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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions