Marguerite Kirmse, English (1885 - 1954)
Born in Bournemouth, England, December 14, 1885, of parents who operated a successful private school, Marguerite Kirmse displayed an early talent for music. Under the tutelage of her mother she devoted herself to the study of the harp and progressed sufficiently to warrant advanced training in London at The Royal Academy of Music. In addition to her love of music, Marguerite evinced an equal fondness for animals and a superior talent for reproducing their images on paper. The young musician-turning-artist spent a great deal of her spare time at the London Zoo.
Seeking respite from the heavy schedule of study in London, Marguerite Kirmse succumbed to the urging of her friends and accompanied them to the United States for a summer's vacation. The vacation over, her friends returned home but Marguerite remained behind to seek her fortune in America. Her attempts to establish a musical career were not successful, but her interest in art deepened. She became a favorite visitor at the Bronx Zoo where keepers reportedly allowed her to take her drawing board into the cages of some of the animals.
Kirmse's early years in the United States are not known in any detail, but she was certainly devoting a great deal of time to pencil sketches, pastels, and oil. In the Manhattan office of the American Kennel Club there are pastel portraits of two Sealyham Terriers, both by Kirmse and dated 1917 and 1918. These appear to have been commissioned portraits and would indicate that the artist was reasonably well established as a specialist in canine art well before she executed her first dry point in 1921. "It was done using a Victrola needle", she explained in her book, DOGS (1930) "before I knew much about diamond points, burnishers, and other etcher's tools".
Etchings were Kirmse's forte and from 1921 until her death in 1954, Marguerite Kirmse executed at least 82 titles depicting everything from Scottish Terriers to Pekingese. This count does not include the etchings which appear in her book DOGS IN THE FIELD, nor does it include any production for magazine covers, book illustrations, special commissions, or any one of a number of other outlets which might have utilized her images for advertising.
While it is standard procedure today for an artist to number as well as sign etchings, none of Kirmse's works was numbered. Signed, yes . . . Numbered, no. No references to numbering or counting has been discovered with the exception of a study of two Irish Terriers which appears as plate #37 in her book, DOGS. Kirmse indicated that only six proofs of the image had been pulled because of an unusually soft plate.
Reportedly, in 1929, at the early peak of her popularity, one of Marguerite Kirmse's etchings was sold for $750. This information is taken from a magazine article written at the time and the work in question is not identified.
At her home, Arcady Farm, near Bridgewater, Connecticut, where she resided with her American husband, George W. Cole, whom she married in 1924, the artist raised Scottish Terriers under the kennel name of Tobermory. Also in residence were Airedales, Irish Terriers, and a variety of Setters, Pointers, and Field Spaniels. The sporting breeds, at least some of them, apparently moved back and forth from Arcady Farm to the Cole's second home in the Carolinas where they were used for hunting. It was there that Kirmse's remarkable studies of hunting dogs in action were inspired. The result was the remarkable DOGS IN THE FIELD, the artist's magnum opus dealing with sporting dogs in action. This title was a Derrydale Press limited edition of only 685 copies in 1935.
In the latter 1920s, the artist lend her hand for the first time to sculpture and produced a series of miniatures of dogs in bronze. Only 30 of each of the eight figures were cast by Gorham Founders of Providence, Rhode Island. They were offered for sale during the early 1930s.
Throughout the remainder of her life, Kirmse illustrated a number of books in tandem with work on etchings and commissions for oil or bronzes.