Art Professions

A Professional Daughter: The voice of Emily Breare

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Soprano, Emily Breare (1883-1967)
(Image source: http://www.operascotland.org/person/7621/Emily-Breare)

 

Professional projects took many forms for the families in our towns. Celebrated soprano, Miss Emily Breare (1883-1967) represented just such a project. A grand-daughter of our Leeds professional cohort, Emily lived an exciting professional life and fulfilled the ambitions of her own father’s professional project. Trained from an early age by her father, newspaper man William Hammond Breare (1858-1935) , she became well-respected and toured the county, even singing in the Proms at the Queens Hall in September 1907, conducted by Henry Wood.

William H. Breare (born in Massachusetts, US to an English father) had significant vocal talents of his own. Recognising this, when he was fourteen his parents sent him across the Atlantic to Yorkshire to train under F. W. Hirst. His father clearly had his own professional project in mind. In 1917 William recounted that:

“My father was born in Burley-in-Wharfedale, and in his youth was a member of the choir of the Parish Church of Otley. He went to America when he was 18 and settled. He was very musical. Could read anything at sight, play any instrument. Perhaps I inherited a little musical instinct from him. Anyway, I sang in America in public before I was five years old, and continued to do so until after I was 15. I was what is called a boy soprano; travelled long journey to sing anthems in churches and at festivals and other concerts. At one time 365 miles from Boston to New York every Saturday, returning on the Monday.”

Professionally, however, William appears in the Victorian Professions Project‘s database as the husband of Ellen Ackrill* (1851-1932) and rather than a vocal artist he made his career as a literary journalist (1881 Census) and then editor (1891 Census) of his father-in-law’s newspaper, the Harrogate Herald – a paper he would edit for over 50 years. William’s probate of £3353 17s 8d suggests this brought him a comfortable existence and plenty of means to support his daughter in her own professional vocal career. His sons would follow him into the newspaper instead.

 

William Hammond Breare

William Hammond Breare (1858-1935)
(Image source: see Notes)

William also seems to have continued his interest in professional music by means of the pen, authoring Vocalism from an English Standpoint (1904), Elocution. Its First Principals (1905) and Vocal Faults and their Remedies (1907). He also coached his daughter using his extensive music collection, until she was noticed by gifted choir trainer Dr. Henry Coward and her professional career took off. The latter engaged her as his principal soprano for a tour of Canada with the Sheffield Choir in 1908. The 200 strong choir performed at the Montreal Arena to an audience of 4000. The Montreal Gazette declared the event a huge success and choral singing at its best. After a somewhat wobbly start (probably due to nerves), Emily redeemed herself and was specifically praised for her soprano solo of ‘I Know that my Redeemer Liveth and ‘Elizabeth’s Prayer.

Returning triumphant, the celebrated Sir Frederick Bridge recommended her for Callirhoe with the Reading Philharmonic Society shortly afterwards. ‘Flexibility’, ‘power’ and ‘ease’ were all words used to describe Emily’s delivery in the press and the Reading Observer remarked: “Of Miss Breare it is impossible to speak too highly”. Success clearly lead to a life on the road. In 1908 she received high praise for a voice that was “clear as a crystal” in the Tonypandy Harmonic Society Christmas Oratorios (Rhondda, Wales). The next summer Emily was back in Wales again, making her first appearance in the esteemed pier concerts in Llandudno for the first time, alongside Madame Ada Crossley, an Australian singer. Their photos dominated the page in the Llandudno Advertiser, which informed its readers that Emily had the highest credentials, having been one of the Carl Rosa’s Opera Company and that she was also engaged later in the season with the Moody Manners, another touring opera company. Both companies were principal training grounds for British artist before World War One.

 

Emily Breare & Ada Crossley

Emily Breare & Ada Crossley in the Llandudno Advertiser, 17th July, 1909

 

Back on the road again for a more unusual event in December 1910, Emily performed the Messiah with the Western District Choral Society to 100 prisoners at Wormwood Scrubbs Prison. The prisoners were asked not to applaud and to treat the performance as part of their regular chapel service. Apparently more than once their feelings got the better of them and there was some humming and stamping of feet. When Emily performed ‘Come unto Me, the press reported that “many a hand was furtively raised to wipe away a tear…hardened perhaps as they were, [they] could not resist the wonderful power and charm of the singer’s voice”.   The following December we find her in Bournemouth performing the Messiah with British bass singer Robert Radford and the new Bournemouth Municipal Choir (see image), a very grand civic event and quite the opposite of her trip to prison.

 

Bournemouth Municipal Choir

Bournemouth Municipal Choir, December 1911
[Emily is front of stage, viewers left, next to the gentleman with his hands on his knees.]

 

Did Yorkshire remain ‘home’ for Emily despite her professional travels? It is difficult to tell. In the census of 1911 she was boarding in St. Giles and Bloomsbury at the Montague Hotel but this may have been linked to a specific engagement and she seems to have been in demand far and wide. She gives her occupation in that census as ‘Principal Soprano’ and specifically names the Peterhead Choral Society (near Aberdeen). Certainly the next year she is actually in Scotland performing at The Kinnaird Hall, Dundee in the role of Margeurite in the Damnation of Faust, accompanied by the Scottish Orchestra. Wherever she regarded home to be, it is clear that Emily had a long career as a professional singer and was still performing in her forties. There is a record of her performing as a soloist in Birmingham with the Birmingham Choral Union in 1922, conducted by Richard Wasssell, and a few years later in a Yorkshire Evening News concert arranged and directed by Cecil Moon in 1925.

I could not find any evidence of Emily having married or having had children alongside her career but it does seem plausible that she returned to Harrogate to live with her wider family there. Certainly buried there in 1967, having lived to age 86, she shares a commemoration stone in Harlow Hill Cemetery, Harrogate with her brother Robert Ackrill Breare (1878-1955), who had been a newspaper man like their father. There is no mention of her successful career as the soprano with “a voice like crystal”.

Dr. Alison C Kay

Notes

* Ellen’s father, Robert Ackrill (1816-1894), is one of our Leeds cohort for 1851. A former printer, he first became the editor of the Harrogate Herald before later becoming its owner. In the 1870s he also purchased the rival paper, the Harrogate Advertiser. The Breare’s eventually took ownership and a family newspaper dynasty was born, lasting until the 1980s.

 

Further reading & links

Proms 1907: http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/r6np5v/by/date/1907/09/16

W.H. Breare, “To Our Boys on Service”, Harrogate Herald, 27th June 1917: http://www.harrogatepeopleandplaces.info/ww1/breareletters/19170627.htm

Image of W.H. Breare: http://www.harrogateadvertiser.co.uk/news/rembering-a-patriot-and-great-editor-wh-breare-1-5006875

Montreal Gazette Nov 3, 1908: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19081103&id=frs0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=7YQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1507,150996&hl=en

The Rhondda Leader: http://papuraunewydd.llyfrgell.cymru/view/3830207/3830210

Bournemouth Choral Society: http://bschorus.co.uk/userfiles/files/BookPDFs/History_All_JM150910.pdf

Kinnaird Hall: http://www.operascotland.org/tour/2356/Damnation-de-Faust-1912

Wormwood Scrubbs Concert: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=CHP19110204.2.37

Llandudno Advertiser: http://newspapers.library.wales/view/3656568/3656571/12/emily

Yorkshire Evening News Concert: http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/0757660dad4944dd929440120cc49576

Birmingham Choral Union: http://www.birminghamchoralunion.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/media/BCU-Concert-Record-1800-1959.pdf

 

 

Guest blog: Henry Harwood & the artist’s profession in Dundee

In the late 19th century, Dundee became one of the major art centres of Britain. When the Dundee Graphic Arts Association was founded in 1890, many of Scotland’s most notable artists wrote from Edinburgh or London to express their opinions of the city in the most enthusiastic terms. John Pettie claimed that “Dundee has been and is one of the art centres of the North”, while William Darling McKay proposed it as “perhaps the most vital centre of art appreciation in Scotland.”

At the beginning of the 19th century, Dundee was a small but reasonably prosperous town noted for its shipbuilding and linen production. The rapid development of the jute industry saw the population quadruple and an extraordinary amount of wealth generated for the factory owners, many of whom turned to art collecting as a way of showing off their new-found prosperity. They sought out and befriended leading painters of the day such as William McTaggart and George Paul Chalmers, commissioning them to create pictures for their ever-increasing mansions. But they also began to encourage local talent for the first time.

Before the mid-19th century, even the most talented Dundee artist had to travel to make a living – to Edinburgh and London in the case of the Simson brothers (George, William and David); to Italy and India for George Willison; and to Paris and Rome in the case of John Zephaniah Bell. Writing in 1906, the architect and art collector T S Robertson recalled those painters that stayed in Dundee and tried to make ends meet: “There were three artists in Dundee 50 years ago who were all portrait painters – Harwood, Stewart, and Macgillivray [sic]… Dundee in those days was not able to support three portrait painters, and although Harwood, as far as I know, never painted out of Dundee, the others occasionally had to find employment in neighbouring towns.” Of these three painters, George McGillivray is better known for his topographical paintings; John Stewart is known only through a few surviving medical portraits; but the best-known and most intriguing character is Henry Harwood.

 

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Untitled etching by Henry Harwood (University of Dundee Museum Services)

 

Born in Ireland in 1803, Harwood was the son of Lieutenant Coleshurst, who had retired from the Royal Navy and married an actress, changing his name to Harwood when he too took to the stage. He died when young Henry was still in infancy and his widow came to Dundee seeking work in the theatre (another increasingly popular profession at the time). Harwood soon earned a reputation as a painter, his first major commission being a monumental frieze for the Shoemakers’ Room in the Trade House, representing the procession of St Crispin (now on permanent display in The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum).

In 1821 he achieved considerable notoriety when he created his best-known work, a caricature of Dundee worthies called The Executive, which was widely reproduced as an engraving. Satirising the town’s most influential men was not an obvious route to success – indeed it had already seen the end of another artist’s career. Robert Mudie came to Dundee in 1808 as drawing master at the Academy. His interest in politics led him to join the Town Council, but when he began writing satirical accounts accusing his fellow councillors of corruption, they took a dim view of his sense of humour and he was forced to resign his post and flee to London (where among other things he became editor of the Sunday Times).

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The Executive, engraving after a painting by Henry Harwood (University of Dundee Museum Services)

 

Unlike Mudie, Harwood seems to have been forgiven, since he later received various commissions by members of the Town Council for more flattering portraits. These included Provosts William Lindsay and Alexander Lawson, and his clients also included the local aristocracy – Lord Kinnaird commissioned him to paint “Whistle o’er the lave o’t”, a humorous scene of a hen-pecked husband. It was later acquired by the dentist Dr John Stewart and was singled out by the Dundee Courier as a particular highlight of his extensive art collection.

Harwood’s early success was not sustained. “His admirers were thus encouraged to expect him to rise to greater eminence than he did,” T S Robertson recalled. Financial problems were not helped by a struggle with alcoholism, and he died “in straitened circumstances” in 1868. Robertson felt that his ultimate failure was caused by “his not being able to come into contact with associates at least as capable as himself.” But, as was later reported in the City Echo, “several of those who appreciated his genius erected a memorial over his grave in the Eastern Cemetery. The [site] is enclosed with a railing – a portion … having been set aside as a burying ground for artists who may die in Dundee, having neither friends nor relatives to afford them a last resting-place.”

This magnanimous scheme was led by Robert Cowie, owner of the Theatre Royal in Castle Street. Cowie had previously worked as a painter and decorator and was known for his extensive knowledge of art. He had sat for a portrait by Harwood (as had various other theatrical figures in Dundee) and owned several other examples of the artist’s work. A group calling themselves “Robert Cowie Inst. Artists” purchased three lairs in the Eastern Cemetery, Harwood being interred in the first. As it transpired, only one other person was ever buried in one of these lairs – a decorative painter called John P Jerome who died aged 24 in 1873, leaving a widow and child.

Harwood is an interesting example of the precarious nature of the artistic profession, both financially and socially. Although he struggled to maintain respectability during his lifetime, Harwood’s paintings became fashionably collectible in the decades following his death, and many are now in the city’s permanent collection. Later critics did not hesitate to sing his praises – in Dundee Celebrities of the Nineteenth Century, William Norrie described Harwood as “an artist whose presentiments were such as only genius could give.” By the end of the Victorian era, Dundee would be home to dozens of professional artists, working as painters, sculptors, printmakers and newspaper artists. The rapid growth of art education in the city, and the establishment of membership bodies such as the Graphic Arts Association, helped professionalise the art workers of Dundee – but it all came too late for Henry Harwood.

 

By Matthew Jarron,

Curator of Museum Services,

University of Dundee

 

References

Part of this text is drawn from my forthcoming book Independent and Individualist: Art in Dundee 1867-1924 (Dundee: Abertay Historical Society, 2015).

 

Other sources:

Anon, ‘Dundee Artists’, Celtic Annual 1918-9, pp15-17.

The City Echo May 1908.

Dundee Courier 13/4/1877.

Dundee Courier 8/3/1886.

Dundee Graphic Arts Association Annual Report 1890 (Dundee Central Library, Local History Centre).

A H Millar, ‘Sketch of Art in Dundee in the Nineteenth Century’, Graphic Arts Association Annual Report 1900 (Dundee Central Library, Local History Centre)

A H Millar, Illustrated Catalogue of the Pictures in the Dundee Corporation Collection, Albert Institute and other Departments of the Dundee Public Libraries Committee (Dundee: 1926).

William Norrie, Dundee Celebrities of the Nineteenth Century (Dundee: Wm Norrie, 1873).

T S Robertson, ‘Reminiscences of Old Dundee – Its Fine Art’, Dundee Courier 17/12/1906.

 

See the Your Paintings website at www.bbc.co.uk/yourpaintings/ for many fine examples of Harwood’s work.