Winifred Austen , illustrator, painter, etcher and aquatint engraver of birds and animals., was born in Ramsgate, Kent, in 1876, the only daughter of Josiah Austin, a Cornish naval surgeon, and his wife, Fanny, née Mann.
In 1892 the family moved to Hornsey, London, and Austin attended the London County Council School of Arts and Crafts, studying under Mrs J. M. Jopling and Cuthbert Swan, an animal painter; she also spent time sketching at the zoological gardens in Regent's Park. In 1899 at the age of twenty-three Austen showed a picture of a lion at the Royal Academy; in all she exhibited more than seventy pictures at the academy, the last in 1961 when she was eighty-five. While there she met the artists Charles Detmold and his twin brother, Maurice, who introduced her to the oriental influences so frequently present in Austen's work.
Although she also worked in both oils and watercolours Austen is most highly regarded as an etcher. In all she made some two hundred etched plates, beginning in 1906 with a series entitled The White Heron. She had particular feeling for birds and small mammals, and the naturalist Sir Peter Scott said 'she was certainly the best bird-etcher of this century. She also experimented with aquatint and colour printing.
In 1902 Austen was elected to the Society of Women Artists, then in 1907 to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, and to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1933. She was also a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society from 1903. Such was Austen's success that she required an agent; she employed Oliver O'Donnell Frick (1868/9…1923), an American from Maryland, for this purpose, and married him in 1917. After leaving her home in Ealing, Austen and her husband lived briefly in both Yeovil, Somerset, and Dorking, Surrey, before moving to Suffolk in 1922 where Frick died from pneumonia the following year. Subsequently Austen lived in a cottage at Orford called Wayside.
Innumerable pets and animal waifs also became subjects for her work. A printing press was kept in the kitchen. Although reclusive, Austen was keenly involved with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Havergate Island bird sanctuary.
Winifred Austen died at 38 Southborough Road, Bickley, Kent, on 1 November 1964.
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