Henrietta Rae

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Henrietta Rae

English painter

Born 12/30/1859 - Died 1/26/1928

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  • Images of the Artist


HENRIETTA RAE was born at Grove Villas, Hammersmith on 30 December 1859. She was the daughter of Thomas Rae and Anne Eliza, née Graves. Her mother would have preferred her to study music, but she was interested in art from an early age. She was educated at various artistic establishments including the Female School of Art, Heatherleys, and from 1877 at the Royal Academy schools. She first exhibited at the RA in 1881, with A Portrait of Miss Warman. In 1884 she attracted considerable attention again at the RA with Lancelot and Elaine. In the same year she married Ernest Normand (1857-1923), also a well-known painter. The newly married couple established their home in Holland Park, Kensington, close to Sir Frederic Leighton PRA, who was the friend and mentor of Henrietta. She did not formally study with him, but his influence on her was considerable.

The Normands had two children, a son born in 1886, and a daughter in 1893. Henrietta Rae was a noted painter of the nude - rather innocent chaste nudes by any modern standard. Following her exhibition at the RA of A Bacchante and Ariadne, she received a letter imploring her to “pause on the brink” - to desist from sinfully painting nudes. Her family doctor famously and facetiously told her to contact the writer, and tell her that the Normand’s recently born son had arrived in the world nude. In 1890 the couple went to Paris to further their artistic education. Henrietta studied at the Academie Julien, which, unusually allowed women students to study from life. [According to ARC Chairman Fred Ross, William Bouguereau was instrumental in opening up the Academie Julien to enrolment by female students. - Ed] In 1894 she exhibited at the RA Psyche before the Throne of Venus. This large picture, the product of much labour was intended as her magnum opus - an artistic tour de force which would establish her as a leading artist. In the event a number of critics commented on its prettiness and femininity, in reality dismissing it as a serious work of art. Henrietta was bitterly disappointed and reduced her ambitions from that time. The picture was bought by George McCulloch (1848-1907), the great art collector who was known to have spent over £200,000 on contemporary art.

Throughout her career Henrietta Rae continued to paint portraits and genre pictures. Her work was treated with respect by the Hanging Committee at the RA. She received medals from the World Fair in Chicago in 1893 and in Paris. Ernest Normand died in 1923, and Henrietta died at their home at 4, Fox Gardens, Upper Norwood, London SE19 on January 26, 1928. She left an estate of £5965 5s 6d. Henrietta Rae was interred in the Normand Mausoleum in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. The bronze plaque on the tomb commemorating her, has recently been stolen.

OBITUARY - The Times, March 28th 1928

Mrs Ernest Normand, the painter of classical subjects and portraits, who was better-known by her maiden name of Henrietta Rae, died on Monday at her residence at Upper Norwood at the age of 68.

Born on December 30th 1859 the youngest daughter of T. B. Rae, she began early to study art, and continued her training at Heatherlys, the Royal Academy Schools, and in Paris. She exhibited her first painting at the RA in 1880, and was represented there every year almost to the last. In 1884 she married Ernest Normand, who was known like her, as a painter of subject pictures and portraits, and who died in 1923. Mrs Normand was perhaps the better painter of the two.

She was particularly notable for her graceful and poetic nudes, of which the best known is Psyche at the Throne of Venus, which was to her great indignation was described by one critic as ‘A glorified Christmas card.’ However she had to console herself a full measure of popular appreciation of her of her classical pictures; and in 1900 was commissioned to paint a fresco for The Royal Exchange, representing Sir Richard Whittington and his charities. She also painted a number of portraits, of which the best was of the late Lord Dufferin exhibited at the RA in 1901. She preferred painting men’s portraits. Especially men with strong features.

Mrs Normand was successful as a teacher, and not a few of her pupils, both men and women, afterwards did credit to her training. She and her husband were kindly people, and for years made their roomy house at Upper Norwood, with its beautiful garden, a hospitable centre for young artists and other friends.

Our thanks go to Paul Ripley for kindly allowing us to quote these articles from his website Victorian Art in Britain.


wife of


exhibited at

  • Royal Academy of Art from 1881

student at

  • Academie Julien
  • Female School of Art, Heatherleys
  • Royal Academy of Art from 1877

Image courtesy of Don Kurtz