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Michele Field- An Inspirational Partnership

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Michele Field was the pseudonym used by Katherine Bradley and Edith cooper. They collectively published eight books of poetry and twenty-seven plays. Katherine was born to a wealthy family and was well educated; she was financially independent which allowed her to peruse interests outside the constraints of marriage. Edith was Katherine’s niece and Katherine cared for her mother and assumed responsibility for Edith as Edith’s mother was ill. Although there was an age difference of 16 years they were bonded by their mutual interest in literature. Their relationship became romantic and they lived together for almost 40 years.

By Clare Johnson

All of their work, including private journals was written jointly, they were said to not be able to tell each other’s lines apart. Critics have argued that their Pseudonym allowed them to explore there connection in greater depth. Much of their work explores quite openly feminine desire and relationships. The works of Sappho where of a great inspiration to the both of them. Towards the end of their life’s Edith became disabled by Rheumatism and Katherine became her career.

After their death Michele field was largely forgotten, but an interest increased at the end of the 20th century. Now they are renowned for their ground-breaking contributions to lesbian and women’s literature.

It was an absolute pleasure to collaborate with Clare on this project and we are so lucky to be able to share some of her thoughts about her process with you:

"I was really excited to paint these two, as a lesbian myself, painting forgotten lesbian poets sounded great! Then I read about their lives and the scandal of them and it got so much more interesting! I copied the portraits of this poetry writing, lesbian, incestuous couple, Katherine Bradley (left), and her niece, Edith Cooper (right) from a faded black and white photo I found online. They are sat reading a book together. Whilst the intimacy between them is suggested by their closeness, we also can’t see their eyes as they look at the book they share, there is privacy and exclusivity in this pose too. I cropped to photo so that its only their head and shoulders but think the suggestion is still there of their privacy and intimacy. I like this because it demonstrates the nature of their lives and relationship with each other; their secret romance, the incest scandal of it and their secret poetry published under a man’s name, Michael Field. I find the research bit enjoyable procrastination for the painting part. During my teen years I considered myself an artist. I was proud of the work I created in school and loved painting. Then, life happened, and I took a step away from that part of how I identified with myself as the introspective nature of creating art became too intense. Now I’m a bit older reflecting on myself, though challenging, is a far cry from the pit of existential crisis it once was. Now in my endeavour to become a confident artist once more, for myself, I was very glad to take part in this! I tried to replicate the colour pallet from the old photograph using acrylic paint on canvas board. I also altered the composition making their faces closer in order for them to fit on the canvas. I realised my style isn’t what I thought it was and I’m determined now after this really nice project to continue developing personal painting confidence and style! Thank you letting me take part in this project!"

-Clare Johnson

Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of our historically unheard poets being posted this week!

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