Allen, Daphne Constance (1899-1985) by Scholes, Robert

Daphne Allen was born at Stamford Hill, London, and was taught to paint by her parents. Her father, Hugh Allen, was a well-known painter himself. Daphne started showing her work at the age of 13 and published two books as a child, A Child’s Visions and The Birth of the Opal. She painted and drew fairies and religious subjects and worked as an illustrator for many magazines, including The Illustrated London News, The Sketch, and The Tatler. Apparently her precosity caused a sensation in London. Anthony Ludovici was not pleased. He had this to say in The New Age for October 9, 1913:

the worst aspect of the general tendency to admire and court the immature in England, from the undue adulation of the infant to the frenzied censing of the flapper, is the loss of caste, and with it the loss of order and of proper discipline in the education of childhood, which this worst of all kinds of barbarian madness brings in its train.

An instance of this prevalent vice is afforded by the ridiculous prostrate attitude of the highly respectable Press, before the work of Daphne Allen at the Dudley Galleries.

Put all suspicion of captiousness aside, ye gentlemen of the Press, from Sir Claude Phillips downwards, and listen to me, as man to man! I leave to you the entertainment of fault-finding for fault-finding’s sake. Heaven knows that there are enough errors strewn along the path which you tread, for me to be able to dispense with a magnifying glass when calling attention to them. Why, then, should I be left alone to protect this unfortunate child, Daphne Allen, and, in her person, all the more or less gifted children of England, from your deadly drooling embrace? It is bad enough that a pack of hydrocephalous and gushing adults should be found to every attractive or moderately talented child in the British Isles, and when these adults happen to be parents one can at least pity if not forgive their foolishness. But when a lot of grown-up men, with Sir Claude Phillips at their head, join their hymns of praise to the rest, and write pompously about this child’s nursery productions, as if they really constituted a serious event in the art world, it is time to protest, for, in such a case we cannot unfortunately set in motion the machinery of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children—the cruelty here is too subtle, too remotely tragic and disastrous, to pierce the thick skulls of this Society’s officials. And even if this cruelty affected only one individual in the person of Daphne Allen, one would readily let it pass. But it is only one instance in a million. Incompetence and stupidity is so general, so asphyxiatingly common nowadays, that the smallest spark of anything a little above it, is stamped flat.

Let me tell those adults who are connected with Daphne Allen, and who are perhaps as concerned as I am about the proper duties of adults to children, what I conceive to be the truth about her. Ignore what Sir Claude Phillips says, do not pay any heed either to those other people who, however kindly, tell you that Daphne Allen is “a potential Turner,” or that “the talent displayed is perhaps a matter for psychologists as much as for critics”(Sunday Times). Comparing this work of hers, which I have now carefully examined two years running, with the work even of talented children (in the same line), there is nothing surprising, nothing wonderful about it. Thirteen or fourteen—it does not matter! Believe me I have seen better work by children just as young, who never did anything extraordinary in later life. Before she is anything like a good adult painter or draughtsman she will have to undergo a most severe training, and she has only got seven years to do it in. I do not wish to discourage poor little Daphne Allen. In fact I hope she will not see this notice, until, perhaps, ten years hence; for it is difficult even for a nice child to listen patiently to her only apparently hostile critic. I should, however, like the adults about her to see it. Let them take care not to ruin this child and all like her. Let them prevent her from squandering her strength before her very bud has even formed. Let them help her to husband her powers, to study, to be protected from the poisonous hot breath of the ignorant adulator, and in seven years, not less, let us begin to talk seriously about her work and discuss it with proper self-possession and composure. All the rest is sentimental madness. NA 13.24.704

Daphne did go on and paint reasonably well, working in stained glass as well as drawing and painting. She died at Nailsworth in Gloucester.

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