Ella M. Bedford

No artwork matches

Biography of Ella M. Bedford ( 1863-1945 )

Miss Ella M. Bedford was a British painter active at the turn of the Victorian and Edwardian eras (circa 1882-1908). She lived in the London district of St John's Wood and is the daughter of the artist John Bates Bedford (born circa 1824), member of the Royal Academy of Arts. She may have attended the St John's Wood Art School, established in 1878 next door to her home, but there is no evidence to suggest this.

She exhibited her symbolist works or aesthetic genre scenes of elegant women in intimate settings on several occasions, including at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1998 and 1900. She also participated in the exhibition of Women Artists in April 1900 at Earl's Court. Despite a relatively short period of activity and few surviving works, she was a sought-after artist whose works commanded high prices even in 1900.


In her symbolist works, Ella M. Bedford drew her inspiration from Greek mythology (The Springs of Lethe) or from the Middle Ages (The Unrequited Minstrel), but also from her readings of the poems of John Keats and the English Romantics (Isabella and the Pot of Basil in 1898). Influenced by the pre-raphaelites (some of whose representatives were her contemporaries) Ella M. Bedford's work is characteristic of the "fin du siècle" aesthetic, embracing symbolism, decadence, fantasy and all the related movements of the 1890s, also known as the purple decade and the yellow decade. 

Our painting, undoubtedly a masterpiece by the artist, particularly spectacular for its dramatic subject matter and very large format, has been exhibited at least twice in London. It depicts a female figure drinking from the springs of the river Lethe, one of the five rivers of Hades, sometimes also called the "River of Oblivion". In Greek mythology, the souls of the deceased, when they left the Champs-Elysees, had to drink the waters of this river, which had the power to erase their memory almost entirely. These lost souls, thus purified and without regrets for their previous lives, could then be reincarnated in a new body to start a new human life free of all memory. 

Memory, oblivion, death and reincarnation are recurring themes whose esotericism fascinates the artistic circles contemporary with our artist. In particular, the myth of Lethe is present in the work of artists such as the English painter John Rodham Spencer Stanhope (On the Shores of the River Lethe), in Gustave Doré's engraving illustrating Purgatory (Dante's Divine Comedy), or the Belgian painter Jean Delville (Dante drinking the waters of Lethe). In France, Charles Baudelaire inspired an eponymous poem.

32 avenue Marceau
75008 Paris, France
Monday to Friday from 10am to 7pm
Saturdays from 2 to 7 p.m.
NEWSLETTER: If you would like to receive our newsletter, please enter your email address: