“Elsi Was an Artist” | Memories of R.S. Thomas

Eldridge Range

“The Berwyn Range, Denbighshire” by Mildred E. (“Elsi”) Eldridge, from the Grosvenor Museum

Often there are biographical reasons for our predilections. Certainly, the fact that R. S. Thomas’s first wife, Mildred E. Eldridge (Elsi; 1909-1991), was a painter may help account for his love of Impressionist art. More, her reputation in the art world may have ignited R.S.’s desire to gain fame as a poet.

“Elsi was an artist,” Thomas told me. She trained at the Royal College of Art in London, where she won the Prix de Rome travel scholarship. This allowed her, according to R.S., to spend “eighteen months studying in Italy.”

By the time Elsi and R.S. met, she had exhibited her watercolors in a number of London galleries, with laudatory reviews appearing in major English papers. Today, her delicate watercolors of birds fetch several thousands of dollars at first-class auction houses.

During the Second World War, she contributed watercolors to the “Recording the Changing Face of Britain” project, which was an attempt to preserve in a Romantic manner how historic buildings and treasured landscapes looked before they were lost to bombers and developers.

Elsi and R.S. Thomas

Elsi and R.S. Thomas, around 1940, from “R.S. Thomas: Writers of Wales” by Tony Brown

In a strict sense, Eldridge is not an Impressionist. Yet there is an impressionist feel to her work. Her touch is light, her brush leaves a few strokes of color. She conveys, in the words of M. Wynn Thomas, “a romantic fragility of presence, leaving only a fleeting impression.”

In “The Berwyn Range, Denbighshire,” Elsi paints her impression of her husband’s line: “The movement of wind over grass.”

The Romantic strain in R.S.’s sensibility may have led him to Impressionist art even if he had not met Elsi, and he may have become a renowned poet, too. But when they met and married, she was the recognized artist, while he was the unknown poet. And it’s hard to find great promise in the poems he wrote during his university days. Only after he and Elsi married did he begin to write the poetry that made him “a name.”

Poem of R. S. Thomas quoted in this Blog:

“In the movement of wind over grass” – “The Moor,” Pietà, 24.

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