Westerham, Kent, England
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Born Helen Paterson, the artist spent her childhood at Altrincham, Cheshire and then studied at the Birmingham School of Design, before going to the Royal Academy Schools in London in 1868. She first found work as an illustrator; her main employers were the Graphic and the Cornhill magazines but she also illustrated a number of books including Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. In 1874 she married the poet William Allingham; after which date she concentrated on watercolours. Her characteristic subjects were vernacular architecture and the rural life of the southern counties; she became an Associate of the Old Watercolour Society in 1875 and a full member in 1890, the first woman to be so honoured. Ruskin first noticed her work in the 1870s. Her first solo exhibition in 1886 reflected her concern with the condition of the rural population at a time of agricultural depression, when the traditional way of life was being disrupted by an exodus from the land to the industrial cities. Allingham showed her concern that the cottages she sketched were often left abandoned to fall into disrepair, or horrifically modernised by wealthy city dwellers who used them only at weekends. Such social concerns made her art appealing to Ruskin as well as her person, but there was never the same close relationship between her and the critic as there was between him and Kate Greenaway.