Woman Behind the Painter: The Diaries of Rosalie, Mrs. James Clarke Hook.


246 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-88864-437-X
DDC 759.2




Edited by Juliet McMaster
Reviewed by Pauline Carey

Pauline Carey is an actor, playwright and librettist and author of the
children’s books Magic and What’s in a Name?


Rosalie Hook, born in England in 1819, trained as an artist then married one. When James Clarke Hook, later to become famous for landscapes and seascapes and, as a Royal Academician, for his inspired judgment of others’ work, won a travelling scholarship in 1846, he married Rosalie and took her for a working honeymoon in Italy. For two years, they studied art together in Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, and many stops in between. Among continual political upheavals, they hunted for lodgings, waited for coaches, walked great distances, explored historical sites, enjoyed the exuberance of Italians, sketched when the fancy took them, and painted copies in museums. Through it all, Rosalie kept a diary.


This diary has now become the heart of an exhaustive look at her life by Juliet McMaster, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a descendant of Rosalie, who has divided the book almost equally into three parts: her own introduction, which gives historical and social background and needed information on James; “The Italy Diary,” in which Rosalie writes with clarity, the observant eye of an artist, and a humour that can be caustic; and “The Silverbeck Diary,” named after the couple’s estate in England. Rosalie’s very brief entries in this last diary are crammed with references to painting trips, visiting artists, resident animals, nursing lessons, “packing paintings for Chicago,” jam-making, varnishing days, and such odd notes as “had 500 fish from Andrews” and “picked up a balloon from Paris” (explained in McMaster’s intriguing footnote).


The few colour plates include Millais’s portrait of James and an oil by Rosalie that may make the reader wistful for her abandoned artistic career. There are also many black and white sketches, mostly by James, and several portraits by the Hook sons with the newly developed camera. There are footnotes, maps, an index of artists, a general index, and family trees. At first glance, it may look intimidating to the general reader. With patience, it becomes an absorbing and personal look at mid-19th-century artistic, social, and political history.


Hook, Rosalie., “Woman Behind the Painter: The Diaries of Rosalie, Mrs. James Clarke Hook.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/27109.