Monday, 7 July 2014

Kingfishers Revisited

After posting my story about Margaret Flockton's 'Kingfishers' watercolour, on 2 February 2014, a little more sleuthing made me conclude that Margaret painted her kingfishers in Australia, most likely in the 1890s. Its subject matter fits the description and habitat for the Forest Kingfishers of Australia. According to Wikipedia this predominantly blue and white bird is found in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and coastal eastern and northern Australia.
'Measuring 21.5-25.5 cm (8.5–10 in), the Forest Kingfisher has blue wings, head and tail with white breast, abdomen and nape. It has a white patch in front of the eyes and a black band stretching from the bill, through the eyes and to the ear coverts. A white patch is visible on the wings in flight. The female is distinguished by a blue rather than white nape. The iris is dark brown and the legs and feet dark grey.'
Margaret's painting fits this description completely. Wikipedia goes on to say that this bird:
'inhabits subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests and Melaleuca swampland.'
That last-mentioned habitat also fits Margaret's landscape setting.

Her choice of subject shows her early fascination with Australiana as well as her love of birds, dead or alive. During the 1890s she was fond of painting birds in the setting of a taxidermist's studio.

Somehow Margaret’s kingfisher watercolour found its way to England, the most likely explanation being that Margaret sent it with Dolly as a gift for someone when Dolly made a trip to England in mid 1902.

The painting’s intended recipient may have been poor mad aunt Anna, suffering from mania and delusion, who’d been incarcerated at Brookwood Asylum since 1883. (Was Anna another casualty of a childhood spent in the polluted environment of her father's industrial chemicals factory?) Hers was a sad story. Patient records from the hospital reveal that for many years Anna Maria Flockton received no visits from her siblings, at the insistence of her next-of-kin sister Mary Webster Ashby, who claimed that visits caused Anna to become too agitated.

Yet in 1904 Anna was known to have ‘nieces living’ who were ‘in correspondence with her’. There were very few niece contenders other than the Flockton sisters Dolly, Margaret and Phoebe. Mary’s daughters, including unmarried Zoe who lived with her, had presumably been warned off by their mother. Anna’s youngest sister Beatrice had a daughter too, but in 1904 she was only ten years old.

Beatrice reached out to Anna after Mary’s death in 1903 and nominated herself as next-of-kin. However, the demented Anna remained at Brookwood until her death in 1922, when her personal possessions were presumably handed over to family members. Zoe died in 1937 and Beatrice died in 1938. Around this time the kingfisher painting was purchased by the current owner’s parents at an antique store in Farnborough (reasonably close to Brookwood Asylum).

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