“her talents in design”

Emma Roodhouse

A Suffolk-born sculptor, Ellen Mary Rope’s design career would span over forty years, unfolding during a tumultuous time of war, struggles for suffrage, and economic upheaval.

Her talents in design can be found in low-relief decoration with scenes of children, animals, and poetic scenes. Rope came from a farming family in Blaxhall village and was the seventh of nine children. The family encouraged creativity and an interest in the natural world. Her older brother, George Thomas Rope, became a painter of Suffolk landscapes and her younger sister, Edith Dorothy Rope, a watercolourist.

As a teenager Rope had started her art training at the all-girls Nottingham Place School in Marylebone under the pioneering social reformer, writer, and artist Octavia Hill (1838–1912). Rope undertook further study at Ipswich Art School and displayed her first watercolours in 1876 at the Ipswich Fine Art Club. Rope would go on to become a member of the club and display her work regularly at the annual shows until 1933.

It was whilst at the Slade School of Art in London studying drawing and painting, that Rope would meet the French-born artist Professor Alphonse Legros (1837–1911), who introduced her to sculpture and modelling. Rope excelled at producing low reliefs in a range of materials, including terracotta, plaster, stone, marble, and bronze. In 1885 the Royal Academy accepted a terracotta panel David Playing Before Saul, that the Academy even paid to frame. Her work then became a regular fixture at the Academy shows until 1914.     

Rope took the opportunity to visit France and Italy in the 1880s, for a greater insight into sculptural traditions and this would provide her with the confidence to exhibit at the Paris Salon (1897–8) and at the Société des Artistes Français (1897–8, 1902). On Rope’s return to Britain she began to work as a designer for the Della Robbia Pottery of Birkenhead until its closure in 1906.  

Rope’s work fits well within the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, and she had the ability to excel in designing small-scale items, from electrical bell pushes to large-scale plaster reliefs included in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition Women’s Building.  

In living through the First World War it is not surprising that many of Rope’s commissions and works are memorials to be found in churches, hospitals and municipal buildings (although certain pieces were destroyed during the War). Two memorials are dedicated to her brother, Henry John, who died at the age of fifty-two in 1899.

The Rope family continued their artistic links when her niece, Dorothy Anne Aldrich Rope, came to live in London and assist her aunt. Two other nieces, Margaret Agnes Rope and Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope, would specialise in stained glass art and collaborate with their aunt on designs for St Peter’s Church in Blaxhall. During the 1920s she retired to the family farm at Blaxhall, where she died on 13 September 1934 and is buried at St Peter’s Church, Blaxhall.

January 2022

Artist / Maker