for the famous "Offor Heads" are known the world over. Indeed, it may said that Miss Beatrice Offor is one of the most popular artists of the day, her pictures are eagerly sought after, and publishers vie with one another for the honour of giving her works to the public.

As to Miss Offor herself, all that need be said is that she is as charming as her works. She is a most accomplished woman, a woman of many parts and a brilliant conversationalist. Her features remind one very forcibly of Ellen Terry, and one cannot help being attracted by her sympathetic personality. She is essentially a "homely" woman and an artist. The artist temperament seldom goes hand-in-hand with commercial instinct, but miss Offor manages to combine the two. Possibly her business talents are inherited, but certain it is that the "business region of her head," to use a phrenological phrase, "is well developed."

Miss Offor is an ideal subject for the interviewer; indeed, she interviews herself, so to speak, and it may be said that she interviews the interviewer. Her capabilities are such that she would have been a success in any walk of life, and it is safe to say that had she embraced literature as a profession she would have made a name for herself as great as she has made it in the artistic world. Her studio is a true and telling index to herself. She loves the beautiful, she loves the artistic, she loves the homely. Miss Offor first studied art at the well-known Slade School, but whatever she may have learnt there, it is certain that she has learnt more at the School of Life, with All Men and All Things for her masters.

"Yes," said Miss Offor to me, "I first took up the study of art as a sort of hobby, and had a little idea of becoming anything more than a prominent amateur. Then a turn for the worse came in my affairs; and I soon realised that I must make of my artistic gifts a means of livelihood. It was a hard struggle, and I know the ups and downs, of an artist's life as well as most of my confreres. Why, at one time I had to resort to painting photograph frames at fourpence each, and then for a long time I did black and white sketches for the papers, caricatures chiefly, at ten shillings each; in fact, in those days I turned my hands to anything that would bring me in a living, and, indeed, I have done so more or less all my life. I must confess I am not one of those dreamers whose one cry it is "art for art's sake." I have had certain responsibilities that have made it necessary for me to earn money, and, unpoetic as it may appear, art has been with me more or less something of a business.

"How did I come to create the Offor Head,' you ask? Well, I hardly know. Many years ago, when I was trying to please the publishers, I happened to paint a simple little head, and one man, when I showed it to him, he said he could use it if I altered it a little. Of course, I made the necessary alterations, and it seemed to take the public fancy, and naturally I have gone on ever since painting similar heads. That is the way, I suppose, I came to create the 'Offor Head.' How long does it take me to paint one of these heads? The actual time in the painting is usually about a couple of days, but, of course the time varies according to the particular method of treatment, and then a good deal of time is taken up in thinking out the subject in the first place.

"Many people have asked me who is my model for these heads, and I have no answer, none in particular. Some of the heads really are portraits, others occasionally composed from moro that one model, with little imagination thrown in. There is one girl however, whom I may perhaps call the 'Offor Girl,' and she has sat for me many a time. She has been a veritable mascot to me, and all the heads I have painted from her have been exceedingly popular. I am afraid this girl will not be the original of many more of my favourite pictures, that charm of innocence, that is so much sought after. Somehow or other the public will have a simple little picture of a young girl, and they do not take to a painting of a girl who has strong lines of character in her face."

But it must not be thought that Miss Offor gives her whole time and energies to the painting of "Offor Heads." She has painted many subject pictures, some of which have been "On the line" at the Royal Academy. She is a great lover of allegorical subjects, and she always tries to depict the beautiful. The realistic school has no fascination for her. She does not grope after the hideous in life for the purpose of dragging it into the light for the purpose of dragging it into the light for the multitude to gaze at. She seeks to depict all that is elevating and uplifting, believing that such subjects have a great influence on the minds of people for good.

"I remember one of my sitters," said Miss Offer, "was a lady who had come to me at the request of her friends. She had a beautiful, sympathetic face, but, also, she came to me very nervous, with a set expression, such as one usually goes to a photographers with. I knew it no good to attempt to portray her while she was in that frame of mind, and knew also that if i hoped to get a perfectly natural picture I must appeal to her sympathetic nature, and make her get away from the idea that she was going to have her portrait taken.' So I gave her a comfortable seat by the fire, and I sat down opposite her. For a while I chatted with her, but still that same unnatural expression on her face.

"Then I began to tell her some of my own troubles. She took an interest in them, as I thought she would, and soon I saw her face light up with that sympathetic look that is so delightful. Having once got her in that frame of mind it was my endeavour to keep her in it while I could get to work on the canvas. I knew I must be careful not to flurry her, or she would immediately relapse into her unnatural self, and presently I suggested we should see how we could arrange her dress for the best effect. I got her to step up on to the platform, and she took quite an interest in the preparations. In the end I quiet gained her sympathies, and the result was, according to her friends, a most "striking likeness.'

"I recollect at another time I was commissioned to paint the portrait of a popular man for presentation. He was one of the most difficult sitters I have ever had. He had some cut out of deference to the wishes of others, and he did not relish the idea at all. He gave me two or three sittings, and in that time i could not attempt to depict his best expression at all, for the simple reason that he world keep a hard set look on his face. I talked on all the subjects under the sun, and I has almost despaired of ever getting a good likeliness, when quiet by accident I happened to talk about fishing--salmon fishing. In an instant I could see that, that was the one hobby on which he bestowed all his enthusiasm, and in a very short while he was glibly talking to me about the pleasures of the pursuit of the glorious salmon. As I am interested in most subjects, even sport, I liked to hear his vivid descriptions, and while he talked I painted, and at last, after several sittings =, managed to get a good likeness.

"It is very curious, but my experience has taught me that men are more particular about their appeal than women, notwithstanding the general impression that it is just the other way. In proof of this I must tell you about my sportsman sitter. He came to me arrayed in splendid hunting garb, and he wanted me to paint a full length portrait just as he stood. All the time I was at my work he kept impressing on me the importance of getting correct details of dress and pose according to hunting etiquette. It was a matter of small moment to him wether the facial expression was natural or not, all he wanted was that his clothes should be properly and truthfully drawn. Above all he was most particular that the initials of tho hunt to which he belonged should be plainly shown on the buttons of his coat, and when I had almost finished he surveyed the painting, and seemed disappointed that the letters were not very bold. If I put them in too strongly i new they would detract from the effect of the picture, and so i took a pin and scratched the initials deep on the painted buttons, and glazed them thinly with paint. This little manoeuvre enabled him to see the letters when at close quarters, but they were not visible at any distance, and he was much satisfied, and it didn't hurt the picture at all.

"It is always a great pleasure to me to paint the portraits of brides,for at such time the sitters are usually at their best. Often they tell me how their fiances like to see them look best--smiling, pensive, and so on. Then I try to imagine it is my portrait being painted for my future husband, and of course discover now I should wish to appear at my most charming moment.

"Occasionally we have little wrestles over the family criticrisms which off and on suggest uncomplimentary alterations; but I generally get my own way, and much gratitude, not only from the bride, but the possessor of the portrait. "You have not asked me who I love best of all to paint. Shall I tell you? It is my dear old nurse, who has been over fifty years now with my father. Written on that face is a pure, unselfish life, and every line has grown beautifully and kindly old--do you wonder that I look her as an ideal type? "I am always on the look-out for models for the 'Offor Heads,' as some are pleased to call them, and find them in all sorts of places and amongst all classes of people. One day I found a poor girl sweeping a crossing. She had a beautiful face, and I thought how well her head would look on canvas. There and then I spoke to her and asked her if she would be my model for a day, and she was highly pleased that I should single her out. The next day she came to me, and I was horrified to see how she got herself up. She was attired in the blue velvet dress affected by the coaster class on high days and holidays, her hat was a truly wonderful creation, and her hair, oh, her hair! was towzled out in the most amazing fashion. She was altogether different from the picturesque girl I met the day before, and so I had to set to work to transform her. When she had removed her hat, I took a brush and ran it over her hair, and changed her dress for the plain garb of a Puritan, whereat she was highly indignant, but I managed to pacify her. That picture was a most popular one, and none would have thought that the original was a coster girl."