In the Spotlight: Wilhelmina Geddes
Last month’s caveat against presuming that the wards of Bethlem and the Maudsley were overloaded with writers and artists notwithstanding, this month’s post is devoted to an Arts and Craft Movement-era designer and stained glass artist of distinction. Irish-born Wilhelmina Geddes (1887-1955) was acclaimed by contemporaries for “producing the finest, the most sincerely, passionately religious stained glass of our time”, and even won grudging admiration from those critics who thought her work “too modern” or “experimental”.1
Most of Geddes’ works in stained glass are (unsurprisingly) to be found in churches – principally in England and Ireland, but there are also windows in each of Wales, Belgium, Canada and New Zealand. Her treatment of her subjects, whether sacred or secular, is rugged, heroic, monumental. Geddes’ move from Ireland to England at the age of thirty-eight could be considered the hinge of her career. She had previously visited London on study trips and commissions, but her relocation there in 1925 was permanent.
The move had been contemplated for some time, but in the event it was brought about by a doctor’s referral to the Maudsley Hospital from Downpatrick Asylum, County Down, to which Geddes had admitted herself out of fears concerning her own mental health. For six months the Maudsley provided her with the medication, psychotherapy, refuge and space for the recovery she sought. Yet Geddes was not idle during this time. Having brought a commission from a Surrey church for a stained glass window with her from Ireland, she began design work while still in hospital. Following her discharge in November 1925, she rented a studio in Fulham which was to become her working base for the remainder of her life.
This post is the penultimate in the In the Spotlight series, which we launched at the start of 2011. As the accompanying picture is of Geddes’ The Angel Appearing to Joseph (now in Ely Cathedral's Stained Glass Museum), we take the seasonal opportunity to wish the readers of this blog all the best for Christmas and the New Year.