Rosa Maria Carless: Artist, writer and wife of a British diplomat


Rosa Maria Carless was a distinguished Brazilian artist and writer on cultural affairs from Sao Paulo who was married to the British diplomat Hugh Carless. They met when Carless was serving as Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, and were married in Tehran in 1957, where Carless was posted as First (Oriental) Secretary in the British embassy, shortly after his renowned "short walk in the Hindu Kush" with the explorer and travel-writer Eric Newby, who wrote a bestselling book of that title.

She was later to broadcast about her Persian honeymoon on the BBC World Service, recounting: "I remember laughing happily when, at our wedding reception, the ambassador said that I must have really been in love because I had travelled 12,000 miles in order to get married. I had in fact come from the other side of the world – from Brazil." She became the consummate and selfless diplomatic wife, but developed her own independent career as an artist; it was perhaps her saving, because the diplomatic life did not come easily to her.

Rosa Maria Frontini was the eldest of three daughters, born to a senior banker in Sao Paulo in 1921. Both her parents were of Italian stock and she grew up speaking Italian inside the home and Portuguese outside, becoming fluent in five languages. Following university she became the deputy curator of the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo and brought 79 of its paintings, including works by Degas, Gaugin, Monet and Renoir, to the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) for an exhibition in 1954. There she met Hugh Carless's brother, Richard, who urged Hugh to meet the vivacious young Brazilian. A cricket tour from Rio to Sao Paulo afforded him the opportunity to do so.

Before their wedding she received a grant to travel through the US to give lectures on Brazilian art and to study how American museums were organised. The Brazilian government awarded her the Leopoldinho Medal for services to culture.

At first she found life as a diplomatic wife extremely challenging. She confessed to Katie Hickman, author of the book Daughters of Britannia, that she was "very frightened" by the diplomatic scene: "I was working in a museum in Sao Paulo and I had a lot of friends of all different types. I mixed with a lot of artists. I led a rather bohemian life, but in a decent way, not a crazy way.

The thought of being in an Embassy, it was almost like a boarding school. I received a letter before I went to Tehran saying that the ambassadress liked the women to wear stockings and gloves – even in the heat." At other times, she found the diplomatic life tedious, with little to do or talk about at embassy parties. "Rosa Carless, posted to Angola in the 1960s, knew this conversational ennui as cri-cri, after its usual subject matter, crianças 9children) and criadas (maids)," Hickman wrote.

However, she developed a passion for cooking, including Persian recipes, during the posting to Iran, where she was also captivated by the vivid turquoise colours of Iranian ceramics and mosques. These spurred her to study the history of art at the Courtauld Institute on their return to London.

It was in Angola, where Hugh Carless served as Consul-General in Luanda from 1967-70, that Rosa found an escape in painting, developing her distinctive abstract style, initially with felt-tip pens and later in acrylics. She gained international recognition for her stylised large canvas abstracts depicting the jungle, whether African or Brazilian, and its flora and fauna.

Her first exhibition was, however, in a snowbound Bonn, capital of West Germany, in 1973. It was held in a disused railway station converted into a gallery. The deep snow prevented cars reaching it for the opening, prompting the headline in an English-language newspaper: "Car-less exhibition!"

Many other exhibitions followed in countries where Hugh Carless was posted, including Argentina, where he was chargé d'affairs in the late 1970s. His spontaneous and fun-loving Latin American wife endeared them to the Argentinians, though their posting had its dangerous moments. Once, when travelling in a Rolls-Royce, she was shot at, and was saved by the car's bulletproof windows. She held exhibitions of her works in Buenos Aires, in Punte del Este, Uruguay, and in Sao Paulo.

Their last diplomatic posting was in Caracas, where Hugh was the British Ambassador to Venezuela (1982-85), Rosa helping him to develop good cultural relations between the two countries.

Her last major solo exhibition was held in Paris in 2001, while two of her works, A Toucan (watercolour) and Storm Wing, are now held in the British government's art collection, administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. She held solo exhibitions at the Brazilian Embassy's gallery and latterly exhibited with others at the annual Art in Marylebone event.

Michael Smith

Rosa Maria Frontini, artist and writer: born Sao Paulo 8 December 1921; married 1957 Hugh Carless (died 2011; one son, and one son deceased); died Ditchling Common, East Sussex 28 June 2013.

Suggested Topics
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain