1863 – 1922
An English House, Softer than Sleep, All Things Stood in Order

Watercolour, signed, inscribed and dated ’89’ on label verso
Image size: inches 20 1/2 x 16 inches (52 x 40cm)
Original gilt frame

The New Gallery, Summer Exhibition April 1891


This painting depicts a gorgeous garden scene, likely to have been a commission for a country house in the 1890s. In this scene Rowe has clearly responded the the Victorian love of formal gardens. His meticulous style of painting appropriately conveys the attention that was given to the manicured grounds of this fine historic house. Noting the small wall at the back of the garden it is appropriate to assume that this is a section of the house’s walled kitchen garden – a commonplace feature in large country houses. These were highly productive plots that supplied food, herbs and flowers to the big household. Indeed, we see here a kitchen maid, in apron, harvesting the plants in a peaceful, yet productive, manner.

No doubt, Rowe often had to contend with the tumultuous English weather. Despite this, this scene conveys an idyllic vision of an English summer punctuated with a green lawn, blooming flower beds and lively pigeons. The flower beds take a prominent position in this composition giving the artist ample room to depict an assortment of colourful flora.

From the middle of the 19th century Victorian society became increasingly interested in botanical sciences as many books approaching the subject were published.

Ernest Arthur Rowe was a watercolourist specialising in garden scenes. He spent his career responding to the Victorian love of formal gardens with his meticulous paintings of the grounds of the country’s finest historic houses.

Ernest Arthur Rowe was born in West Ham, which was then in Essex. He trained first as a lithographer and, in 1884, began studying at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours where he won a President’s Medal in 1885.

Initially, Rowe painted landscapes in general, but by the 1890s he was specialising in gardens. During that decade, he joined the London Sketch Club where he met Arthur Rackham and Beatrice Parsons, among others.

Rowe’s early career was marked with little financial success. However, in 1895, he embarked on a sketching tour of the south coast and, upon meeting Mrs Hamlyn, the owner of Clovelly Court in Devon, became engaged in a series of country house commissions.

Later that year, he caught tuberculosis and had to move to Switzerland to convalesce, cutting short his success. However, while there, he met Sophy Slater, a nurse who became his wife four years later when they married in Gloucestershire. After his recovery, he travelled in Italy and Spain, discovering a love of Mediterranean travel. He returned to England in 1896 and settled in Tunbridge Wells, though he made annual trips to Europe throughout his life.

Rowe exhibited extensively at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1888 and 1917, as well at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and held his first solo show in 1897. Between 1899 and 1913 he held eight solo shows at the Dowdeswell Gallery and the Greatorex Galleries. His work also appeared in the popular art and design magazines of the day, including The Studio. His patrons included Queen Alexandra, who discovered him painting in the gardens at Hampton Court. His success was marked in 1906, when he built his own house at Rustall, Tunbridge Wells, and cultivated its garden. The house was constructed in a Tudor style and named Ravello, after the Italian resort.

Rowe’s tuberculosis continued to plague him throughout his life, and he died at home in Tunbridge Wells on 26 January 1922.