Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Mary Gartside (c.1755-1819)

Mary Gartside was probably the first woman in the Western world to publish on colour and colour theory. Her books, illustrated with highly inventive, abstract "blots", are now extremely rare, having been published in small print runs only.

Mary Gartside was a British flower painter, art teacher and colour theorist, active in London between 1781 and 1809. Hardly anything is known about her life, but a few dates, places and occupations can be identified. She was probably born in the wider Manchester area in 1755 and died near Ludlow in December 1819. Gartside's first book on colour was published in 1805 in the guise of a traditional watercolouring manual. It was preceded by a short pamphlet, and two more books followed in 1808. Until well into the twentieth century, she remained the only woman known to have published a complete theory of colour. In chronological and intellectual terms Gartside can cautiously be regarded an exemplary link between Moses Harris and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Links have also been made between James Sowerby's work on colour and Gartside's theory.

Mary Gartside by Alexandra Loske info sheet

In January 2024 the first stand-alone study on Mary Gartside's life and work was published by Paul Holberton, commissioned by art bookseller Thomas Heneage and written by Alexandra Loske. It is available through Thomas Heneage Art Books:

Alexandra Loske: Mary Gartside c.1755-1819: Abstract Visions Of Colour. London: Paul Holberton/Thomas Heneage Art Books, 2024 

Mary Gartside by Alexandra Loske 2024