William Lee Hankey (1869-1952) studied at the Chester School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, before completing his studies in Paris. His early interest in printmaking led him to team up with Nelson Dawson, to found a colour printmaking school in Hammersmith.  

But his time in Paris led both to a life-long love of France, and to an interest in depicting the everyday lives of its people. From 1904 until well after the First World War he had a studio at Étaples, a port in northern France

After the coming of the railways in the latter half of the nineteenth century Étaples attracted holidaymakers, but remained a working port with fishing and associated trades. Towards the end of this period a new resort, Paris-Plage, was developed several miles away, and in 1900 a tramway to it was built Rich people lost no time in flocking to Paris-Plage. The cost of living in Étaples fell, making it attractive to artists from around the world.  

The outbreak of War resulted in huge changes, which Lee Hankey, recorded. Initially the town saw a vast exodus of refugees from the front line, nearby. Lee Hankey made this strikinghankey_refugees
etching of a refugee couple carrying a small child and a sack of possessions.

Étaples’s railway, with its network of connections across the region, gave it strategic importance. The town became the principal depot and transit camp for the British Expeditionary Force in France and also the point to which the wounded were transported. After the war Étaples was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French state. This was in recognition both of the difficulty of accommodating up to 80,000 men at a time and of the damage done by  enemy bombing which the men's presence had attracted.

Lee Hankey who saw active service in the Artists Rifles, seems to have been particularly interested in the way the conflict affected those who weren’t directly caught up in the fighting. Towards the end of the war, he made a number of etchings of women and their children, one of which we have acquired. A-300 Here an exhausted mother trudges by, carrying a child on her back. Her eyes are fixed on the way ahead, but the child stares out at us, with a disconcertingly direct look. 

After a forthcoming visit to the National Art Library at the V&A Museum  we hope to give you a bit more information more about  this etching. The V&A have a 1921 catalogue of Lee Hankey’s etchings from 1904-20, and it’s almost certain that this one will be found there.  

Alan Bean & Sibyl Ruth