Updated: May 27, 2018
Twenty years ago, in a London auction room, a talented artist and illustrator came in to my life.
I collect original artwork and illustrations which have been used in books and magazines and I was at the sale preview hoping to buy an illustration by Arthur Rackham, (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) the English illustrator. Having put down a commission bid on the piece I wanted, I started rooting through some of the other Lots and found a portfolio of pen and ink artwork of Italian villas.
The drawings were all by one hand and clearly they were the basis of a book. I found printers' marks and notes on each of them and the title "Florentine Villas" on some of them.
I was stunned by the quality of the work as I turned over drawing after drawing. There were around 30 in all and the portfolio captivated me. I decided I must have the drawings and I left a commission bid greatly in excess of the auctioneer's estimate, to make sure I push aside any other bids.
The day after the auction I heard I'd bought the Rackham but also the mystery folder. When I called to collect the works I sat in my car and opened up the Villas folder again. It was just as lovely as I had thought, each work signed either "NE" or with the illustrator's full name....Nelly Erichsen. Who was she? The sketches were clearly old - but how old? Was this all the work Nelly had ever produced? Who was she?
I hadn't gone looking for Nelly - but in a weird way I felt she had been looking for me, or for somebody who would uncover her story.
It has been a long journey, with many dead ends, but now all my questions have now been answered and Nelly's fascinating story will be available to everybody from July 2018 in a new book "Nelly Erichsen - a Hidden Life". And as it is a woman's story it is very fitting that the book is authored by my wife, Sarah Harkness.