AUGUST 2: Clare Atwood (1866-1962)


Nicknamed Tony by her close friends, the English painter Clare
Atwood passed away on this day in 1962. Known for her portraits, landscapes, and depictions of war scenes, Clare lived openly in what today would be called a
polyamorous relationship with two other women.

Self Portrait in a Hat with a Basket of Vegetables by Clare Atwood, Collection: National Trust, Fenton House (x).

Clare was born on May 11, 1866 in Richmond, London. Her
father was a wealthy architect whose fortune allowed his daughter to eventually
study at the Westminster School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. She
held her very first solo exhibit in 1893 and became a member of the prestigious
New English Art Club in 1912. The outbreak of World War I saw Clare stray from her
niche of portraits and still life when the Canadian government commissioned her
to paint scenes of the Canadian war effort. She also created one of her most famous pieces during the
war, Christmas Day at the London Bridge
YMCA Canteen
. Having been commissioned by the UK Women’s Voluntary Service,
the painting shows Princess Helena Victoria and the famous actress Ellen Terry
visiting soldiers at a YMCA canteen.

One of Clare’s most popular paintings is Christmas Day at the London Bridge YMCA Canteen, which can now be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London (x). 

Although Clare enjoyed a steady and successful career as a
painter, she was more well-known for her rather scandalous “ménage à trois” relationship.
An open lesbian, Clara lived with her two partners, Christabel Marshall and Edith
Craig at Tenterden in Kent. Christabel was a writer and Edith was an actress
and they all three were members of a small theater troupe called the Pioneer
Players. The women were also close friends with Radclyffe Hall, the author of
lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness.
The poly relationship lasted for many
years until Edith’s death in 1947. Christabel
would be the next to pass away in October of 1960. When Clare eventually passed away herself on August 2, 1962, she was buried alongside Christabel at St John the
Baptist’s Church in Small Hythe. Edith’s will had proclaimed that her ashes were
also to be buried with Clara and Christabel, but they were long lost by the
time of her two partners’ deaths. Instead, a memorial was erected at their
burial site in Edith’s honor.

The only photo of Clare, Christabel, and Edith together was taken at 

in the garden of Priest’s House at Smallhythe Place. (From left to right: Edith Craig, Clare Atwood, and Christabel Marshall) (x).