Alfred Parsons, RA, RWS (1847-1920)

Publication: Evesham Journal, January 1920

With sincere regret, we last week briefly recorded the death of Mr. Alfred Parsons who passed away at his residence, Luggers Hill, Broadway, on Friday morning at the age of 72. Mr. Parsons underwent a serious operation in Cardiff in November last; he was able to return home to Broadway in December, but did not re-gain the strength and gradually, like the flowers he loved, faded away. The body was removed from Broadway on Saturday, cremated at Golders Green on Tuesday and the same afternoon the ashes were placed in the family vault at Froome.

Mr. Alfred Parsons was the second son of the late Dr. Joshua Parsons and was born at Beckington, in “leafy Somerset” on the 2nd December 1847. He was educated at private schools, and at the age of 16 entered the Civil Service in the Savings Bank Department of the Post Office. The routine work of the department was entirely out of accord with his artistic temperament, and after struggling on against his personal inclinations for two years he, in 1887, resigned his position under the Government and decided to devote himself entirely to art. A period of serious study followed, during which Mr. Parsons made the acquaintance that ripened into comradeship of men who were with him to reach leading positions in the world of art. Mr. Parsons made his first acquaintance with Broadway, visiting the Tower which was then the summer resort of that glorious triumvirate of friends Burne Jones, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and with them he at once fell in love with the old world village below. Later in the same decade Mr. Parsons was again at Broadway, that time with the novelist William Black, and in the course of a holiday tour that resulted in the writing of “The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton”. In the middle eighties Mr. Parsons introduced Broadway to Mr. F.D. Millet, who had come to England and was looking out for a suitable environment into which to settle. The first visit decided the location and as a consequence there followed that settlement of Anglo-American artists in the village that constituted Broadway’s golden age and included in its fraternal fellowships F.D. Millet, E.A. Abbey, A. Parsons, J. Sargent, F. Barnard, and Alma Tadema. It was the glamour of this almost round-table fellowship that first drew Madame de Navarro, then Mary Anderson, to Broadway and that resulted in the adding of the magic spell of her name and personality to the attractions of the village.

From this time onward Mr. Parsons made Broadway his summer home, though keeping up a London studio in Bedford Gardens and retaining his membership of the Athenaeum and Arts Club. In 1882, Mr. Parsons commenced his connection with Harpers’ Magazine, which thereafter proved a treasury of his work and almost a consecutive history of the development of his artistic powers. The first works of Mr. Parsons therein published were a series of landscapes and architectural drawings illustrative of an article on Surrey, in which the young artist was evidently feeling his way towards his later successes. In 1884, in “Transcripts from Nature”, published in the same magazine, Mr. Parsons struck that mine of beauty in his exquisitely executed flower pieces, which under the signature “A.P.” for years thereafter continued to delight the subscribers. Notwithstanding all his after triumphs in water colours and in oils, there are many to whom the marvellous delineations of flowers almost breathing forth the very essence of their simplicity and purity seem after all the most supreme and perfect specimens of Mr. Parsons’ art. Then followed in 1885 and 1886 illustrations to the sonnets of Wordsworth, and to D.R. Blackmore’s “Springhaven” and in 1887 to Cowley’s poems, and a charming series of pictures of “Old Garden Flowers”. Most of these flower subjects were drawn or painted in Broadway gardens, and so whilst Mr. Parsons in sense made Broadway by introducing to the village its most distinguished residents, so in a way Broadway made Mr. Parsons and repayed its debt by furnishing him with the subject of his most successful artistic triumphs. In the same year, 1887, Mr. Parsons painted his perhaps best know picture, “When Nature Painted all Things Gay”, which was bought by the Chantrey Fund, in which he essayed and with wondrous success to depict the almost unpaintable beauty of apple blossom time. Years of happy work followed, in which old world flowers growing in the gardens of The Priory, Russell House, and The Court Farm were studied and painted. A picture painted in the latter garden, showing the brook bordered with iris flowers an embowered with wild roses, was purchased by the late Majesty Queen Victoria whilst the late Princess Royal, when Empress of Germany, was one of Mr. Parsons appreciative patrons and always made point of visiting his studio when in England. Mr. Parsons was also a personal friend of the Princess Louise, and frequently stayed at Rosemeath Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyle. During this period, Mr. Parsons painted many Broadway landscapes, illustrated Hinckes’ poems and Old English songs, and also painted a charming series of the pictures of the Warwickshire Avon and in 1897, in recognition of the value of his works, was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. In 1902, Mr. Parsons visited the United States and arranged the very successful exhibition of his work. Mr. Parsons contributions to Harpers’ Magazine had made the American art world acquainted with his name and work, and the American public flocked to see and buy the original works of one whom they felt portrayed England of their imaginations, the England of the poets and novelists, the England of history, the England that had the secret places of their hearts they love. In 1904, Mr. Parsons was again in the United States associated with the great exhibition at St Louis. Returning home, Mr. Parsons was in 1905 elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society, and during succeeding years exhibited works at the annual exhibition of that Society at the Royal Academy and at the Grosvenor and New Galleries. In 1906, Mr. Parsons visited Japan, bringing back with him a tribute of Japanese landscapes and flower pictures, and a fine collection of Oriental bronze, of which he was a connoisseur. This visit resulted in a charming series of illustrations to “Notes of Japan”. In 1910, Mr. Parsons, who as a bachelor had resided in Broadway at hotels, Broadway houses, and with friends, determined to settle down, and a pasture field known as Luggers Hill, at once commenced the laying out of the same as a gardening in the following year laid the foundation stone of his new home. By 1913, a commodious residence, with fine studio, had been completed, surrounded with a beautiful garden, where for the remainder of his life, Mr. Parsons was at home. Meanwhile Mr. Parsons had in 1911 been elected a full member of the Royal Academy, and in the year after his settlement at Luggers Hill was in 1914 elected president of the Royal Water Colour Society. In the management of both these organisations Mr. Parsons too thereafter took an active part.

Luggers Hill, now Luggers Hall in 2016