One of the most interesting stories to have come out of the Margaret Rope Exhibition is the story of ‘How The Unregarded Bathroom Window Became A Valuable Artwork‘ – a story that could easily have come from the annals of The Antiques Roadshow…!
After Rosalind Garrard bought a house in Church Stretton in south Shropshire a short time ago, she decided to refurbish the bathroom, and the stained-glass panel (see pic below) that was in the window-frame was extracted. Curious to see what would happen, she then placed the piece on the internet sales site, eBay, where, by pure chance, it was recognised by an art-history researcher. The researcher identified it a student work by Marga…
The researcher had compared it to a sketch of the scene by Margaret which was in the Birmingham University Archives. It was an exact match.
(The BCU Archives hold all the records of the now defunct Birmingham School of Art. Margaret Rope attended the art school between 1900 and 1909).
When Ms Garrard told her story to the BBC, she admitted she was baffled as to how it came to be in her bathroom: “The previous owner could not tell me why it was there, and I can only presume it has been there in situ since it was made. Experts tell me that it is a student exercise, and was probably completed around 1908. I understand that what I had placed on eBay for a nominal sum turns out to be a very valuable piece indeed!”
A similar glass panel by Margaret Agnes Rope sold at auction to Los Angeles County Museum two years ago for almost £30,000.
Judith vs Holofernes
The window shows a scene from the Biblical story of Judith & Holofernes. Judith despaired of her own Israelite countrymen who were retreating before the advance of Assyrian invaders. So she used her charm and beauty to inveigle her way into the tent of the Assyrian general, Holofernes – and she cut off his head… She then made her escape safely, with her maidservant being made to carry the head back to the Israelite camp.
The story of Judith has been used by many artists down the centuries to symbolise the strength of women – a tradition that Marga would have been well aware of. Knowing what we know of her personality, one wonders if she therefore chose the subject-matter quite deliberately…
After the panel had been restored and especially mounted by Ms Garrard, it was loaned to Shrewsbury Museum during 2016, to be put on display during the museum’s large retrospective exhibition about the life and career of Margaret Agnes Rope.
The question is: what was the panel doing in a Church Stretton bathroom? How long had it been there? Why did it remain unidentified for so long?
As so often in looking at the life and work of Margaret Rope, one is left with as many questions as answers….