Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Althea Gyles (1868-1949), poet and artist: 'A Strange Red Haired Girl'

Althea Gyles (right) with Irish revolutionist Constance Markiewicz

The Irish poet and artist Althea Gyles (1868-1949) was born in County Waterford and moved to London in 1892. She knew Oscar Wilde, W B Yeats (who described her as "a strange red-haired girl, all whose thoughts were set upon painting and poetry"), Constance Markiewicz, Aleister Crowley (with whom she had an affair), Compton McKenzie and many other interesting people, and is best known for her book designs for Yeats, Ernest Dowson (now buried in Ladywell Cemetery), Wilde and others. For a period she was associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (famously connected to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill), and was later interested in vegetarianism and Buddhism.

Gyles' cover design for Yeats' The Secret Rose (1897)

Sympathy - Althea Gyles (1898)

The colour gladdens all your heart;
You call it Heaven, dear, but I -
Now Hope and I are far apart -
Call it the sky.

I know that Nature's tears have wet
The world with sympathy; but you,
Who know not any sorrow yet,
Call it the dew.

She spent her later years in South London, including in Brixton, Sydenham (one of her last homes was at 19 Tredown Road SE26) and at a nursing home in Beckenham at 69 Crystal Palace Park Road where she died in 1949.

In Jad Adams' biography of Ernest Dowson (Madder Music, Stronger Wine, 2000) he writes: ‘Althea Gyles lived on... her flaming hair now grey.. She lived in bedsits in Tulse Hill and then Sydenham, casting horoscopes as the new century wore on, until she became a ghost from the 1890s in war-shattered London.’

"Lilith" by Althea Gyles, from 'The Dome' vol.I, Oct.-Dec. 1898
(The most detailed account of Gyles' life that I have found online is in 'Althea Gyles’ Symbolic (De)Codification ofWilliam Butler Yeats’ ‘Rose and Wind Poetry’' by Arianna Antonielli)

Related posts:

No comments: