Maeve Gilmore

Maeve Gilmore (1917-1983) was a British painter, writer, illustrator and textile artist. Her paintings range from assured early portraits, to more exploratory narrative and semi-abstract works produced later in her career. Whilst Gilmore’s early work reflects a Euston Road School influence, also evident is a brand of romanticism reminiscent of the Neo-Romantics, such as Piper and Ayrton. Between 1935 and 1937 (the year of her marriage to writer and artist Mervyn Peake), Gilmore travelled and studied in mainland Europe, where she saw at first hand key works of modernism and the avant garde. She was greatly inspired by the 1937 Paris Exhibition, where she saw Calder’s Mercury Fountain, Miro’s Catalan Peasant in Revolt and Picasso Guernica. Subsequently she began to take on the influence of European surrealism and abstraction, in paintings in which the figure remained her central concern. Much of her work is autobiographical, depicting the domesticity of family life and events from a keenly feminine perspective, in imagery that is often surreal and dreamlike. As her husband’s health declined, Gilmore’s secular imagery gave way to a more spiritually-inspired gesture and economy of means. After his death in 1968 she found renewed artistic expression, and this is arguably when she produced much of her best work. At the same time she worked to preserve Peake’s legacy, and his status today is partly attributable to Gilmore’s efforts. Viewed from both feminist and art historical perspectives, one can position Gilmore’s work in a context that might also include such notable artists as Leonora Carrington, Eileen Agar, Ithell Colquhoun, and Vanessa Bell. Her story is in part a familiar one; that of a woman artist struggling to forge her own artistic career whilst often finding her reputation subsumed or overshadowed by that of a male artist. There are highly distinctive qualities in Gilmore’s work, both stylistically and thematically, which make her worthy of reassessment as an important British artist of her period.