British artist Ines Johnson was an accomplished miniature painter. Although many details of her life have unfortunately been lost to time, the evidence and works that do remain indicate an artist of great talent who struck out a place for herself in the art world that was anything but small.
Ines was the daughter of a clerk and grew up in Rochester, Kent. In her early twenties, she was living in Wandsworth, London, as an art student. It is possible she was studying at the nearby Putney School of Art and Design, although this is not confirmed by any sources.
During the 1920s she began to exhibit at the Royal Academy. Her works, mainly miniatures depicting women and children, would grace the Academy’s walls for over 30 years. This is additionally impressive considering that miniatures were falling more and more out of fashion. Since the dawn of photography in the mid-19th century, the practice of carrying around a miniature of a loved one had lost its usefulness. However, within the art world, there was a drive to reinvigorate the medium in the art world. Johnson was one such artist contributing to the continued longevity of this initiative.
It is hardly surprising when one considers her works. They are executed with excruciating detail. Art critics perceived her as being ‘very successful in obtaining likenesses.’ Yet it is not only likeness Johnson captures, but a sense of spirit. This is evoked through the sitter’s expression, the gleaming of their eyes, and also through the overall feel she lends to her works. There are submerged in a hazy, contemplative air, the sitters often looking off to the side, pensive. Her works invoke curiosity and questions. Who are we looking at? What are they thinking about? They are, as art critics at the time approved, ‘arresting.’ That she does all this on such a small scale makes them even more remarkable.
As well as her many successful exhibits at the Royal Academy, in the 1930s Johnson became a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. Established in the late 19th century, the Society was one of the instigators of the rejuvenation of miniature painting. That Johnson earnt a place in their retinue speaks volumes of her success and her contribution to the British art scene.
Johnson seems to have spent most of her working life living in London. For a period of time in the 1920s she was living in Leicester, working for a photography business. However, Croydon seems to have been the place in which she settled down and established herself as an artist. There is evidence of her participating in local community events, as well as offering sittings to local inhabitants. She was particularly fond of painting children.
As well as her miniatures, Johnson is recorded as enjoying flower painting and landscape painting. It is unfortunate that no known examples of these types of work remain. A self-portrait, however, survives.
Johnson depicts herself in the same pensive position as her miniatures, head tilted sideways, eyes downcast. There is an energised air to the canvas, the bottom portion remaining unpainted. Combined with the thick, prominent brush marks, one gets a sense of an artist with purpose. The self-portrait is unfinished, Johnson still has work to do, and might even be considering her next work as she captures herself in thought.
Whilst it is a great shame so many details of Ines Johnson’s life have vanished, not all is lost. The details of her life and the works that do remain reveal glimmering hints of an artist with tenacity and skill, determined to carve her own place in the British art world.
Born in Rochester, Kent, Britain.
Exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.
Died in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Britain.