Hilda Fearon was born in Banstead, Surrey in 1878, the middle child in a family of five. From an early age she showed a talent for art and began drawing while still at school, making studies from the classical sculptures at the British Museum. She entered the Slade School of Art and went on to study in Dresden under Robert Sterl. But it was her time under Algernon Talmage at St Ives from 1900 that had the most profound impact upon her art.
Talmage had discovered the Cornish town in 1888 and began to paint there with Julius Olsson and several other notable painters. Nearby Newlyn had become home to a celebrated school of British impressionist painters. Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes had led the way in 1884, followed by others including Lamorna Birch and Henry Scott Tuke.
By 1900, when Fearon arrived, Talmage and Olsson had established their own Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting. Talmage in particular exalted in the light of the Cornish peninsula and his influence can be seen in Fearon's style. It would seem that Fearon and Talmage, seven years her senior, might have had a romantic liaison, for in 1907, just as more painters including Harold and Laura Knight, were moving to Cornwall, the two of them moved back to London together.
Over the next ten years Fearon's paintings were shown at the all principle London venues and also attracted attention in Glasgow, Dublin, Paris, Venice and Pittsburgh. She exhibited some 18 paintings at the Royal Academy, including at the renowned 1910 Summer Exhibition, which has been described as the highpoint of British Impressionism. In her subject matter Fearon specialized in images such as that shown, mainly of women at play and in middle-class domestic settings.
The current painting was illustrated in the Studio in 1912 and two years later Charles Marriott, writing in the same journal, in an article illustrated with Green and Silver, described the cool detachment of Fearon's undoubtedly accomplished style as 'a little frosty'. That is perhaps a little unfair as her work, as typified here, seems to sum up the taste for understated domestic genre prevalent in popular British painting in the years immediately preceding the First World War, later christened the 'golden age'. In tone it is contemplative, even wistful and with hindsight presents a poignant interlude, frozen in time, before the coming cataclysm.
Tragically Fearon herself died prematurely at the age of only thirty-nine in 1917 and Talmage later presented her painting, The Tea Party, painted in the year before her death to the Tate Gallery.