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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Maxwell

Beatrice Turner: a Woman of Mystery

Thanks to a reader, I learned about, and then read a biography about, a relatively unknown Newport artist named Beatrice Turner. Miss Turner was reputed to have been a complete recluse during most of her life. She never married, never moved out of her parents' homes, and when her father died, she painted their Newport house, Cliffside, completely black. Adding to the oddity of Beatrice Turner, she wore Victorian clothes until her death in 1948. In the book I read about her, Beatrice: The Untold Story of a Legendary Woman of Mystery by Sheldon Bart, one theory was that a restrictive, stern Victorian upbringing left her fearful and mistrustful of the world and people around her.

As an outlet for an otherwise uneventful life, she turned to art, and became an amazingly prolific artist, filling Cliffside with thousands of paintings. For a long time it was believed she only ever painted herself and, occasionally, her mother, leaving a record of herself at the various stages of her life. Her mother, incidentally, was almost always portrayed in profile, and when pictured together, they almost always were facing different directions, as if Beatrice was trying to set out on her own course. Which, perhaps, she was, at least figuratively.

Despite her undeniable artistic talent, she was never taken seriously as an artist. She never married, and after her mother died she lived alone at Cliffside - still painted black - and rarely had guests of any sort.

Through her diaries and other records, it was later learned that she painted numerous landscapes of Newport, which she bequeathed to the Historical Society as a visual record of Newport, but unfortunately the organization for some reason declined to accept them (so sad). All but one has been lost or destroyed.

In addition to the landscapes, she did also paint portraits of people she encountered in her life, including a nurse who cared for her before her death. Despite her reputation as an odd hermit, those who met her described a cordial, gracious woman.

Local children in the 1940s called Cliffside haunted, and sometimes taunted Beatrice and threw stones at the house. However, when two of those children succumbed to their curiosity about her and knocked on her backdoor, she invited them in, was kind and gracious to them, and even painted a portrait of the pair. Today, her only remaining paintings (so many were lost to the garbage dump after her death!) now hang in her former house, which is a beautiful bed and breakfast in Newport. Guests can even stay in Beatrice's former bedroom!

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